The opportunity cost of parking illustrated

What a wonderful example to highlight the opportunity cost of parking space!

This photograph from my trip to Guangzhou last year just popped up on my screensaver and I couldn't resist blogging it quickly. 

Almost ANY space that we now devote to parking could be used for something else (either full-time or part-time as may be the case in this photo). 

This shot was taken at the edge of one of Guangzhou's 'urban villages'. This one near the Guangzhou BRT line is built up at incredibly high densities with 5 to 10 storey buildings (like those on the left) packed tightly together in a maze of narrow alleyways. I think mainly migrant workers from the countryside live here.

Car ownership is very low so here we see people putting the planned parking area to better uses. I assume both the pool games and the childrens' bouncy game involve some kind of payment per use. I suspect that the parking here doesn't. 

It makes you think.  Can we organize parking policy so that we only devote space to parking when it really is the most valuable use? How can we make parking compete with the other possible uses of the space?


  1. Quick! Somebody call the bylaw inspector. In Canada, they'd probably also be on the hook for 1.2 spaces per table, too...

  2. This Guangzhou example is in the frontage parking for the buildings to the left.

    San Francisco's "Parklet" program is an interesting example from the West. Businesses can request to 'repurpose' the kerbside parking in front of their shopfront as a small public space. See

  3. Great picture, and great question. "How can we ensure parking competes with other uses?"

    Now I wonder what would happen if citizens were activley encouraged to treat every day as a Parking Day, and it were legislated that all public parking spaces were for any use so long as the fee were be paid?

    So we had just as much right to park street stalls, snooker tables etc. in a parking space.

    At least then Parking spaces would need to compete with other commercial uses.

    I am guessing that where parking is underpriced in central city areas there would be hundreds of new street stalls established.

    In the Chinese context where public parking tends to be allocated on pavements this might allow for other businesses like snooker clubs.

    Of course the social benefits of lots and lots of cheap parking would rule out this type of policy, where would all the cars park? It would be chaos, people might start walking and cycling due to the lack of parking spaces, and where would that leave us?

  4. Good point Rory. A few months ago I wrote down some ideas along the lines you mention and you have encouraged me to think it through more (for a post sometime soon perhaps). Safety-permitting, it seems like a promising idea to reframe 'parking space' as 'vehicle-sized short-term multi-use spaces' which could possibly be used for various things.

  5. Further to Rory's comment which mentioned food vendors in parking spaces: It seems Washington DC is seeing an upsurge of 'food trucks' and it is worrying the city-centre restaurant owners. Unfortunately, the article didn't specify the rules on parking that the trucks face. A parking-policy related thought: market-based pricing for the parking would put the restaurants and these vendors back onto a more level playing field perhaps?


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