Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Causes of Downtown Struggle: Insuffient Free Parking or Loss of Residences?

"There are problems the market can't solve.
Parking isn't one of them"
It was nice to see this Strong Towns post circulating on local discussion groups, but some of the responses are strange.

Asphalt soteriology and asphalt socialism
While some people say that free parking was key to downtown survival in the late 20th century, I think this is wrong. Downtown never really prospered during that period and people constantly fretted and complained there wasn't enough parking. People who make this claim about free parking "saving" downtown can't point to a golden age of downtown when it was actually "saved," a period when we had enough parking and businesses were thriving. Instead, in the 80s and 90s and thereafter there is a constant refrain of complaint about imperiled downtown vitality and always wanting more parking as if that was the solution. But even with the devotion to free parking, and with the free garages that remained only 50% full, downtown struggled.

In the second half of the 20th century we hollowed out the city, and people would have gone further, killing the patient to "save" the patient.

Demolishing functional buildings for parking
Between the McGilchrist Block and Masonic Building
Statesman, January 23rd, 1968
(See the 1966 fire, also)
The problem was not a failure to accommodate drivers with copious free parking in order to compete with the malls; instead, the more basic problem was the loss of downtown residences for surface parking lots, and the loss of nearby residences and their replacement with office and institutional monoculture on parky superblocks. The Civic Center, Capitol Mall, Pringle Creek Urban Renewal Area, Willamette University, the Hospital, and all their associated parking lots reduced the resilience and vitality of the downtown district.

As we depopulated downtown and those close-in neighborhoods, and conceived of downtown as a suburban-style "drive-to" destination, we lost the game. Reconceiving downtown as a mixed-use and walkable urban center whose primary users live in and near it, is the key to any renaissance. In this reading, free parking hinders rather than helps.
All the posts about downtown parking are here. But there are thirty-some of them, and here are some of the highlights that sketch out the basic argument about the costs of free parking:
It's also funny to say that priced parking "punishes" people. When you walk into a store, do you feel "punished" that you have buy and pay for something before you walk out the door with it? Why is a fee to rent a parking stall seen as something outside of the normal functioning of our market economy?

Anyway, since "socialism" loosely construed is going to be an issue and target in the upcoming election, the position here is that we need more "socialism" on things like affordable housing and health care, and we need more neoliberalism and market fundamentalism on things like road access, car storage, carbon fees, and basically all our autoism.

We should see the subsidies for our autoism, including our mania for free parking, as an instance of "asphalt socialism" and be more willing to critique them.

Here's a more serious instance of red-baiting from 100 years ago. A chiropractor who was interested in, and perhaps even active for, socialism was arrested and sent to trial in February 1920.

A chiropractor was arrested on Syndicalism charges
February 8th, 1920

February 18th, 1920
Fortunately he was released as the charges were not sustained. Still, the red scare remained potent and just a couple of days later, updates on the IWW trial after the Centralia Riot included convictions for Syndicalism. It was a serious charge and would have chilling effects even if it was not sustained here in Salem.

Reds, Syndicalism, and Centralia Riot
February 20th, 1920

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