Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Parking reform gets the cuddly treatment

As I've previously stressed many times, land use regulations and norms requiring parking and free parking are bad.

The core insight, made by economist Donald Shoup, is that parking spots can be analyzed just like any other scarce normal good: people's willingness to pay varies by circumstance, and the usual supply-demand logic of formal economic models applies quite well. His analysis (decent summaries herehereherehere and here) suggests that government mandates for minimum and free parking in construction/design reduces social welfare. These requirements destroy value in a familiar time-and-money framework, but finer-grained analyses also point to many negative spillover effects: enforced misallocation of urban land; disincentivizing density; subsidizing car owners at the expense of non-car owners; increasing road congestion; causing environmental degradation (to name just a few).

There are also interesting sociological and 'textural' consequences, best captured by Streetsblog's annual 'Parking Madness' competition and Strong Towns' annual '#BlackFridayParking' twitter campaign. This short video, evaluating the design of a street in Knoxville, TN, is another good example of this 'softer' line of analysis.

This recap was prompted after seeing a new video by the Atlanta-based architectural firm Kronberg Wall (recently relocated to the Reynoldstown neighborhood). Take a look:



It's obviously a nice piece of technical work, with awesome shots of Atlanta and the Beltline. But to be honest... my initial reaction was of minor pique.

It's a bit too cutesy and aspirational for me. My overwhelming attitude towards parking policy is split between hard-nosed quantitativeness (it's economically and structurally inefficient) and hard-nosed political cynicism (the logic of NIMBYism and local-level collective action politics makes parking policy reform dead-on-arrival).

Although this video might not hit my ideal policy-and-politics beats, its positivity and brand-friendliness ultimately makes it a powerful indicator. By linking parking policy to the broader social and cultural 'left-urbanist' movements which are so dominating the millennial zeitgeist and mass media, Kronberg Wall is sending a message that free-market parking policy is welcome in the 'progressive' urbanist tent.

Because most cities are politically dominated by the Democratic Party, certain market-oriented reforms have sometimes struggled to gain a foothold. Overall housing supply is the ultimate example, but the scrapping of parking, lot size, height and other land-use restrictions is increasingly finding traction within urban Democratic politics. This sort of positive, culturally-liberal message is exactly what urbanites need to hear in order to come around to parking-policy reform. Good job Kronberg Wall.

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