What bombs did to Rotterdam, parking lots did to Houston

Living the dream: an American parking lot, some time in the 1950s. Image: Retrofile/Getty.

More! That's the scream of merchants and others who believe that an American downtown without an endless sea of parking is not worth going to. But once the whole downtown turns into a parking lot it's not really worth much anymore is it?

Yet, we still see the discussion of parking dominate, without an eye for the destruction that it can cause a downtown if left unfettered.

Before Portland's miraculous return as an urban Mecca, it, too, was once infested by parking. So was the city of Houston, where parking lots took over most of the downtown at one point.

Via Mike Lydon and Transit Miami, via the book City Shaped.


Perhaps you can say how different this is from Rotterdam after German bombing...

Image: author provided.

 

It's unfortunate that we didn't see what we were doing to our wonderful cities in the name of cars first. Europe had war, yet we dismantled our cities in a similar way in the name of progress.

So much parking, though: what has that done to the city's value? What has it taken away in terms of tax revenue from land and greater employment agglomerations? A study by Anne Moudon and Dohn Wook Sohn showed that, in the Seattle region, offices that were clustered had greater values than those that weren't. In addition to the spending on highways that expanded our regions to their current far reaches, how much real estate value did we destroy?

Greater value for downtowns was lost. In the process we saw places like Hartford, Connecticut (as found by Dr. Norm Garrick at the University of Connecticut) lose population, employment, and their character.

Not is this just the loss from parking, but from the gutting of the city by the Interstate System. Here are some slides from Dr. Garrick showing the destruction. When he toggled through the first time, the room I was in audibly gasped for air. Hartford Pre Interstate:

 

Hartford Post Interstate:

 

So what's the damage? The amount of tax-creating employment did not grow; but parking spots skyrocketed.

 

So in aggregate what did this look like? The red shows it all:

 

Lost revenue, lost agglomeration, lost value. Perhaps these examples teach us a lesson about too much parking.

Jeff Wood is principal at the San Francisco transport consultancy The Overhead Wire, and edits The Direct Transfer.

This article first appeared on his blog in 2010.


 

 
 
 
 

To make electric vehicles happen, the government must devolve energy policy to councils

The future. Image: Getty.

Last week, the Guardian revealed that at least a quarter of councils have halted the roll-out of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure with no plans to resume its installation. This is a fully charged battery-worth of miles short of ideal, given the ambitious decarbonisation targets to which the UK is rightly working.

It’s even more startling given the current focus on inclusive growth, for the switch to EVs is an economic advancement, on an individual and societal level. Decarbonisation will free up resources and push growth, but the way in which we go about it will have impacts for generations after the task is complete.

If there is one lesson that has been not so much taught to us as screamed at us by recent history, it is that the market does not deliver inclusivity by itself. Left to its own devices, the market tends to leave people behind. And people left behind make all kinds of rational decisions, in polling stations and elsewhere that can seem wholly irrational to those charged with keeping pace – as illuminted in Jeremy Harding’s despatch from the ‘periphery’ which has incubated France’s ‘gilet jaunes’ in the London Review of Books.

But what in the name of Nikola Tesla has any of this to do with charging stations? The Localis argument is simple: local government must work strategically with energy network providers to ensure that EV charging stations are rolled out equally across areas, to ensure deprived areas do not face further disadvantage in the switch to EVs. To do so, Ofgem must first devolve certain regulations around energy supply and management to our combined authorities and city regions.


Although it might make sense now to invest in wealthier areas where EVs are already present, if there isn’t infrastructure in place ahead of demand elsewhere, then we risk a ‘tale of two cities’, where decarbonisation is two-speed and its benefits are two-tier.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced on Monday that urban mobility will be an issue for overarching and intelligent strategy moving forward. The issue of fairness must be central to any such strategy, lest it just become a case of more nice things in nice places and a further widening of the social gap in our cities.

This is where the local state comes in. To achieve clean transport across a city, more is needed than just the installation of charging points.  Collaboration must be coordinated between many of a place’s moving parts.

The DfT announcement makes much of open data, which is undoubtedly crucial to realising the goal of a smart city. This awareness of digital infrastructure must also be matched by upgrades to physical infrastructure, if we are going to realise the full network effects of an integrated city, and as we argue in detail in our recent report, it is here that inclusivity can be stitched firmly into the fabric.

Councils know the ins and outs of deprivation within their boundaries and are uniquely placed to bring together stakeholders from across sectors to devise and implement inclusive transport strategy. In the switch to EVs and in the wider Future of Mobility, they must stay a major player in the game.

As transport minister and biographer of Edmund Burke, Jesse Norman has been keen to stress the founding Conservative philosopher’s belief in the duty of those living in the present to respect the traditions of the past and keep this legacy alive for their own successors.

If this is to be a Burkean moment in making the leap to the transformative transport systems of the future, Mr Norman should give due attention to local government’s role as “little platoons” in this process: as committed agents of change whose civic responsibility and knowledge of place can make this mobility revolution happen.

Joe Fyans is head of research at the think tank Localis.