In many towns and cities a constant issue is parking: where are the parking spaces or lots? Are there enough spaces for all of the customers? When are there too many parking spaces? What is the balance? Where should parking spaces and lots be located? There is a fine line of how much space is necessary in order to accommodate shoppers, residents, visitors v. having too much space that empty parking lots make the town look desolate.
Who would have thought that parking issues connect so frequently to historic preservation? But, bring in our historic downtowns and city centers, and parking issues are everywhere. After all, think of Joni Mitchell who sang, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Much of our built environment has been paved for roads and parking lots. Businesses and institutions often want additional or closer parking.
What is a preservationist to do about parking lots? Obviously, in our auto-centric society, we cannot ignore the needs of vehicles, nor can we can convince everyone (maybe not even ourselves) that carpooling and public transit is always the right answer. Not everyone can live within walking distance of all services and goods. People will still need to drive and park close to businesses. And people like convenience. So what can we do? Read on. (Disclaimer: I am not a planner, so these thoughts on parking are purely my own preservation educated musings.)
Step One: Assess the amount of parking and the needs of parking, not only the impressions of needs. Identify the locations of parking spaces. Perhaps parking spaces are simply hard to find because the municipality lacks proper signage. When are businesses open? When is the town at its busiest? How do parking needs shift throughout the day? How often is parking a problem? Talk to your community.
Step Two: If parking is needed, identify where it would be most beneficial. Obviously demolishing a building block is not going to help downtown. A parking lot too far away will remain empty. A parking lot too large will look desolate. Perhaps a parking garage is a better solution. Or timed/metered spaces. Maybe parking spaces need to be formalized (properly striped and identified) so people know where they can park. Design is an important element.
Step Three: Keep in mind that although important, parking lots/spaces/garages should not be the deciding factor for preservation decisions. Parking is an important piece for a comprehensive plan, but is never an issue that should overpower all others. Consider whether parking in one location or parking spread throughout town is better for your community. And consider how it fits into the built environment.
Think parking garages are always a bad idea? Think again: check out these worth looking at.
What issues do you see about parking? What do you prefer – lots, garages, on street parking? Other?