Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Try Walking

Robert Frost claimed that good fences make good neighbors, but he was wrong. This might have been the case a century ago, but these days off-street parking makes good neighbors. To get even more specific, having off-street parking and using it makes good neighbors. Last night I endured yet another meeting, probably my tenth in five years, about the "parking situation" in my small city. 1960s radicals had it all wrong. If you want to start a revolution, forget the pamphlets, demonstrations, and bombs. Just mention parking.

Our central business district has been struggling for decades. The reasons for this are easy to see: urban renewal emptied the center of town of residents, businesses have also slowly decamped for strip malls, what retail remains are small, underfunded niche businesses that suffer from a lack of foot traffic. The real problem, according to merchants, isn't cultural and demographic trends. It's parking. The meters cost a quarter, the police ticket people who don't feed their meters, when it snows the parking spaces aren't plowed out, sometimes people have to park a block away from the destination, there isn't enough parking, there's too much parking, it costs too much to park, we should have Muni-meters, we need more lots, we need another garage. Who cares about the economy, the culprit is parking.

Emotions run equally high in our residential neighborhoods. Because we are an old city, many of our neighborhoods were built at a time before cars. What off-street parking exists tends to be a pad for one car, but because many units were subdivided into several rentals, and because these days each household has multiple vehicles, parking can be competitive. People think they have a divine right to park directly in front of their door despite the fact that they live on a public street. People blame the municipality, the public transportation system, the police, street cleaning, absentee landlords, and yuppies when they are forced to park around the block from their homes. If you live in a high-density neighborhood but don't talk to your neighbors, it's probably because of parking.

Suburban living does nothing to ease the tensions. Every home on my parents' cul-de-sac came with a driveway and two-car garage, but even so occasionally cars were parked on the street. When I parked on the street the neighbors across the street would get mad. When the neighbors' son would park on the street my parents would get mad. The last time I visited the old block all anyone could talk about were the new neighbors who didn't use their garage and always had two or three cars parked on the street. The only issue that even came close to the angst engendered by on-street parking was one neighbor's floodlit Christmas tableau featuring Santa, his sleigh, and all eight reindeer.

People have cars. People need to park their cars. Everyone needs to get over it, so that I never have to attend another parking meeting in my life. Thank you.

1 comment:

tunsie said...

people want 2 park right in frontof their home or business.I know it is true of women who own their own business because they don't want 2 walk far 2 get 2 their car.while in chinatown we walk 10 or 15 blocks from the parking lot and walk around canal and bowery and down mott.but around here people don't like walking 2 thier car a block or two.a friend of mine was coming out of her business at nite and saw 6 or 7 black people congregating just talking,and she approached them and said,Don'T hurt me I know tunsie,it is funny but most women do fear 4 their safety.the reason it is a heated discussion is that people need a reason 2 complain,if they didn't have anything 2 complain about the time spent in those bar rooms will be pretty boring without.tunsie