Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in American history, has said the best possible investment is real estate in New York City. More than 150 years after his death, his words turned out to be premonitory: real estate prices in the Big Apple have reached astronomical levels that even the Commodore himself could never have imagined. It’s easy to see why. Manhattan is an island, space is limited and demand will always exceed supply. Buildings may get taller and taller to accommodate a growing population, but they no longer make ground on them. But what if we all wake up one day and find that New York actually has over 20 square miles of land that no one has noticed before?
Today is that day.
Most people don’t think about parking spaces on the street. They are just a fact of life that we all grew up with and that we all accept as normal. People get into their cars, pull over to a sidewalk, enter a store or office, then get back into their car. Pretty simple, right? It’s also incredibly inefficient, it contributes to pollution and ultimately benefits a few people while bothering millions of others. The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed just about every aspect of our lives, and it has also given us the opportunity to take a step back and really reassess where we want our urban areas to go. And one of the main achievements is that street parking is detrimental to the life of a city.
There is nothing good about the pandemic, and I certainly don’t want to downplay the catastrophic effect it has had on so many families and businesses in the United States. It is nothing less than a national tragedy. But the massive changes caused by the virus have given us a unique opportunity to see how cities can be improved. In the end, none of us were prepared for the pandemic and our infrastructure was not up to par. The only reason we made it through last year was the heroic efforts of millions of people, including city and county officials who burned midnight oil to find solutions to a consuming problem. that no one had ever considered. event.
The Smart Cities Collaborative recently published a special report titled Covid and the sidewalk which explores how cities are making radical changes to street parking. Some jurisdictions actually create curbside parks that turn streets into bustling areas where people can meet and connect. Others are creating transit and bicycle lanes to reduce congestion. There isn’t just one right way to do it, but what is increasingly evident is that now is the time for innovative thinking.
The pandemic may have accelerated this conversation, but it has been going on for some time. Two years ago, the City Journal made a strong case to replace street parking with better options, and Bloomberg find that street space in Manhattan (most of which is free) had a real value of over $ 6,000 (per year?). It’s a lose-lose for everyone except someone from Westchester who wants to hit town for a night out, and that’s not a compelling enough reason to make 44% of Manhattan’s streets unusable. Most of New York’s two-lane streets are actually 50 percent blocked four-lane roads. If you’ve ever spent 45 minutes trying to walk six blocks during rush hour, you know how maddening it is.
The problem, of course, is people are still driving, and that won’t change next year. Thanks to the pandemic, fewer people are using public transportation in most U.S. cities, even as work-from-home policies have become the norm. How to reconcile the desire to reclaim parking lanes with the increase in the number of drivers? The good news is that this is not an insurmountable problem because it is not a situation of choice. This is where parking garages can alleviate just about any problem caused by street spaces without sacrificing drivers’ ability to safely access their workplaces.
At a basic level, this may sound a little optimistic. After all, as anyone who has walked in circles to park in a densely populated city like San Francisco knows, there never seems to be enough garages. But the reality is much more complicated: there are actually a lot of garages in just about every city, but in many cases these are not the “right kind” of garages. So while there may be waiting lists to get a coveted spot in a downtown office tower, it’s likely that a hotel three blocks away or an apartment building from the across the street has additional underutilized spaces. It is not a problem of supply and demand: it is a problem of information exchange. And cities that can figure out how to use empty parking spaces will have a lot more flexibility in their ability to reduce or eliminate on-street parking and reclaim thousands of square kilometers of prime urban properties for everyone to enjoy. can use and enjoy them.
Jeremy Zuker is the co-founder of WhereiPark, a technology company that enables owners of multi-family residential and commercial buildings to discover new sources of revenue through innovative solutions that exploit unused parking spaces.