Monday, April 21, 2014

Framing Howard Hall as Practicality vs Sentimentality Misses Giant Parking Lot

The Hospital is gearing up for another attempt to demolish Howard Hall. But lost in the headline antithesis of practicality vs. sentimentality is the way the whole thing is a giant surface parking lot.

It's all about cars.

Drab and Useless?
Rather than framing it as reason vs emotion, how about we look at carbon footprint.  A more interesting angle might be how profoundly unsustainable and unhealthy is the whole model of car storage and new construction proposed here. In reuse, retaining the embodied carbon in an existing building isn't just sentimentality, and in fact it might be the most prudent, practical option of all.

Lovely and full of Possibility?

It's all about parking
 (Howard Hall in lower left)

Proposed garden and playground concept at Howard Hall site
As we pointed out in July, the Hospital's just going through the motions, and they aren't engaged in a serious attempt to figure out how to use the building now or to bank it for a later use.

If the garden and playground offers such compelling community benefit, there's plenty of surface parking area that could be better used. The garden and playground doesn't need to be in the footprint of Howard Hall on the corner there. The Hospital's policy of subsidizing free parking and employee parking permits deforms the possibilities here. The whole development concept revolves around trading old buildings for surface parking.

But the Hospital's plan is also complicated by the neighborhood's desire for an ornamental emptiness, a green but empty extension of Bush Park.  A streetcar-scaled mixed-use development might have afforded more opportunity for preserving and reusing Howard Hall.

The whole quasi-judicial hearing thing also complicates. That's why the piece in the paper had no comment from Historic Landmarks Commissoners. When the demolition permit application (in the form of removing this historic designation for Howard Hall) finally gets to the Historic Landmarks Commission, because they are making a decision as if they were a judge, they are supposed to avoid ex-parte contact and to make a decision on the merits, assessing only what is presented at the hearing.  One problem with this is that it takes Commissioners out of the larger community-wide debate and informal conversation, and asks them to make a potentially hasty decision at a hearing. On complicated questions like this, ones that require deeper investigation into fact and opinion, it may not be possible to adequately weigh evidence in a single meeting of the Commission. The Hospital will say they can't afford to bank the building, for example, and Commissioners might need to be able take longer to assess that claim.

(For more on Howard Hall and the Blind School Parcel, see notes tagged Blind School Redevelopment.)


Susann Kaltwasser said...

And incorporating Howard Hall into a playground area, because.....

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I mean why can't the Hall be converted to a usable space for perhaps concessions, family gatherings or other general uses and put some play spaces in the front of the Hall. It looks to me like you could have both parking and keep the Hall for public uses. Surely people who are going to the hospital or at Bush Park would have interest in using the area if it were open to the public.

That said, I agree that the surface parking concept is perhaps cheaper, but unsightly and unhealthy. When we were researching the City Hall renovation we learned that the average cost of a parking space in a structure is at least $40,000 each and surface parking is about $2,000.

A bigger issue for Salem is why are we concentrating all hospital services in one spot? If we are going to have the big one don't we want to have a medical facility in another part of town. I think Salem Hospital needs to be thinking about creating facilities in other parts of Salem so that people do not need to travel so far for services and also might spread out their emergency capacity.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

You are right that parking is expensive!

As a hypothetical exercise, if we assign a cost to the stalls in the Liberty, Chemeketa, and Marion Parkades at $40,000 each and all the downtown on-street stalls at $2,000 each - why isn't it clear that free parking of any length and especially of unlimited length also requires enormous subsidy? One of the frustrations in the general debate is that a number of folks seem to be clear-sighted about the costs of parking for police, but blind or blurry to the cost of downtown visits. Downtown parking requires not just the "downtown parking tax" but also yearly injections of urban renewal funds. Free parking is based on an unsustainable model and contributes to an over-supply of parking. (And has cascading effects on things like congestion, weak transit, and pressure for a third bridge.)