A Tale of Two (Once) Very Different Cities


A Tale of Two (Once) Very Different Cities

Angelica still remembers her first day in Los Angeles, and she enjoyed that day, and every day since. 

I left my home in Guatemala in 1988. Boarded a plane at La Aurora International Airport; touched down in LAX a few hours later. I cleared Customs and Immigration and went outside to find my mom, who had been waiting for me to join her in the Golden State. I was immediately faced with the most traffic I could ever have imagined and the largest parking garages I had ever seen. There were cars everywhere. 

I looked everywhere for my mom, and as I did, I took it all in, this whole new world. I had everything before me, and I had nothing before me. In short, the period was so far like the present period, that sometimes I feel like nothing ever really changes. That is, except for parking. 

Parking had immediately changed for me, that very day, as I flew for 4½ hours, leaving a city of mostly surface lots and some curbside parking, and arriving, 2,200 miles later, in a city with garages that took up whole city blocks with six, seven and even more floors. 

My mother found me, we hugged, we cried, she complained that I was too skinny, and we heaved my suitcases, which contained everything I owned at that time, into the trunk of her car, and we backed out of the parking space and drove off. I had never been in a parking garage before, in fact I probably hadn’t even realized that they existed until that moment. 

As we drove away from the airport, I could see that there were even more colossal parking garages everywhere. Some even had their own names. Some were quite simple in design and offered little beyond a place to park a car; others were works of art (and some even had works of art applied directly to their walls, both outside and inside), some had landscaping all around them and others had vines crawling along their facades. 

Guatemala City has had its fair share of traffic congestion but nothing like I then encountered in Los Angeles. I have since learned that there are three times as many cars in Los Angeles as in Guatemala City, along with about 6,000,000 parking spaces in contrast to Guatemala City’s 1,500,000. Los Angeles is about 30 percent bigger in area than Guatemala City, but has a population of about the same. All of which goes a long way in explaining the traffic and the amount of parking required between the two cities. 

Guatemala City is older than Los Angeles but has not experienced the explosive whirlwind of growth that L.A. has reaped these past 60 to 70 years. I used to think that Los Angeles had unjustifiably high parking rates, but then, in the past few years, I’ve visited Boston, New York City and San Francisco. I have a new and profound appreciation for the tempered, restrained parking charges of the City of Angels. 

Over the intervening 30 or more years, I’ve had several occasions to go back and visit the land of my birth. And I assume that I’m not the only one traveling between Los Angeles and Guatemala City, pollinating the seeds of parking. Over the decades I have observed parking in my hometown grow, expand, evolve and transform, all the while taking on the look and shape and feel of parking in any big city in the United States. Someone’s bringing parking ideas and innovations down to Guatemala. 

And while Los Angeles may have led the way in technological advances in the parking industry, Guatemala City is now just a little behind, or perhaps, even running abreast. Guatemalans can pay for their parking these days using any one of several phone apps, and, in several large malls, go to kiosks and enter their license plate and be reminded of, and pointed to, exactly where their car is parked, from a comprehensive LPR program. 

Multi-story gleaming parking garages have appeared where once only stood surface lots, strewn with empty bottles, dirty cones, and plastic lawn chairs. Like many cities in the Western Hemisphere, Guatemala City’s street grid was deliberately planned; street widths have typically ranged from 25 to 50 feet, leaving sufficient room for on-street parking. This parking is, more often than not, offered at no cost, and as expected, the on-street parking occupancy rate is nearly always 100 percent in the highest demand areas. 

As in most U.S. cities, planners in Guatemala City place minimum parking requirements on new developments, requiring that new commercial and residential developments include off-street parking for users. The motivation behind these requirements is similar to those in U.S. cities: to prevent the encroachment of parking from new developments onto already congested on-street parking spaces. Guatemala City’s requirements are somewhat strange given that car ownership is not very prevalent and widespread in the city.

Soon after I arrived in Los Angeles, I found myself in the world of parking, in a far more permanent and constant fashion than that first day. It’s been my profession for the past 25 or so years and I can still, and will always, remember making my way out of the Tom Bradley International Terminal and being greeted by those massive parking structures. It was my welcome to Los Angeles and a foreshadowing of my eventual welcome to my career. 

Over the years, I’ve learned that you meet the nicest people in parking lots; as well, unfortunately, their exact opposites. I’m not exactly sure if parking imitates life, or if life imitates parking. It’s probably a lot of both. But there’s a consistency and a science to parking that make it an aspect of my life that has allowed for my own continual growth. If you can manage parking, you can manage just about anything. 

And I have come to realize that there is nothing permanent except change. Guatemala City is changing; its parking is demonstrative evidence of that. You really can’t look at anything without taking into account not only the way it is, but the way that it will be.

Angelica Urquizu, CPP Manager Parking Concepts, Inc. aurquizu@pcila.com

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Angelica Urquizu
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