For much of the last week or so, key Vanguard discussions have focused around the issue of parking. What I find fascinating about this discussion is that here we are in supposed progressive Davis – and yet the community, as bicycle friendly and proud of that as it is, still ends up with a major issue being a lack of parking in the core area.
Arguments have been floated that what hurts retail is not having sufficient parking to allow shoppers the ability to purchase and transport their purchases home. Others argued that customers will be less inclined to go to a store where they need to pay for parking to purchase goods.
There are some inherent problems with these arguments – paid parking is a way of life in many malls and other large urban centers. For a recent CityLab analysis, How to Survive a Retail Meltdown, lack of parking is not the issue.
CityLab writes, “The proliferation of half-vacant shopping centers and abandoned malls on the fringes of cities has become such a pervasive problem that we have a new word for it: greyfields. In fact many of these have ample parking. The problem is ‘their business model (is) slipping away.'”
They argue, “It’s the stores you have to drive to that are in trouble, reflected in rising retail vacancy rates in many metro areas.” But it’s not because of parking – it is because the land use they were designed for has gone the way of the dinosaur.
They also note, “In many cases, you will find that arterial roads—those most likely to host greyfields—are zoned exclusively for suburban-style big box and strip-mall developments. These districts often require an ocean of parking and massive setbacks from the road while prohibiting common non-retail uses, including residential, light industrial, and occasionally even office space.
“The perverse result is that developers can’t turn these greyfields into the denser mixed-use developments that residents and city managers alike yearn for. Even without new development or rehabilitation, it is often difficult to repurpose old retail developments.”
I made the comment that I find it fascinating that in progressive Davis we are arguing over parking. Which makes me wonder if anyone under 40 believes our problem is not enough parking.
While I’m no longer under 40 – my shopping habits probably more closely mirror those younger than me than those older than me. I go to downtown every day to work. Parking is not an issue for me because I purchase my own parking spot. And yet, I almost never buy retail downtown.
Why would I, when I get exactly what I want, for cheaper, and delivered right to my door in two days by ordering on Amazon? That is the reality of the new economy and why retail is flagging.
So I was reading a fascinating conversation about whether we should have 30-minute parking or two-hour parking or four-hour parking – and I suddenly realized this was a great conversation, but it is a conversation between a limited demographic of people.
While it is true that those under 40 or those in their 20s are one day going to be over 40 – the point is that there are generational changes taking place in the shopping patterns of people, and those who are under 40 do their shopping very differently than those of the older generations.
The city is going to embark on a ton of policy questions related to the Core Area Specific Plan (CASP) and among those will be things like retail in the core area and downtown parking. Those discussions will help determine what our downtown will look like and how the downtown will serve the community for a generation or more.
What becomes clear is that the conversation has to be broader than the few demographics participating in the Vanguard discussion.
While it is true those who are over the age of 60 have a keen interest in our future – in a lot of ways the next generation is who is needed to be tailoring how we design the new downtown.
In the future – fewer and fewer people are going to make their major purchases in so-called brick and mortar stations.
It wasn’t long ago that people were arguing about the need to bring a Sears into Davis. This year alone Sears has announced wave after wave of store closings – by the hundreds. Going or gone are stores like Sears, JC Penney, Kmart, and Macy’s.
That business model is going.
The question that we have is to figure out how to structure our downtown in a new era. And to understand that model we need to figure out how to get people under the age of 40 into the downtown. Is parking the prohibitive issue for people under the age of 40 or are there other considerations? Are people under the age of 40 even likely to purchase their retail products in the core area or should we be focusing on other types of businesses – like restaurants and entertainment – to lure them downtown?
Those are the questions we need to be asking and we need to reach out to a wider demographic in order to get their answers. Any effort by the city to plan the CASP without getting input from those under 40 seems to be futile.
—David M. Greenwald reporting