Bill Dawers has strong feelings about parking lots, which he shares in his City Talk column, “Another parking lot detracts from downtown’s vibrancy” in today’s Savannah Morning News:
“They tend to rend the residential and retail fabric. They repel pedestrians. They generally generate far less economic activity than more intense uses. They create heat islands. They contribute to problems with drainage and polluted stormwater runoffs.”
And he’s not alone in his thinking. Here’s Donald Shoup quoting Jane Jacobs on how parking lots affect the sidewalks they border and the city at large:
“The presence of open shops and people on the street encourages other people to be out as well. People want to be on streets with other people on them, and they avoid streets that are empty, because empty streets are eerie and menacing at night. Although the absence of parking requirements does not guarantee a vibrant area, their presence certainly inhibits it. ‘The more downtown is broken up and interspersed with parking lots and garages,’ Jane Jacobs argued in 1961, ‘the duller and deader it becomes … and there is nothing more repellent than a dead downtown’.”
John A. Jankle and Keith A. Sculle review Jacobs’ ideas about what parking lots do to neighboring properties:
“A kind of ‘unbuilding’ or running-down process was set in motion. Thus, parking lots were ‘instruments of city destruction that could ‘disembowel’ a city. ‘City character is blurred,’ Jacobs continued, ‘until every place becomes more like every other place, all adding up to Noplace.”
And they offer a quote of their own:
“Nothing over the past century in America has proven as disruptive of the traditional urban landscape as parking. Perhaps nothing has made American cities less memorable…nothing fragmented the urban space more than the parking lot.”
It’s important to remember that the preservation movement in Savannah, which has prevented downtown from becoming “Noplace,” has its roots in a fight over a parking lot.
“Savannah was becoming Anyplace, USA and it was losing its soul. By the mid-1950s, the loss of the Wetter House, beloved City Market and demolition threats to the Isaiah Davenport House sparked the formation of Historic Savannah Foundation. Led by seven visionary women, HSF purchased the c. 1820 Davenport House and thus began the organization’s formal entry into the world of preservation and real estate.”
Why was Davenport House being threatened with demolition? So the land could be used for a funeral home parking lot. The question now is how to promote better uses for spaces left behind by buildings that were not saved.
Dawers offers more thoughts (and photos) on his blog.