Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Parking Meant Beauty and Landscaping, not Car Storage, 100 years Ago

Park(ing) Day is this Friday, September 20th. It is "an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks."

A Salem parklet with picnic table, hobby horse, and potential for fun
The original Park(ing) Day in 2005,
transformed a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in an area of San Francisco that the city had designated as lacking public open space. The great majority of San Francisco’s downtown outdoor space is dedicated to movement and storage of private vehicles, while only a fraction of that space is allocated to serve a broader range of public needs. Paying the meter of a parking space enables one to lease precious urban real estate on a short-term basis.
In Salem, acceptance for repurposing car parking stalls has been slow.  One First Wednesday attempt was shut down by the City. Creative merchants have put grass on the sidewalk, but not ventured out into the street and its angle parking.  (Portland observes Park(ing) Day in several places.)

You might not know, however, that the word "parking" used to refer to the act of making a park and the parklets themselves, and not primarily to the act of temporarily storing a car.

This was not considered "Parking"!  Oregon State Library
(That's Scott's Cycle first store on the far left, at 252 State Street)
The act and area celebrated in Park(ing) Day is, in fact, a revival, and not a new phenomenon!

Beautify the Parkings: September 19, 1910

Our Wide Streets offer Abundant Room for Parking
Editorial: June 27, 1913

Potatoes make Good Parking! June 22, 1914
Almost all of the mentions of "parking" between about 1910 and 1915 refer to landscaping and city beautification, often in what we call today the "curb strip," and it is not clear when the word popularly began to refer primarily to car storage. 

Here's parking!
Venerable Honeysuckle at Union and Cottage
could date from this era of beautification.
The Oxford English Dictionary has the first citations for its use with cars from the 1920s.  By contrast, the OED dates first uses of the word for a median or curb strip to the 1870s. 

Arrested!  First mention of car parking in Salem?
August 3, 1914
Nov 23, 1905
Salem was a small town and only with annexations able to have a census of around 14,000 in 1910.  It is not surprising it took a couple of decades for the landscaping concept to root here. It seems to have got traction in 1904 or 1905.

At the end of 1905 the paper could write:

"The question of parking the streets in the residence districts as has been frequently advocated by The Journal has not been left to die..."

The concept burbled along, most frequently in the context of "beautification" and "the City Beautiful" and as an accessory to permanent pavement, as the roads were mud or occasionally graveled at this time:
A few suggestions as to what can be done to reach far out toward the making of our city the city beautiful, the price and joy of all our people.

The first work that lies before us in the accomplishment of this good and necessary work of civic improvement is building good streets..
March 14, 1911
Somewhat later, in 1911, advocates could suggest that Court Street could
be opened full width to Eighteenth street.  There is a plan being talked up among some of the abutters for a 20-foot parking in the center of the street, with a 20-foot drive on each side of bitulithic [early asphalt].
Wouldn't it be great to have a 20-foot landscaped median on our wider streets?!

If this reminds you of some of the ideas for the downtown streetscape (more here and here) - well, it should!

Arbuckle Costic and Salem Downtown Partnership
Of course, there is one big difference.  The downtown concept was in part a way to add car parking stalls along the medians.

Downtown Streetscaping Concept via Salem Weekly
In the older version of parking the intent was aesthetic alone, a gesture of civic pride and boosterism, and the streets narrowed enough that car storage might not be possible.  Indeed, as the demand for free curbside car storage grew, it should not surprise us that landscaped parkings in the center of streets might have grown rarer or even taken out.  (Croisan Scenic Way north of Kuebler has a modern median that might be considered a parking, but that's the only one I can think of here.  Readers?)

Interestingly, the decade of the 1920s when the word "parking" underwent a shift to signify car storage was the same time the notion of "jaywalking" was invented and the previously normal act of walking in the street either shamed or criminalized.

The shift in word "parking" corresponds to invention of jaywalking
In both the new word "jaywalking" and the semantic shift in the meaning of "parking", we see ways open public space was restricted and reallocated for the use and storage of cars.

Fortunately, there are ways that public space is being returned to a wider range of uses by people!

Same part of State Street during Sunday Streets on the 8th
(Yup, that empty lot is where the first Scott's was!
The Catlin and Linn building is in both images as well.)
Parklets and seating in New York City have boosted retail activity:

Parklet for Parking:  172% increase in retail sales!
Measuring the Street: New Metrics for 21st Century Streets
New York City Department of Transportation
Parking remains a hot-button, even third-rail. As we all debate how best to use and manage parking, take a moment to think about other meanings of the word.


Curt said...

Wow. Salem has been talking downtown road diet since 1913 eh.

More parking was one of the major selling points of the streetscape. Carole Smith knows that the number one priority for the average downtown business is more parking. Adding parking was obviously pandering to those who perceive a parking shortage downtown.

But we can't even talk about managing the supply with meters because... there is plenty of parking and we have no parking problem.

You might also have noticed that the parking lobby wants parking treated as a public good... like a park. They completely reject the larger body of research that parking has exactly the opposite effect on cities that parks do. Parks promote a cleaner environment and improved public health while parking promotes auto dependency and everything that goes with it... obesity, depression, pollution, crashes, global warming, irresponsible land use, etc...

And finally... Pringle Access was against subsidizing downtown housing while many of the same folks are enthusiastically FOR subsidized car housing.

Curt said...

Mayor, councilors and staff are echoing headlines from a 2007 edition of Streetsblog:

And nothing they have done has elicited a bigger populist backlash. #Salemia

Anonymous said...

Bike Portland links today to a piece on this history of urban space, cars, and jaywalking. "Murder Machines: Why Cars Will Kill 30,000 Americans This Year"

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

A footnote: A couple of years after this post, the magazine for the Harvard Arnold Arboretum, The Arnoldia, published a piece, "The Etymology of Parking," which covers much of this ground and discusses the shift in meaning on the East Coast.