Parks and Parking

One odd coincidence which popped into my RSS reader on Friday was a discussion about how free parking really isn't and how parks for parks' sake may not be the best thing.

There is a problem with land use for parking, to be sure. My favorite example of awkward parking design is the Centrum Mall out in Kanata. When we first moved out to Kanata in '99, the mall was rightly derided as a pedestrian-hostile parking lot partially ringed by widely spaced mall emplacements. Well ten years of development later the mall is much less of a pedestrian-hostile parking lot, but only because the developers have continued to build stores in what was previously parking space -- the AMC alone has lost more than half of its parking spaces just to store construction, and has to share what's left with those new stores.

I suspect that the problem now is that there isn't enough parking for the prospective customers of these stores to get to them with any reliability. I know that when I go on the weekend, I'm frequently forced to orbit, looking for a place to park so that I can go somewhere and spend my money. It would be ironic if the mall development basically ended up strangling their own properties because the customers couldn't get there.

And even though there is a "bus station" at one end of the mall, public transit is so laughably bad in the rest of Kanata that local residents for the most part won't even contemplate it.

One link I saw this week (can't find it in my reader right now) advocated removing parking from in front of stores along one particular area so that more stores could be constructed, presumably to encourage more commerce. The problem with this logic is the same: those prospective customers have no access to the area where the stores are, and are therefore unable to boost your commercial activity.

As for the parks, the above link talks about Landsdown Park:
The Friends of Lansdowne Park want to see professional sports completely removed from the park, and have it reserved for small-scale events only, such as the Farmer’s Market, citing a desire to create a Lansdowne Park for all Ottawans to enjoy.
The thing is, such a plan would ultimately benefit only the immediate locals in that this "park for all Ottawans to enjoy" would be practically inaccessible to 95% of the population due to a lack of usable public transit and practical local parking. To say nothing of the fact that by removing all commerce and sports you'd remove the motivation for 99% of Ottawans to even contemplate visiting. It would probably turn into a venue used most prominently for Winterlude, and largely ignored by everyone except the homeless the rest of the year.

What's the point of all this? I dunno, besides the fact that urban planning is hard?

I think most of the pundits look back with some imagined fondness for an allegedly simpler time where you could walk everywhere. They ignore the fact that a small-town feel can't scale.

You want a walkable city that had a large population? How does London in the 1890's grab you?

The "wealthy" have always had the luxury of living closer to nature, and away from where they conduct business, more or less. The invention of the automobile democratized transportation in a huge way, leading to the invention of the subdivision, where the more middle class could live in a less urban environment.

And I think that's one of the things that many of these pundits forget. If people didn't want to live out in the suburbs, nobody would. But the fact that developers can't (or are prevented from, NIMBY-style) build attractive, dense urban housing shows that the problem isn't the builders. It's the population.

I don't want to live in an apartment block, and let's face it -- anything less really doesn't scale to the population densities required by modern cities. My wife wants her own four walls, with separation from the neighbours. Sure, it's only four feet of separation where we live, but it's separate.

If there were no suburbs, where would I be living? Tokyo-style, in a tiny apartment, that would cost me as much as my suburban home did? Or more, considering I wouldn't have any place to put the things I conspicuously consumed, and would therefore have more available money. Sure, maybe the environment would be appreciative of such a sacrifice, but I don't see how my standard of living would be any better. Or, indeed, the SAME.

And that's how these discussions have to be had. Not on how intensification would make life better for those already there. But how it would make life better for those of us who currently make different choices.