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Kunstler: Parking Plans Are Based on “Faulty Assumptions”

2:34 PM EDT on October 10, 2007

If you're the type of person who has been following the Yankee Stadium parking garage story, or the Hudson Yards zoning story or the story about the city block in Prospect Heights that's being leveled and turned into a gigantic surface parking lot, you may enjoy James Howard Kunstler's column this week. The author of The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency, has lately noticed that many American towns "are obsessed to the point of mania with the issue of parking and more generally the management of cars, and much of their spending is directed to those ends." He writes:

Because I wrote a couple of books about the design of cities (and the shortcomings of suburbia), a lot of blather comes my way about what towns around the nation are planning for the future -- and, off course, I hear plenty on the subject in my own town, Saratoga Springs, New York, which is a classic "main street" type town. I also happen to travel a lot and actually see what's going on far from home. Almost everything I see and hear is inconsistent with what I think reality has in store for us.

Most American towns, including my own, are obsessed to the point of mania with the issue of parking and more generally the management of cars, and much of their spending is directed to those ends. Municipal leaders (and the public they serve) have no idea what kind of problems the nation faces with oil. Because life in the USA has worked a particular way all their lives, they assume that it will continue to operate that way. Not only will they be disappointed as happy motoring spirals into history, but they will create a lot mischief in the meantime in planning things based on faulty assumptions.

My own town, for instance, relies heavily on tourism, in particular tourism based on happy motoring. There is not the slightest apprehension among the people here, or our leaders in city hall, that automobile-based tourism may not be happening as soon as five years from now. All our political energy is being expended in fighting about what kind of parking structures we will build (with borrowed money) and where to put them, and how these things might incorporate some secondary uses, such as police offices. We have also been debating plans for the expansion of our modest convention center -- in connection with added parking structures. It seems to me that one of the first things to go as the US economy contracts, along with its energy supply, will be activities like boat shows and optometrist's conventions.

Now this town happens to be on a railroad line that connects New York City to Montreal. Before 1950, it was the main way that people came to this town. These days, we get one train a day in each direction. The trains are invariably late, and not just a little late, but hours late. The track bed is in miserable shape and, of course, Amtrak is a sort of soviet-style management organization. There is no awareness among the public here, or our leaders, that we would benefit from improving the passenger railroad service, and around the state of New York generally there is no conversation about fixing the railroads. (Governor Elliot Spitzer is preoccupied these days with arranging to give driver's licenses to people who are in the country illegally.) We are going to pay a large penalty for these failures of attention....

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