One little thing I've enjoyed about Savannah since coming here is that the local weekly paper, Connect Savannah, has a regular column about biking. Yes, biking. I'd be curious to know if even much larger cities have something similar. John Bennett of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign authors the column. This week, he writes about a topic of local interest: the continuing development of downtown Savannah with the potential addition of major national retailers, courtesy of an effort by Atlanta developer Ben Tucker. For my interest, I liked the title of the piece, "If we win the parking war, we lose the city." It doesn't hurt that John quotes yours truly in the article:
In Savannah, however, there seems to be something else at work. Millions of people come from all over the world every year to enjoy strolling our streets. Yet some of us just can't tolerate walking a couple of blocks from our cars to our destinations, even in one of the most beautiful cities in North America.
Should we fine tune the pricing of on-street parking to reflect market rates as Shoup suggests, extend hours of operation at municipal garages and find other ways to maximize the usefulness of our existing parking inventory? Certainly.
However, entertaining unreasonable expectations of suburban-style parking in a historic city is potentially disastrous, as explained by Savannah-based urban designer Kevin Klinkenberg.
"Savannah can, like so many other cities, solve its parking problem by building a lot of convenient, cheap parking," he said. "And when we are done with that, we will have destroyed the reasons people love Savannah in the first place."
John references the work of Donald Shoup, a UCLA professor that's single-handedly changing the way professionals think about parking. His book, The High Cost of Free Parking, has become legendary for those of us urban planning wonks.
The parking issue is of critical importance to walkable places. Parking takes up tremendous amounts of real estate - land that could be used for human activity instead. And yet, we still live in a culture where the majority of people use a car to get around. So, it's a necessary evil. But the hows, wheres, whats and more make it far more complex than just "we have to provide parking or (insert project here) won't succeed." Our overly-simplistic approach in prior decades has done far more harm than good. Shoup's work, and the debates being had today have opened up a world of potential solutions and approaches. I'm eager to see how it plays out in Savannah.