Strong Towns and Parking

It is exciting to see the US-based Strong Towns movement taking aim at parking minimums this week with a fascinating series of blog posts.

All this activity was warm-up for today's #BlackFridayParking event, an annual crowd-sourcing activity to highlight America's parking excesses. The idea is to photograph parking areas on 27 November, the peak retail parking day of the year. It turns out that, even on Black Friday, many shopping center parking areas never fill up. I last featured it here two years ago.

Below are some highlights from #BlackFridayParking week at Strong Towns with links to the various posts over there. It is great stuff and helpful even if you are not in the USA.

Well done Strong Towns!

Motivation from Strong Towns founder and president, Chuck Marohn

To kick off, Strong Towns founder and president, Chuck Marohn, explained the background and motivations for the week's parking content.

He told of his journey from faithful user of parking minimums (as a municipal engineer and planner in Minnesota) to doubter and then to reformer.

First he noticed the lie:
I simply started observing how, despite my assumptions, the parking lots really weren't full on Black Friday. Not even close. And if they weren't full on Black Friday, when would they be full?

Then he began to count the costs:
I also realized how parking minimums were another way the scales are tipped in favor of the corporate chains and against the local upstart... Parking minimums stop a countless number of projects before they even get through the dream phase... I was also frustrated over the cost. In a property tax system like we have here in Minnesota, all those parking lots were not paying their way. For sales tax states, it's even less.

Marohn recounted how #BlackFridayParking started as a little fun exercise for his family and then expanded into the crowdsourced event it is now.

He invited us to do what we can to change the conversation on parking minimums and to be inspired by the week of parking content.

Three podcasts focused on parking

Donald Shoup of course!!

John Anderson, real-estate developer and writer of the RJohntheBad blog. John is blunt and entertaining. I liked this comment on where parking standards come from,
... it looks like grown ups have been hard at work with calculators and have come up with these things, but unfortunately, they're done more by rumour and bad habit than anything else. I mean, often the metric is, 'how much parking would we have to require to eliminate getting phone calls about not having enough parking'. 

Joe Minicozzi of Urban Three on how parking lots take away value and tax revenue from our cities. This complements the post by Joshua McCarty mentioned below.

Map of cities reforming parking minimums

Strong Towns shared its crowd-sourced map of municipalities around North America that have been reforming their parking requirements (and in some cases abolishing them altogether in certain areas).

I was surprised to see so many small cities and towns on the map.

Do you know other examples? Visit their survey and let them know!

The case of Phoenixville, PA

On Monday, Rachel Quednau interviewed Ray Ott who helped Phoenixville PA eliminate all parking requirements on the main street and adjacent side streets. Ray was surprised that the push to abolish the parking requirements went so easily. He advises anyone wanting to decrease parking minimums to use photos to doument the space taken by parking.

Why have parking minimums where it is easy to NOT own a car?

Also on Monday, Andrew Price had strong words for Hoboken and places like it. Why would a place where a car is less necessary than almost anywhere in the US still require off-street parking spaces with new or redeveloped buildings?

Mapping the Effects of Parking Minimums

On Tuesday, Joshua McCarty from Urban Three shared a set of stunning 3D visualization maps, using Des Moines, Iowa, as an example.

Joshua's post features stunning maps of the distribution of parking in the city (in red) versus buildings (in black) juxtaposed with maps of property tax production per unit area. This lets him examine how different configurations of buildings and parking contribute to tax production efficiency.

He ends with this striking map in which height represents value per acre, redder properties have a greater proportion of parking, and bluer ones have more building.
Image copyright Urban Three
Notice anything? Parking is deadweight for cities dependent on property taxes, says Joshua.

Robust Development in Fargo without Mandating Parking

On Wednesday, Jason Schaefer shared the encouraging case of Fargo, North Dakota, where in 2000 parking minimums were eliminated in the special downtown 'Renaissance Zone'. Far from hindering development or causing problems, the intitiative has spurred a huge amount of development and vitality for the area.

Write to your local paper to end parking minimums

In another helpful post Rachel Quednau urges us to take local action against parking minimums by writing to our local newspapers. She makes the case that you can make a real difference this way. She also provides excellent tips on what to include.

If you are in the USA, you can participate in #BlackFridayParking

On November 27, get outside and take pictures of the parking lots in your town.

Upload your photos to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #blackfridayparking. Bonus points if you include the location and estimate how full the lot is. (Turning on location services will also greatly aid us in mapping out these posts all over the country.)

Visit the Strong Towns website on November 27 to view other peoples' photos from across the country.


  1. Whether a car is "necessary" or not is a personal opinion, not something that should be forced upon citizens. I live in NYC, where public transportation is available, and I can walk to some destinations, but a car is still NECESSARY for me to have freedom to get out of the city for other reasons (visiting family, shopping, recreation, etc.). I also find it MUCH easier to do my grocery shopping with a car. Some people grew up in a city without a car, and adjusted to it, not knowing what they were missing. But those that grew up in the suburbs and absolutely needed a car (and enjoyed the freedom that comes with it) may not be willing to give that up. And there's no need to, if cities would recognize that people are DIFFERENT, and some want to have a car and a safe, reliable, cheap place to park it.

    1. I think it is not merely a personal opinion if cars present so much negative externality to the whole society, to name a few: pollution, injuries or even deaths, petrol subsidy, space inefficient. There must have some regulations and there is a need to reduce the amount of car (ban is not a solution though). The main argument is that people may not find it necessary to drive at all if public transit is convenient. Freedom is when we have freedom to use different method at different time to reach a place, not at the expense of others who do not own heavily-subsidized cars.


Post a Comment