‘Shoupistas,’ Burghers, and Henry I
Let’s talk about parking. “Shoupistas” talk a lot about the (mostly) American propensity to provide one parking space for each person that will ever visit a building during its whole life. This action is based largely on data produced by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE).
I always thought that the most powerful part of Donald Shoup’s argument was the first part of his book (“The High Cost of Free Parking”), which dealt with the inadequacies of the ITE trip generation data. For sure, they were maybe the best around, but that doesn’t make them good enough.
Anyway, two recent events in the UK show a very original reaction to how to deal with, perhaps, too much parking, and a very individual response to parking charges.
The quaintly named Westward Ho! is a small English seaside resort in Devon, in southwest England. Among the facilities available is – or more correctly, was – the 20-space Seafield carpark for visitors, at $5 a day.
I say “was,” because local entrepreneur Robert Braddick, whose family has been in business in the town since the 1930s, and who currently owns several bars there, has taken a 50-year lease on the carpark and immediately made it free to use.
Now, this goes against the received wisdom that free parking is bad, but in the short term at least, I suspect Mr. Braddick has achieved his objective of raising the town’s profile in a highly competitive fight for the tourist’s pound. He will probably get his money back through the bars’ tills. In the longer term, will anarchy work? I am not so sure.
By contrast, the burghers of Leicester, in England’s East Midlands, have come up with a radical way of dealing with the conflicting demands for parking and a better street scene. St. Nicholas Place is a fairly dreary part of the city center. A large roundabout, with the ring road on an underpass, is dominated by a fairly horrible 1960-’70s carpark and hotel.
Opposite the carpark on the edge of the historic town, there was a spare piece of land that, inevitably, was used as a surface carpark. Even the council recognized it as “a site that detracts from the area.” However, the carpark generates more than $300,000 a year in revenue, and in these cash-strapped times, that should have been enough to ensure its survival.
This reckoned without the drive of Leicester’s elected Mayor and former MP Sir Peter Soulsby. Sir Peter not only closed the carpark, he also spent about $6 million turning the site into a landscaped public space, with lawns, hard landscaping and seating.
Renamed Jubilee Square, the revitalized space hosts the local Hindu Diwali festival, open-air cinema and celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday. It seems that, at the start, everyone was telling Sir Peter why he couldn’t do it; now the feedback seems to be all positive.
The lesson seems to be: If you have a good idea, go for it. Very un-English.
I have written before about problems with off-site valet parking companies at London Gatwick airport. They pick up your car at the terminal and take it off to a “secure compound,” while you go off on your two-week holiday. It’s delivered back to you at the terminal, and off you go. That’s the theory.
In practice, people have had cars that have been damaged, used as taxis and, in one case, returned with a bag of grass in the glove compartment. Even if your car isn’t damaged, the “secure compound” often turns out to be curbside in the local factory estate.
This has been going on for years, and I had hoped that the new owners of the airport might get to grips with this and kick the dodgy operators off their site. It’s not public land, and if the airport wants to ban them, it can. But, no – once again the national press is full of stories about a thousand cars being found parked in a muddy field.
Apparently, five online off-airport parking companies are involved, taking cars to the field, which is open and unattended, except when cars are being moved. The cars are parked, unlocked, with their keys either stuck under the wipers in a plastic bag or in a box in a caravan.
It has been a wet summer, and some cars were sunk so deeply in the mud that the police were unable to tow them out. Others had up to 500 miles extra on their odometer since they had been handed over.
Now, I sort of get this if your car is a $1,000 wreck and you want to save a few dollars, but the vehicles included $120,000 Range Rovers and up-market BMWs. What kind of person puts a $100,000 car at risk just to save, perhaps, $50? (Oh, yeah, perhaps the sort of people that vote for “Brexit” based on a string of lies that wouldn’t fool a 5-year-old.)
Lost a king? First, check the carpark. As you know, the remains of Richard III were found under a carpark in Leicester in 2012. Now, it seems entirely possible that the same archaeologists may be about to repeat history.
Researchers are currently excavating near the ruins of Reading Abbey in Berkshire, where King Henry I was buried. The abbey was largely destroyed in 1538, after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. It is rumoured that, shortly afterward, his son, Edward VI, sent men into the ruins to find the king’s silver coffin, scattering his remains in the process.
However, just maybe the remains of King Henry I are still there, resting under what was the high altar in what is now under either a parking lot of a local prison or part of a nursery school carpark.
Peter Guest, a Consultant in the UK, is PT’s Editor-at-Large on all things British, European, Middle Eastern and Indian.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.