[F]amilies across the country burst out from their households of holiday cheer in order to once again brave the lines and lots of shopping malls, exchanging gifts and chasing year-end deals. It is, in other words, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, a “peak” shopping day for which big box stores are equipped with acres of asphalt.American Conservative pundit Jonathan Coppage misses an opportunity to note that government overreach is government overreach, no matter where it originates.
This peak parking planning might seem a welcome relief to the mom in the minivan circling ever further out in search of a single open spot. But for many, if not most, commercial retail development, that parking will not be used to capacity even at peak.
If the federal government was requiring bureaucratic agencies to build acres of offices that would never or almost never be used, conservatives would rightly point to that policy as being emblematic of out-of-touch government, disconnected from the discipline of the market and the needs of the people. Ted Cruz would quip about it on talk radio, and John Boehner would drone in perfunctory tones about a needless example of government waste. 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.Administrative bloat in colleges: a response to government mandates. Parking bloat in neighborhoods: a response to government mandates.
This comfort comes at a steep cost, however, as asphalt does not pay taxes, does not host events, does not bring communities together, save for the occasional pop-up car wash church fundraiser. Instead of more shops, spaced close enough to walk from one to the other, there are patterns of gradually degrading lines drawn on the pavement. All that empty asphalt can be seen as an imposed desert, whereby the government is intentionally yet needlessly forgoing revenues that will have to be extracted from its citizens by other means.
The good news is, the private actors, and sometimes the local governments, are beginning to understand that parking bloat is crowding out productive activity. Sometimes, it takes a good mugging by reality. Consider San Francisco, where the city fathers finally figured out that much of the land use was legal only because old land-use patterns were grandfathered in.
Developers will still be able to build parking spaces, of course. But they will no longer be bound by the city’s ancient formulas to provide them. Which means they can again build the mix of early 20th-century buildings for which San Francisco is famous, most of which were illegal to reproduce under the mid-century code. (Though there were workarounds, like building bicycle parking.) In short, as the transit planner Jarrett Walker put it, San Francisco legalized itself.San Francisco, of course, is the city where real estate is so expensive that even fancy restaurants ask their diners to clear their own tables. Parking requirements, which constrain land use to include parking spaces to go with the eateries, dwellings, offices, and server farms, raise the effective rent on the land devoted to the uses the parking is incidental to. (The requirements work as a leakage from the flow of goods and services, just as taxes do. The same math that one uses in income-expenditure macroeconomics, with a 1/(1-t) term standing in for the parking requirements, works.)
First, cities realized that residents and business owners had higher priorities than “Can I park here?”—and in fact, some of the country’s least-car-friendly cities have become its most desirable. (See: Francisco, San.) Second, all that required parking functioned, as UCLA parking studies doyen Donald Shoup put it, “like a fertility drug for cars,” as lifestyles, budgets, streetscapes, and architecture were warped around the parking space subsidy. With an eye on stemming greenhouse-gas emissions, cities like San Francisco now want to reduce vehicle dependency. Third, providing parking proved to be a very onerous stipulation for developers, adding tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of every new unit. In a city with a never-ending housing crisis, scrapping the required parking space is an easy way to lower construction costs.Dear reader, you might be tempted to note that San Francisco might be home to all sorts of crunchy types: and yet, Dallas, yes, as in the Cowboys and parvenus and obnoxious pickup trucks, is also experiencing this epiphany.
If you want to see what [Minneapolis rediscovering older] zoning policy looks like in practice, all you need to do is drive around some of Dallas’ older neighborhoods, like East Dallas and Oak Cliff, where duplexes and triplexes nestle in between among single-family homes. Back in the 1920s, when many of these neighborhoods were built, there was a viable streetcar system that linked all these neighborhoods together. The presence of multi-family buildings often trace out the former routes of the streetcar.Let's rediscover the First Era of American Greatness one step at a time, even though Dallas already have light rail and commuter rail. Note that a suggestion they modify their parking minimums came from an allegedly conservative think tank, not from the greenies. "A new report by the Manhattan Institute that came out last week warns that Texas cities could face an economic slowdown if they don’t do something to address the land-use regulations that are driving the housing affordability crisis." Put more simply, those land-use regulations function as leakages, and land rents rise, pari passu.
Ye who now will bless emergence, shall yourselves bless the poor.