Parking Craters: Scourge of American Downtowns



Angie Schmitt, editor of Streetsblog USA and originator of the “parking crater” term is blunt – “a parking crater is a depression in the middle of an urban area formed by the absence of buildings.”

Whether parking craters are formed due to the meteors of 20th Century bad policy, a city’s erosion of manufacturing or housing, the abandoned scraps leftover by freeway building or just plain unfortunate luck, they absolutely destroy sections of city downtowns and make the environment more inhospitable and unattractive for livable streets. In these areas there is virtually no street life or vitality. You’ll find little greenery or open space. In hotter cities the heating of the asphalt and parked cars make the air oppressive. It’s hell on earth. It is a parking crater.

In this Streetfilm we get to talk to some advocates in Cleveland, Dallas, Hartford and Houston about the parking craters they’ve entered in Streetsblog’s annual tournament (created in 2013) to talk about why their cities have such bad craters.

Note: If this film is well received, we fully intend on doing a follow-up film looking at the flip side: cities who have changed their fortunes and adopted better parking policies to make their cities more viable and progressive.

Parking Craters: Scourge of American Downtowns from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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19 thoughts on “Parking Craters: Scourge of American Downtowns”

  1. Ron

    “Parking craters”:  The latest terminology used by some to abdicate responsibilities associated with development.  (Let the surrounding neighborhoods absorb the parking needs generated by our businesses.)

    Best of all, we can say it’s “green” (while not actually reducing driving). (That oughta fool a few people, at least.)

    Yeah – Uber and Lyft don’t even involve cars/driving, apparently.

  2. Michael Bisch

    Double take. What did that Ron guy just say? Isn’t he the guy always harping on respecting the general plan, the specific plans, the zoning and the design guidelines? Now he’s advocating for ignoring them. Weird.

      1. Alan Miller

        Nor do I, R.  I don’t usually agree with your stances on some new projects, but your comment today on abdication of responsibility has a large boulder of truth.

        A certain starry-eyed segment of utopian greenies become the worker bees for a certain segment of greedevelopers that wish to push through buildings with inadequate parking. They preach walkability and bikability and transit, just so they can get a variance, yet no actual transit or active transit facilities may appear (save a small uptick in the in-lieu account).

        1. Ron

          Alan:  Exactly.  And some oppose even a re-examination of the “in lieu of” fee/program, for parking.

          I suspect that those who live near Trackside are one of the “surrounding neighbors” who are most at-risk for failing to provide adequate parking, downtown.

          Having said that, I do see the value in limiting the number of “mini” parking lots, adjacent to businesses downtown.  (Too many driveways, etc.)  However, I don’t know where some larger lots or parking structures might eventually be constructed.  Nor do I know if (even) an adjusted fee will be sufficient.

          As a side note, I personally dislike parking structure/garages. Too inconvenient to get in and out (driving, or via walking in/out), risk of door dings, dark, etc.

  3. Jim Hoch

    If you were to poll people on why they don;t like to go downtown I suspect the existence of off-street parking would be very low on the list of why NOT to go. Not having enough parking craters would likely rank high, but not as high as the presence of the homeless.

  4. Michael Bisch

    Fascinating. We have a number of commenters insisting on the urban planning equivalent of “the earth is flat”.  That “parking craters’ detract from a vibrant, urban environment is well understood.  This stuff is not controversial in urban planning and policymaking circles at all, not even in Davis.  “Parking craters” are prohibited outright in a large swath of our downtown by ordinance, by the Core Area Specific Plan and by the Design Guidelines and “parking craters” are discouraged in the remainder of our downtown by these very same planning documents. Furthermore, there is a whole set of ordinances to incentivize property owners to forego constructing “parking craters” even in those areas of downtown where they are permitted. These policies are not new.  They’ve been in place since at least the ‘90s and have been strengthened steadily since then.  As recently as Tuesday evening, the Council directed staff to negotiate City leases with the property owners of existing “parking craters” to convert them into shared, public parking so that they’d at least be utilized more efficiently.
    You guys can argue about this until you’re blue in the face, but these are the laws of the land.

      1. Howard P

        That space on the east side of Redwood Barn, covered with asphalt… or more likely all of the City Corp yard, to the north, that doesn’t have structures on it… new buzz word, as I see it…

    1. Alan Miller

      As recently as Tuesday evening, the Council directed staff to negotiate City leases with the property owners of existing “parking craters” to convert them into shared, public parking so that they’d at least be utilized more efficiently.

      Nothing wrong with that.

      (except the term “parking craters”.)

      1. Howard P

        Except the City taking on more financial responsibilities due to negotiations when the the other party is not motivated to initiate… does the term “bend over and take it” apply?

        If it was direction to “investigate possibilities”… direction to negotiate with a specific end result is another…

  5. Michael Bisch

    Whoops! My bad, HP. Given the majority of the comments on this thread, I thought there had been another outbreak of Davis crazy. 🙂 I had even begun to wonder whether I was the only commenter to have watched the video.

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