Parking was not among the conditions Jane Jacobs said are required to create exuberant diversity in a city’s streets and districts. She did say: “There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people…” And: “The district must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two. These must insure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedules and are in the place for different purposes, but who are able to use many facilities in common.”
Case in point… In 1994, we moved Le TRAVEL STORE from leased space at Horton Plaza to a street-level “historic” building (purchased with an SBA loan) on Fourth Avenue in the lively Gaslamp Quarter (San Diego). The location provided a steady flow of conventioneers and travelers dining at nearby restaurants and staying in nearby hotels. Workers from the business district north of Broadway and Downtown’s growing residential population were significant sources of customers. But our store needed more. The heart of our business was outfitting travelers for a big international trip. We needed suburban San Diegans to come Downtown to shop.
As a destination store we sold unique and hard-to-find travel gear, books and accessories — products that folks purchased infrequently. We catered to world travelers who appreciated our urban location and we drew shoppers from a large trade area — from Encinitas to El Cajon, from Escondido to Ensenada. By contrast, the three nearby Starbucks could thrive just with folks already living or working in the area.
Most of our suburban customers came downtown by car and (to be honest) parked across the street in the Horton Plaza parking structure. But also, our city council had the foresight in 1997 to allocate 45% of parking revenue to the district where meters are located. In Downtown the revenue from street parking was used to underwrite the construction of the 500 space Park-It on Market and the 1000 space 6th & K Parkade. These structures have been critical to the continued growth of the Gaslamp and East Village.
So what’s my point? In forums like this I often hear arguments to this effect: We don’t need no more stinking parking here! (I’m paraphrasing.)
OK, I hear you… Parking spaces are expensive. Minimum parking requirements drive up the cost of housing for developers and their tenants. We have a housing affordability crisis, so let’s loosen or eliminate the requirements along transportation corridors.
To my friends who create the built environment — urban planners, architects and developers — you understand the economics of buildings. We’d be lost without you. But street-level exuberance ultimately comes from the bars, restaurants, stores and services who attract customers and give the neighborhood life. Street-level business owners are watching today’s sales and worried about tomorrow’s payroll. Successful districts need a “sufficiently dense concentration” of patrons on the sidewalks and coming through the front door.
I’m not suggesting quick/easy solutions. We need more folks living and working in our neighborhoods. We need better public transport and more universal valets. Ride sharing helps as would better sharing of existing parking supplies. Driverless cars may someday supplant the current system of personal ownership and the need for parking spaces. But we’re not there yet.
Remember… Citizen Jane Jacobs’ initial insight was that you must listen to people on streets where there is exuberant diversity. So my fellow urban geeks, please talk with street-level business owners in Little Italy, Hillcrest, North Park and La Jolla. They will say parking is an issue. They want existing street parking to be effectively managed, creating turn-over. And they want more supply where possible. In Downtown San Diego, for example, street parking has been increased by switching from parallel to angled or perpendicular spaces. And meter revenue will soon be used to underwrite creation of 200 new spaces below East Village Green.
Our lively older business districts still depend on customers and staff who drive from the suburbs. So don’t let visions of tomorrow blind you to today’s challenges. In 2017, parking still matters.