The Framing of “Roger Rabbit’ And Lunch with “The Donald’


The Framing of “Roger Rabbit’ And Lunch with “The Donald’

 Gerhard Mayer, an architect, urban planner and futurist in Los Angeles, has written a long piece for the Planetizen Inc. website on how parking affects the “design” of areas in LA. We have re-posted “Better Parking, Better Cities” on Trending
(Mayer says that all the surface parking is taking space that could be used for quaint villages surrounding metro rail stations. He longs for cities that look like Zurich or Amsterdam, not high-rises like in Manhattan and Century City in LA. He calls these vertical gated communities.
An example of his ideal is Third Street in Santa Monica, where, he says, the city planned garages surrounding the promenade.  Well, not really.
Third Street in Santa Monica has gone through many changes over the past half-century. The parking structures were built to support the commercial activity on Third Street. Then a shopping center was built at one end. Then the street was turned into a promenade. Then it was “revitalized.”  The shopping center was basically torn down and rebuilt. The parking has existed through all this activity.  Now, it will be the terminus of the expo line of the metro.
Amsterdam; Zurich; Bologna, Salzburg, – even San Francisco – and myriad other quaint, walkable cities, are also old cities.  They were built before trains and buses. Rapid transit was added later.  In Amsterdam, for instance, the very efficient tram system was built to fit narrow streets and hundreds of bridges over canals. The neighborhoods came first, the transit followed.
Mayer posits that we should mandate such neighborhoods and assist in their creation by:
Eliminating parking minimums.
Eliminating long-term parking
Eliminating parking in the vicinity of a transit station
Allowing conventional parking below the public right-of-way (e.g., under streets).
Creating automated parking.
Creating automated parking below the public right-of-way (e.g., under streets).
Managing parking as a public utility.
The problem with all this is that quaint little neighborhoods are expensive to build. Revitalizing the century-old buildings as they did in Santa Monica is one thing; to build them from scratch is quite another. 
Mayer disparages ready-built neighborhoods such as The Americana at Grand in Glendale, CA, or The Grove in LA, which are basically shopping centers built to look like neighborhoods. He considers them fake and “bubbly.”
But what makes neighborhoods what they are in Amsterdam, Paris or London isn’t the quaint buildings or the cobblestone streets. It’s the history that underlies the area. If you want a quaint walkable area in Santa Monica, go to Main Street or Abbott Kinney Boulevard. The shops, clubs and restaurants there have a history. The construction goes back, what, 100 years. 
The Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica is, in reality, a long shopping center with upscale stores and readymade theme restaurants. It’s The Americana or The Grove laid out in a straight line over four blocks.
Walkable neighborhoods create themselves over time. Unique shops locate there because of the lower rent; people go there because of the shops.  
I agree with Mayer that getting the government out of the business of requiring parking is a good first step. However, changing zoning laws to enable a restaurant to go where a hardware store once was is also a beginning. 
I admire Mayer’s desire to have it all, a quaint walkable area with parking underground so it doesn’t show.  Suddenly, those inexpensive shops and clubs become rent-prohibitive. The most expensive construction you can have is underground.
My solution? Let it evolve over time. Follow Houston’s lead and do away with zoning. Let entrepreneurs open their stores and get the regulation out of the way. Instead of light rail, why not put trams on the streets? Make it convenient for people to hop on and off.
You know, like they had in Los Angeles in the 1920s – the finest, most complete transit system on the planet. But then politics and greed destroyed all that. Rent the 1988 movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” As Mayer points out, it tells the whole story.
“Actually, I learn more from you than you learn from me,” he said as we part after lunch at the UCLA Faculty Center. I smile and nod. He is most gracious.
Don Shoup in retirement is the same Don Shoup as when he was teaching. He still has an office at UCLA, and he still is on speed-dial with CNN and Fox News. Whenever they have a parking-related story, he’s worth a pithy quote.
The legendary urban planner and parking guru loves to talk about how the difficult part of making changes in parking policy is political, not technical. His lead story at this lunch was about Beijing. 
During a recent visit, Don was given a tour of ancient alleyway neighborhoods, or hutongs, near the Forbidden City. They are a mixture of poor dwellings and of compounds where the more well-to-do live. They have one thing in common: They do not have toilets. Residents use common facilities located down the block. (According to tour guides, these are some of the least hygienic in Asia.) Also, a lot of cars were parked everywhere along the narrow alleyways – all illegal and paying nothing. 
Don wondered whether a residential parking program would generate enough money to clean up the local privies. Some graduate researchers discovered that it would cost $65,000 to upgrade facilities in each hutong.  The parking program and restroom maintenance would cost $25,000 a year, but would generate $50,000 in revenue. In a little over two years, the program would pay for itself and begin to generate funds that could be used for other programs.
Shoup published a paper on the subject, and even before it was translated into Chinese, it raised substantial interest in the capital.  The government liked the idea that the more well-to-do (those owning cars) would be paying, and the less fortunate would benefit from the resulting maintenance program. 
Wealth redistributed. A Communist dream. 
It’s reportedly being tested in a number of hutongs.
In a presentation to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Shoup wondered why this type of program wouldn’t work in New York City.  There are no residential permit programs in the city, and vehicle owners spend many hours searching for and keeping parking spaces. 
“Wouldn’t someone on the Upper East Side pay a lot to have a reserved parking space near their apartment home?” he asked. Plus, wouldn’t someone in a less wealthy area like to participate in the program, too?   If the city were to auction the spaces on the Upper East Side, for example, they could go for a substantial amount. Probably much more than the spaces would go for in less affluent areas.
In those areas, a reverse auction could be held. If there were 1,000 spaces available, residents could bid on the spaces, and the 1,000 highest bids would be selected; however, each would pay the lowest amount bid. The bids might range from $1,000 to $100, but everyone bidding would pay $100. 
(This type of program is being used with great success to allocate parking permits in some lots at Chapman University in Southern California.)
The additional money generated in more affluent areas could be used to supplement costs in the poorer sections of the city.
The problem is that New York has opposite-side-of-the-street-parking bans, where twice-weekly you must move your car so the streets can be swept. How could I have a reserved space if I had to move my car twice a week? The streets still have to be swept.
Our fearless parking rock star proposes “boutique” street cleaning. City workers using high-tech vacuums would walk the streets and clean around the parked vehicles. It would cost more, but the money generated from the parking program could pay for it. 
“Think of the pressure removed from drivers in Manhattan,” Don said. “They wouldn’t be playing parking roulette twice a week. How much is that worth to them?”
Would this sell in the Big Apple? The current administration is “progressive.” Don thinks it would. The program redistributes wealth by taking higher parking fees in some areas and using them to supplement lower fees in others.  It also would allow the city to hire more workers (street cleaners) and reduce some unemployment.
From the hutongs of old Beijing to the streets of New York’s Upper East Side – who would have thunk it? 
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