Monday, August 1, 2005

Planning and Parking

UNCG's Andrew Brod wrote an excellent and thorough review of Donald Shoup's The High Cost of Free Parking in Sunday's News & Record. You should read it if you missed it Sunday, or, better yet, download the first chapter of Shoup's book by clicking here. (Unfortunately, the N&R did not post Brod's review online).

I have a feeling that Shoup's is one of those books that will mark sea-change in the way Americans think about their cities, and we may start feeling its effects -- even here in Greensboro -- within just a few years.

Shoup's theses -- that current zoning policies vastly oversaturate our cities with parking spaces; that current zoning which regulates parking "collectivizes" and hides the true cost of parking in the prices we pay for everything, thus skewing its true market value; that current zoning which regulates parking is not based on empirical reality; and that such zoning policies must change -- none of this is entirely new. But Shoup's book seems to crystallize the zeitgeist about parking that pervades most of the urban-planning shop talk that I'm occasionally privy to.

Shoup's policy prescriptions are straightforward: Cities should (1) charge fair market value for on-street parking, (2) return the revenues from that parking to the neighborhoods that it comes from, and (3) simply do away with zoning requirements for parking -- leave it up to businesses to decide how much parking they need and want to pay for.

Although a book like this might seem just too wonkish for you to be interested in, it isn't. You might start seeing visible effects from it in the next couple of years. There's a good chance that some of Shoup's thinking will soon make its way into Greensboro's municipal code.

The city is in the middle of a rewrite of its LDO (land development ordinance), and you can bet that every employee in the city's planning department knows about this book. And since I'm a member of the citizens' advisory committee for the LDO rewrite, I'll be trying to bring it to the attention of the other folks on the committee, too.

I'll be very curious to know whether the city's big developers would like the idea that they -- not the city -- should decide how much parking to provide for businesses.

BONUS ANECDOTE: As I was riding to work this morning on my Kymco ZX50, thinking about Andrew's review, I ran into the man himself -- almost literally. He nearly pulled out in front of me on Spring St., but then saw me in time and stopped. A few seconds later, he pulled up next to me in his BMW coupe, and I shouted out to him, "Andrew -- great article Sunday!" He looked at me bemusedly (since he doesn't know me) and said "Thank you!"

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