Privatization, A Contrarian Point of View


Privatization, A Contrarian Point of View

I have generally been opposed to the privatization of on street parking, my concerns being that the city is selling off assets (OK, leasing assets on the long term) to pay short-term liabilities. I think before a government begins selling itself, it should take a look at its liabilities and get its spending under control. Then if it makes sense, go for it.

Aaron Renn, writing in his Urbanophile blog, takes on privatization of parking for a different reason. He believes strongly that many services provided by government should be privatized, however he takes a strong, reasoned stance against the privatization of parking. Some excerpts:

The main problem with the parking meter lease is that it locks the city into a particular policy structure on parking for the next 75 years. In order to get someone to pay $1 billion up front, you have to give them certainty as to the quantity, location, hours, and rates of the meters. All of these matters are thus written into the contract. In effect, Chicago has irrevocably set public policy with regards to parking for the next 75 years.


Parking spots are the curb lane of your streets. Your streets are the primary public space in your city. They are intimately connected with everything that happens in the city, which is one reason parking policy is so politically controversial. On street parking – in contrast to garages, which are very different – is a fundamental and integral element of urban planning policy. In effect, these deals aren’t about just parking spots, they are assigning a property right interest in the biggest component of public space in the city to a private monopoly that doesn’t have the public’s best interests at heart. The city of Chicago has ceded a portion of its urban planning powers to a private company.


Imagine the world 75 years ago (1935) or 50 years ago (1960). Those people could never have foreseen what our cities would be like, what the challenges and opportunities of our urban spaces would be today, what the technology would be today, etc. How likely it is we’ll know what we need even 10 years from now?

Read his entire article here. I had a number of holes to poke into his argument (contracts can take care of policy, etc) and he rather ruthlessly skewers them.

    Renn is in favor of having private firms run on street parking, including enforcement. He feels that much of what we do in our cities dealing with parking needs to be reviewed and updated. However he doesn’t believe government should own off street parking (private industry is much better suited to garage ownership and operation.)

    For me, the last piece of his article (above) is the most telling. Consider the arrogance of believing that we can see 50 years into the future and that we can set policy now that will be effective then. Technology changes alone should show the heresy in that approach.

    Read Renn, consider the problem, and then think long and hard about your support of parking privatization.


John Van Horn

John Van Horn

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