Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Tail That Wags

When I began work as a classroom teacher many years ago, I (along with many of my peers) considered classroom discipline to be the last of my concerns; nonetheless, experience soon taught me how absolutely fundamental that concern was to everything else I might want to do. For teachers, bringing some kind of order out of chaos is "the tail that wags the dog".

I may be experiencing the same kind of paradigm shift now in how I view parking. It's been clear to me for some time that downtown parking can be compared to Rubik's Cube in its being a complex interlocking system; what has been coming into focus for me recently is just how much parking is a part of urban design. It may be, in fact, the tail that wags the dog.

Several bloggers in this space have preceded me in this conclusion. David Sucher, the well-known author of City Comforts: How to Build an Urban Village and subsequently a blogger on the new urbanism, contends that urban design starts with parking. He cites conversations with architects indicating that design of parking access is always the foundation--and major limiting factor--in the design of buildings.

The movement know internationally as the New Urbanism (most influential groups such as Project for Public Spaces subscribe to the tenets of this movement) rejects the centrality of parking. For instance, the Bay Meadows Land Company in San Mateo (CA) proudly describes its design work as a "renewal of the charms and conveniences of an urban landscape designed for people rather than parking [emphasis mine]."

"Most people don't understand transportation," observes Alex Marshall, a blogger who lives in New York City. "They think we have these places [emphasis mine]...and we figure out how to move around within and between them. Actually, it works just the opposite: We create ways to move around, and that creates places [again, emphasis mine]."

As we think (and dream, hopefully) about downtown Tacoma's public spaces, let's keep our focus on places rather than how we get to them. For instance, one of the recommendations of the soon to be released final report is likely to be that the Link light rail should stop in Pacific Plaza. Looking at places first, what comes into focus?

1 comment:

  1. Nice Blog Paul,

    "renewal of the charms and conveniences of an urban landscape designed for people rather than parking [emphasis mine]."

    Yes, I believe that's true.

    Building an attractive, safe and walkable downtown ranks far above parking concerns.

    If push comes to shove, people will work very hard to get to an attractive place like Pike Place Market even if parking is difficult.

    On the other hand, no amount of parking is going to make anyone want to drive to a place. People will not have the incentive to drive the car in the first place.

    With that said, parking is an important part of the picture and should be a major consideration as long as it doesn't interfere with the functioning of downtown or create dead zones around which are pedestrian unfriendly. That's why parking underneath a building is a preferred design today.

    The problem with Pacific Avenue is that years ago, the city demolished a row of downtown buildings between 9th and 13th Avenue and built parking garages which have hobbled the functioning of downtown in the area.

    Fortunately, it looks like the city realizes this.

    There are plans now to renovate the parking garages so that they have functioning retail spaces on the first floor again which are not under a cement overhang.

    Hopefully, we will see the garages renovated very soon so we can have more life in the area.