I’m sure most all of us have heard the famous, almost annoying song “Big Yellow Taxi“, where the singer laments “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot (Ooooh bop bop bop)”. I now apologize sincerely for lodging that song in your head for the rest of the day.
Well, a writer over at one of my favorite publications, The American Conservative, has posted a short, but poignant critique of modern American parking lot obsession, and I think it’s worth 3 minutes of reading.
This is something I’ve always stopped and scratched my head over, if not gotten flat-out indignant about. Sure, I love to have ample choice in where to park my big ole’ Texas Edition Chevy Silverado when I run down to the local Academy Sports store. Yet, the parking lot never fills more than 25% of its spaces. All those harvested, beautiful East Texas pines gave their lives in exchange for asphalt for nothing. Nothing except for run-off, that is.
In the post, Jonathan Coppage notes some intriguing findings from a study on parking lot usage in American suburbia:
In many cases, the Strong Towns monitors found lots half-empty—or worse. (On Black Friday!) Any failures at peak demand only serve to emphasize how woefully disconnected our zoning and town planning often is from the real demands of good policy, however. For even if every lot were ideally full on peak days, that would leave acres of empty, nearly unusable space for the other 362 (or so) days of the year.
If this is not the truth. It seems that most of the time in suburban America, our developers sit down and decide “What’s the marginal cost of whacking down a few more acres of trees and dropping asphalt in its place? Even if it sits empty 362 days of the year? Not much! Git R Done!”
Coppage then gets right to the heart of the matter:
Because this particular government mandate is carried out by private actors acting in compliance with received zoning ordinances, however, conservatives often mistake commercial conformity for a product of free markets. And we have lived under the minimum-parking regime for so many years that we have come to be comfortable with oceans of empty lots as the seemingly natural pattern of retail life.
Nailed it. We’re comfortable with our grossly empty parking lots in suburbia. Heaven forbid we have to park more than 100 feet away from the entrance of World Market. Some of us would even rather circle the parking lot for 10 minutes in our cars to find that elusive space within 20 feet of the entrance than just pull in and park a ghastly 100 feet away. Hey, I do it myself! I’m not incriminating you if you do as well.
Not that it has taken living in one of the tiniest places on earth to realize my disdain for suburban zoning plans, but it sure has reinforced it in my mind. I’m pretty tired of seeing trees hacked down, and dirt pushed around for a few months just to see a bunch of empty, striped parking spots in its place when it’s all finished.
As a “conservative”, I think it’s time my fellow conservatives and I give a little more critical thought to commercial conformity.