Some say there is nowhere to park. You’re puzzled aren’t you? I’m an architect who lives in a city. I don’t live in a large urban center like New York, Chicago, LA or even….Pittsburgh. I live in a small city of 15,000 people 30 miles east of Pittsburgh. The surrounding township has another 45,000 people. The downtown isn’t what it used to be since “them there shopping malls” came in. There are efforts to revitalize it, but the progress is slow. As conversations lead to discussing either visiting downtown or opening a business downtown a common phrase that typically erupts is “there is nowhere to park.” I can see their point if you just wish to make a quick stop at the post office.
Nevertheless, this is not true in the absolute sense; there is on street parking in places and several surface lots. There is even a parking garage. Since we are the county seat, the courthouse and related workers claim many of the spots as do those that work in the state office building. So “leased parking only” is a common sign intensifying the disdain of the suburbanites who question whether to leave their cul-de-sacs and Ryan homes to venture into the big city. Driving a few more miles through traffic and lights to reach the strip malls and venture across a sea of asphalt is apparently not a problem.
I am lazy enough to understand the convenience of parking directly outside of my destination and walking to the door, especially without getting wet. We are a pampered people aren’t we? Have you ever read any of the research drawing parallels with obesity and how little we walk…anywhere? I don’t think it would hurt us if we had to walk more than a few steps to get to our destination, especially if it is somewhere to eat. It only takes a few visits to Wal-Mart to discover people who could do with a brisk walk…daily. So as I pondered this, it hit me that as a culture we do walk long distances at times and we are actually willing to walk long distances. It just depends on the place. We just don’t want to walk outside or we don’t want to walk “downtown.” I understand the small cost of parking meters and driving around looking for a spot and parallel parking….ugh. If you are a true urbanite, you are probably missing where I’m going with this since you probably walk everywhere. In fact you may not even own a car so you don’t have to worry about parking.
So my experiment here is to compare an average path one might take on their weekly (daily for some of you) trip to Wal-Mart. Did I ever mention I hate Wal-Mart? Okay, that’s another topic another day. Regardless, it is interesting to compare the size of our Wal-Mart plaza against downtown of my city. I wanted to compare how far one might walk when they park and visit Wal-Mart versus the distance one might encounter by parking and walking to their destination in a city environment. It may not prove much since I’m only measuring one location, but it makes a profound point. Here is what I found.
In this first photo, we see our local Wal-Mart plaza with two rough walking path measurements. One is the length of a recent trip (in red) where I had to go in to return something and buy one thing. The other is a rough estimate of an average trip to buy groceries. This trip length is probably severely underestimated.
The next photo shows my downtown area. One trip (in red) is a recent visit where I parked and walked to a coffee shop for a meeting. I rarely have to walk that far. The other line indicates that to match the same length of trip downtown to an average trip to Wal-Mart, we could circle the entire downtown area – a trip around at least 6 city blocks.
Just look at a direct size comparison between the Wal-Mart building and parking lot compared to the downtown area. The building alone is larger than two city blocks. The parking lot takes up more than three city blocks. So we’ll walk around the Wal-Mart plaza, but we don’t want to walk downtown. It’s okay, just admit it.
Let’s not let the mall off of the hook. This comparison shows the same Wal-Mart trip of 3600 feet overlaid in the mall. It’s about one full loop around. It’s common for mall shoppers (and wandering high school kids) to make multiple loops around. The line in red indicates the length I walked recently to park in the parking garage and walk to Panera for lunch. People regularly do that but will avoid eating downtown if they can’t park out front.
In all fairness, let’s compare the size of the mall with downtown as we did with Wal-Mart. This photo super-imposes the size of the mall over downtown. Again, we cry about walking a block or two, but we’ll walk almost a mile if it’s in the mall.
Let’s call a spade a spade. If you prefer the strip malls, Wal-Mart of your local shopping mall, who am I to change your mind? However I find it inconsistent or disingenuous to discount small downtown areas merely on the premise that one cannot often park directly outside their destination. Am I unfair…inconsistent…then just think about this before you complain again that there’s no place to park.