When you get involved in urban planning, it can be a real learning experience. One of the things you learn is that there are a lot of passionate people who care deeply about their neighborhoods, and want to share their thoughts with their neighbors in constructive ways. When strangers come together through positive dialogue, most of the time we bring out the best in each other. Neighbors uniting for the common good has become almost commonplace. For me, that’s what makes living in a city worth while.
This article is reposted from TCDP media partner Streets.MN. Check out the links below for other recent Streets.MN stories:
And nowhere is this more true than in conversations about parking. I know what you’re thinking… parking probably seems boring. In fact, I’d bet that you never think twice about it. After all, we’re just talking about storing a car when you’re not inside it; how big a deal can that be?
I’m imagining you shaking your head right now! I mean, the absolute worst case scenario is that you have to pay a few dollars or walk a few blocks through our lovely city on the well-designed and always comfortable sidewalks filled with non-threatening street life. As we all know, walking in our city is such a pleasure that most people love strolling around.
But believe me, you’d be surprised at how often parking comes up in conversations. At neighborhood meetings, in city council conversations, in the elevator… Why just the other day an acquaintance asked me “So where did you park?” instead of saying “Hello how are you?” Boy was I surprised!
Anyway, my point is that sometimes people do think about parking. And sometimes they discuss it with each other in civil ways that are almost always respectful. With that in mind, here are some reasons why I find the example of people coming together around the seemingly inconsequential issue of car storage to be a testament to our civic discourse:
#1 Reason: People See the Big Picture
Most of the time, when people are discussing parking, parking lots, paying for parking, or whether or not it’s difficult to find parking, I’ve noticed how quickly someone who might have had concerns puts aside petty squabbles and embraces the big picture view.
I know… it’s hard to believe. I had trouble believing it until I saw it repeatedly during community meetings.
For example, just the other day a new restaurant wanted to open up in our city, but their parking lot was small compared to the Coon Rapids Applebee’s. Well, once the business owner explained the situation, and how the neighborhood was walkable and historic, everyone was OK with it. That’s inspiring!
Another example was the time that bicyclists asked the neighborhood for a bike lane on our busy street. The only catch? They’d have to remove a couple of parking spots in order to make the street safe. Once they explained it, folks in the community realized that safety was important. All of them agreed that having to walk to the other side of the street was worth the sacrifice. In fact, some of them even tried riding a bicycle themselves! That was inspiring too.
Right: Two friends calmly agreeing to disagree.
Reason #2) People Don’t Mind Paying a Little Bit for the Common Good
Another thing I love about parking conversations is how quickly people get on board with paying a little bit of money for the privilege of parking their car in busy commercial neighborhoods. It’s surprising because, every once in a while, people can seem reluctant to pay for parking. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true! Sometimes I hear stories about how car drivers once in a while might treat a free parking space like a god-given right such as life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yep, it’s the exception that proves the rule.
But once you explain to folks that parking is a valuable commodity, especially in a congested or desirable area, almost everyone I talk with realizes within the space of a few minutes of polite conversation how much sense it makes to have to pay for the privilege of using valuable public space. For example, you never hear of anyone illegally using handicapped placards, circling the block incessantly, or fighting with each other about who saw what space first. And when’s the last time you heard someone complaining to a business owner about how it was hard to park? I can’t remember the last time I heard that antiquated line of doggerel.
Right: The public sphere in action at a recent parking meeting. I think the meeting was run by Quakers because everyone did such a great job listening. H/t to Ken Avidor for being inspired to make this sincere artistic homage.
In Conclusion: I Never Think About Parking Any More
So much of the time, it’s easy to get discouraged. Sometimes our culture seems to promote selfish individualism at the expense of more collective ideals like equity, environmental stewardship, and love. So when we come together around community issues, it’s truly a testament to the benevolent nature of humankind. The more you have parking conversations, the more you see them as a shining example of peaceful harmony. It’s like the middle east in that way. I sleep easy at night knowing that I live in a place where people respect each others’ values.
So I wanted to say thank you fellow citizens for not letting something petty like a parking spot prevent our city from being a great place for all people to share and enjoy. If minds are like parachutes, then parking is like skydiving because everyone’s mind is wide open. And thank goodness, because otherwise we’d hit the ground.
A friendly citizen parking his unicorn llama on the moon while a happy cat watches to make sure nothing goes wrong with the light saber.
At top: A responsible citizen paying respect to the parking meters on his downtown Main Street.