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Parking Craters: Scourge of American Downtowns

Streetsblog's Angie Schmitt popularized the term "parking crater," and she explains it simply: A parking crater is "a depression in the middle of an urban area formed by the absence of buildings."

Different types of "meteors" left behind parking craters in the 20th Century -- sprawl subsidies, the erosion of manufacturing, highway building. Whatever the cause, parking craters absolutely destroy sections of downtowns and make the environment more inhospitable and unattractive for people. In these areas, there is virtually no street life. In warm weather the asphalt makes the air more oppressive. It's hell on earth. It's a parking crater.

In this Streetfilm we talk to advocates in Cleveland, Dallas, Hartford, and Houston about the parking craters in their downtowns -- several of which have been contenders in Streetsblog's annual Parking Madness tournament -- and why these cities have such bad craters.

A final note: If this Streetfilm is well received, we intend to do a follow-up film looking at the flip side -- cities that have undone their parking craters by adopting better policy.

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  • Kevin Love

    One example of a city that has undone parking craters is Toronto. An air photograph from the 1970's would show a large number of parking craters.

    But almost all surface car parking is gone today.

  • Dan Sullivan

    Land value tax makes open parking lots unprofitable where land is of high value.

  • LAifer

    Thank you for continuing to shine a spotlight on these parking craters' impact on land use (pun intended). When we place such a high priority on parking as a land use, it drives up the cost of everything else; thus contributing to the high cost of housing we're seeing more and more in American cities.

  • tedre123

    Well done Angie! It's nice to have a phrase that summarises well the situation.

  • Ken

    Google car at 2:55. I spy with my panoramic view pod, one google car.

  • iSkyscraper

    The award for parking crater removal should go to Toronto, hands-down. Just look at any photos taken from the CN Tower from the 70s and 80s and compare to today - the difference is astonishing. Virtually every surface lot in the downtown now sports a 30 story condo tower on it. Incredible images. (Blogto.com has more on this - contact their editors)

  • tooter turtle

    Not only do cities have some huge parking craters that act as moats separating neighborhoods, but they also have too many smaller parking lots that reduce neighborhood business and residential density, making the neighborhoods less walkable. One strip mall can really destroy the walkability of a neighborhood business district...

  • EcoAdvocate

    It would be good to find out what union(s) around the nation are mandating parking lots within a certain distance from the workplace. Perhaps something could be negotiated instead: parking CASHOUT. If you don't drive to work then we pay you. As people take advantage of such a policy, instead of gov't offices maintaining parking lots at a cost of ~$500/space/year some land could be sold, developed and put back on the tax roles--more housing, commercial, and sales tax.

    Anyone know of any unions requiring this?

  • Robert

    Denver undid that old parking crater, too. They no longer have that awful parking crater shown in the video (thank goodness).

  • Robert

    Certainly the union representing the employees of CT. I'm not sure of any other ones. I know a similar situation exists in Boston, where the Government Employees of the state (at least the legislature) have free parking (which they totally should not; they should be forced to pay or take the train).

  • Robert

    Yes it does, assuming that the parking is not as or more valuable than the alternatives. In some car oriented cities, that parking is essential to the transportation system; and if the owners are smart, they charge whatever the market will bear.