From Paid Parking to Fine Arts, Branding City’s Public Parking
Over the past four years, the Norwalk Parking Authority (NPA) has turned negative perceptions positive by rebranding itself through parking-related communications and a concerted public outreach effort.
The small city of about 86,000 people has an urban area, though much of the city is suburban. In surrounding suburban towns, most parking is free and taxpayer-subsidized.
The NPA was created in 2002 with the growth of the city’s downtown area and the building of a new parking garage. Previously, parking was not a city priority, appearing as just a mere line item or two in the Public Works operating budget.
With the creation of the authority, the city recognized the need to better manage its parking assets in order to attract development and maintain business vitality. The NPA set about applying business models to manage and operate its parking facilities.
After several years, it was clear that while the operations of the parking system in Norwalk had much improved, its image had not. Research was conducted via quantifiable tele-research on two audiences – Norwalk residents, and local business owners and managers – to confirm this.
Research showed, not surprisingly, that most had unfavorable views of parking in Norwalk. The two biggest issues for both audiences were not enough parking and having to pay for parking.
The NPA set out to remake its public image by creating and implementing a new brand of public parking. Key to the success of this initiative was the development of a “core-positioning platform” that highlighted friendliness and accessibility.
A parking meter mascot, “Mr. Smiley,” was adopted to consistently work as a strategic thread throughout the campaign.
The NPA built equity by integrating the branding into all of its communications, including general advertising in area print and online media; environmental media/signage, including kiosks, train platforms, parking facilities and wayfinding signs; an interactive and mobile friendly website; regular e-communications with permit holders; an active Facebook page; and whimsical parking “warning” stickers.
To show that the NPA is not just about parking vehicles, but an essential requisite to the city’s economic development, vitality and sustainability, a concerted community outreach effort was implemented, including public relations.
The NPA promoted the many ways it was making the parking experience easier with new consumer-friendly technologies, such as pay-by-phone, credit card-accepting meters and paystations, and wayfinding and parking availability information. In addition, interactive kiosks with community information such as attractions, restaurants and entertainment were placed in its parking facilities
To create further community goodwill, the NPA reached out to local businesses, restaurants, retail, residential, commuters, developers, property owners, etc. to offer parking assets and support local programs. Community partnerships were embarked upon, including sponsorships of events such as the South Norwalk Summer Concert Series, SoNo Arts Festival, a Santa Crawl and Literary Crawl with South Norwalk merchants.
Destination partnerships to promote the downtown area were launched – for example, a Cruise and Cuisine package with a restaurant and the Norwalk Seaport Association. All these community efforts were promoted and supported by public relations and media activity.
An innovative public art program, “Art in Parking Places,” was created to provide opportunities to the art community to use the NPA’s parking facilities for exhibit space, transforming parking spaces into venues for public art.
For example, a permanent juried installation was created in the South Norwalk Railroad Station reflecting the city’s history, diversity and transportation through murals and a series of sculptures. Also, a gallery was opened in the Maritime Parking Garage. This curated exhibit space, free and open to the public, changes every three to four months and showcases local artists.
Four years out, perceptions have changed to positive and the campaign continues to be extended. Most recently, the NPA has launched a new campaign that promotes parking as an integral part the overall experience of living, working and visiting Norwalk. Its “We’ve got a spot for you in Norwalk” campaign ties in to upcoming wayfinding improvements with the installation of smart-parking technologies, such as occupant and space sensors, and real-time parking availability feeds online.
The success of the Norwalk Parking Authority’s rebranding efforts demonstrates how an effective marketing and communications platform can build and leverage a brand to help promote goodwill within a community.
Kathryn Hebert, Director of the Norwalk (CT) Parking Authority, has more than 25 years of senior manager experience in fiscal and financial management, marketing and branding, and strategic planning for various organizations. A member of the Women In Parking Leadership Board, she can be reached at