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It’s Public. It’s Yours. Let’s Make Better Use of It.

Sep 16, 2009

by Lydia Heard, VIA’s urban planner

We build more space for cars than we do for people. Every car has at least three parking spaces waiting for it, somewhere. Parking is never free; it drives up the costs of development that we pay in the price of everything from housing to movie tickets. (For this and more, read “The High Cost of Free Parking” by Donald Shoup.)

What takes up the largest amount of publicly owned real estate in your city? It’s most likely streets and roadways which are usually dominated by vehicles. In Seattle, 26% of our land use is taken up by public right-of-way for streets, including parking lanes. What if a quarter of our city was public green space, instead?

Think about all those metered parking spaces in our public rights of way. Who says they’re just for cars? Pay your rent at the meter and you can occupy the space for any safe legal purpose. Why not? It’s incredibly cheap. A stall in a surface lot might cost you $10.00 from the first minute you arrive; a space on the street in front is just $2.50 per hour. Now forget that this is a “parking space”; think of it as your rented plot of urban land. If you paid $5.00 rent for an 8’x22′ piece of real estate for two hours how would you occupy it?

The Park(ing) Day event was created by people who wanted to illustrate the need for more space for parks in cities, so they usually do something park-like and portable, as you have to pick up and move to another space every two hours. This street setup at the South Lake Union Block Party was more static, and very creative.

This lady didn’t wait for Park(ing) Day. She also took advantage of a Sunday, when parking is free all day long. She was a good hostess, creating a fine social space. What would you do with your rented plot?