When Parking Supply affects Relationships between Neighbours

I live on a narrow medieval street that feeds into the centre of a small dense city outside of Stuttgart, Germany (Esslingen, if you know the area). We moved to this street because of its cozy feel, cobble-stoned streets, and beautiful old timbered houses. We knew it wasn’t for everyone because houses are right on top of each other, leaving little space for sunrays to penetrate through windows. We can practically see the expressions on neighbors’ faces across the street. Still, it never occurred to me that parking might be a reason not to move here. Until my friend, who lives about 1.5 km away, quipped at me out of frustration when there was nowhere for her to park when she quickly stopped by, “You knew there was no parking when you moved here”. I sputtered something in defense of our choice of residence, but in reality, I had never really thought about it. As non-car owners, parking was simply not on our radar. After that, I noticed more instances where parking availability factored into major life choices. A woman who worked in downtown Stuttgart bragged to our assembled group that at her home in the suburbs she never had to search for parking. In unison, the group groaned out of envy.

I have come to learn that when parking spaces are limited, who owns one and how they are used can affect relationships between neighbors. We use the parking space that came with our apartment for bike parking--see video below to see how it works (and how kids see it as a toy). Most people who happen to be walking by when we access the bikes make some kind of comment (mostly positive) about our unusual use of the space. But one neighbour who saw the garage went to the police and complained that we are using a car parking space for bicycles when on-street parking is in such short supply. He thought we should be forced to use it for a car or lose our residential parking permit. He didn’t get very far since we don’t own a car and therefore don’t have a parking permit.

In discussions about parking, policies like parking minimums/maximums, supply levels, or parking prices are heavily debated. Unspoken in these debates are the myriad ways that policies can affect people’s lives or relationships. While such considerations may be superfluous to most policy discussions, they are highly relevant when deciding how to communicate parking policies. Parking policies have real implications for decisions like where we shop, how we visit our friends or relatives, or whether we see our neighbours as competitors for precious space.

In a world where parking is often seen as a right—as evidenced by my friend who questioned my judgement for moving to a street with limited parking—restrictive parking policies can push nerves as well as pocket books. Without a corresponding communication campaign to build support for an increase in parking prices or decrease in supply, resentment against the policies are sure to build. That’s why a better understanding of people’s travel routines can help to fine-tune communications campaigns that are aiming to increase support for more restrictive parking policies. For example, if a decrease in public parking supply due to an extension in residential parking zones will disproportionately inconvenience office workers it might be worthwhile to target a campaign at this group, explaining the reasons for the changes and pointing out alternatives relevant to them.

What are some best practices in the area of communication campaigns for parking policies? If so, do you have examples of communication campaigns around parking policy that tailored its message to a certain target group?


  1. Thanks for this Gabrielle. I hope this can start some more conversation about the links between the "public policy" level of thinking and the local and personal implications for daily lives.

    Often such personal stories are complaints from motorists. Sometimes such complaints are justified but the range of experiences of parking and parking policy must be much wider than 'I can't find parking' or 'the parking is way too expensive'.


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