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Friday, December 13th, 2013

The Marginality of Parking

I’ve long argued that complaining about “there’s no parking” or having to “pay for parking” is just a convenient scapegoat excuse people give when the product on offer isn’t a compelling enough buy. If your downtown doesn’t offer enough value vs. a suburban office park location, naturally employees having to pay to park sounds like a huge imposition. If an attraction is lame, then of course people don’t want to pay to park there.

I just came across another example of this in action. Attendance at Indiana Pacers games has spiked this year. It’s not hard to figure out why: they started winning games and have a team that doesn’t repel fans. Not long ago their arena was so empty it reminded me of the old days at Market Square where they used to hang a curtain around the upper deck to screen off the empty seats. Those Pacers were a team of thugs that got involved with fights with fans in the stands at the game, and shootouts at strip clubs afterwards. They also didn’t do a lot of winning.

Parking charges on game nights remained quite hefty throughout. The fluctuations in attendance had nothing to do with parking and high parking prices aren’t preventing sellouts this year. The lesson is clear: create a compelling product in your downtown or business district and parking won’t be an obstacle.

It’s amazing how often parking is viewed as determinant. Here’s a particularly sad example from Providence. It’s a marketing ad for downtown, which Greater City Providence called, “Come For the Parking, Stay For the Parking.” Please. (If the video doesn’t display for you, click here).

Don’t be that guy.

8 Comments
Topics: Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis, Providence

8 Responses to “The Marginality of Parking”

  1. Matthew Hall says:

    I agree completely. Parking is a rationalization, not a reason. How else can you explain the existence of Manhattan and the vast parking lots of New Jersey within sight of each other?

  2. Rod Stevens says:

    Parking’s importance has a lot to do with whether you’re selling a commodity.

    Live basketball is obviously an experience. So is shopping for a coat or dress you’re going to wear to a holiday party. In those cases, you go where you have to find what you need. On the other hand, if you’re shopping for a Calphalon skillet at Bed Bath and Beyond, you want free parking. If you’re buying that skillet at a high end kitchen store where the help is skilled and you are counting on them to steer you to the right use, then you’ll pay to park downtown or in midtown.

    You’re right, though, that people resort to parking campaigns when they are bankrupt of other ideas. Downtown Providence should have a lot to offer, especially in terms of dining out and after-hours entertainment. My guess is that their product offerings during the day are poor and this is why they’re trying this campaign. Rather than giving away parking in some sort of race to the bottom, they should instead be thinking about what else they can offer in the product itself to get people downtown- library lectures, free music, university courses, better work places, etc. Sounds a lot like a place without a day-time strategy.

  3. Rod, that’s what I was trying to get at with the mention of office space. If there’s nothing unique in your downtown (business value) then of course parking and cost makes a suburban location look good. At that point parking can become a marginal factor that shapes your decision.

  4. Chris Barnett says:

    I think sometimes parking for offices is a red herring, cover for suburban executives tired of commuting 30-40 minutes and then wheeling into a parking garage. Indy has several examples of big downtown offices relocating, even though there is plenty of activity in the core.

  5. Yes, Chris, but what’s the business value of being in downtown Indy? Does it help recruit? Is there proximity to specialized services you need? If there’s no business value, why would anyone want to drive downtown?

  6. PeterW says:

    Rod’s point about commodity vs. uniqueness is well taken, but I think there’s more to it than that: sometimes because you offer parking, you become *unable* to offer a sufficiently compelling alternative to suburban strip malls because the only way to offer that amount of parking is to become a strip mall.

    But I think to understand this, you have to think of the network advantages integrated urban neighborhoods have. If you go to a decent urban neighborhood, you have to search for parking and walk several blocks, but then you are presented with a lot of different “attractions” on the walk and in the neighborhood – ideally, a series of interesting restaurants, pubs, bars, coffeeshops, plus some interesting retail (chocolate shops, wine and beer shops, clothing boutiques, etc.). This leads to serendipitous encounters with places you weren’t planning on going, but also with people you weren’t expecting to see.

    Driving to a strip mall is much more of a point-to-point experience – you get in the car, and when you get out of the car, you’re at your destination, without having any opportunity to meaningfully interact with the environment or other people.

    The advantages of this kind of serendipity are easy to see in Indianapolis – Broad Ripple is the quintessential example of a place where you search for parking, where you may have to pay for parking, and where you end up walking blocks to get to your specific destination. But because BR itself is more of a general destination, you will run into people and places you weren’t expecting. And this wouldn’t happen if BR offered suburban-style parking because it would no longer be compact and walkable.

    Notably, BR faces no real competition as a destination from places with a lot of parking; it faces competition from Mass. Ave – where parking is likewise “inconvenient” but where you get the same kind of serendipitous experiences.

    And the up and coming third place challenger to BR and Mass Ave. is Fountain Square…which, again, is a place where it’s “inconvenient” to park, but where there are a lot of chances for serendipity.

  7. InfoPump says:

    “Don’t be that guy.”

    Roots Cultural Center closed, Westminster Street building sold
    October 22, 2013 10:39 AM

    http://www.providencejournal.com/breaking-news/content/20131022-roots-cultural-center-closed-westminster-street-building-sold.ece

  8. a w davis says:

    Parking has become a service that business entities provide. The “Sport’s Industries” has the best model, to take advantage of this transformation.

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