American cities fall in love with the parking lot

Originally this story appeared in The protector and is part of the Climate Desk cooperation.

They’re gray and rectangular, and if you put all 2 billion of them together, they’d cover an area about the size of Connecticut, about 5,500 square miles. Parking lots are monotonously ubiquitous in American life, but a growing group of cities and states are now refusing to impose more on people, arguing that they harm communities and fuel the climate crisis.

For many years, local governments have required the construction of parking spaces as part of any development. These measures, along with sprawling highways that run largely through minority neighborhoods and endless suburban sprawl, have made automobiles the default transportation option for most Americans.

However, starting in January, California will become the first US state to enact a minimum parking ban. stop using it in areas with public transportation in a move Gov. Gavin Newsom called a “win-win” for cutting emissions from planet-warming cars, and helping alleviate the lack of affordable housing in a state lagging behind building new homes.

Several cities across the country are now rushing to do the same AnchorageAlaska; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Nashville, Tennessee, all recently relaxed or deleted requirements for developers to build new parking lots. “These parking minimums have helped kill cities,” said Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at Columbia Business School, who accused political leaders of making downtowns “look bomb-hit” by filling them with parking lots.

“Eliminating parking minimums is a great step. It’s one piece in the puzzle of climate policy,” said Wagner, who pointed out that transportation is the largest source of global warming emissions in the US. “A major rethink is now underway, which is good for cities and for families.”

Climate campaigners and public transportation advocates have seized upon the formerly esoteric issue of parking minimums, posting antenna Pictures on social media demonstrating the expanses of prime urban land allocated to parking lots and urging city councils to promote denser communities with more options to walk, bike or take buses and trains instead of simply driving.

Cities such as Buffalo, New York; and Fayetteville, Arkansas, scaled back parking minimums a few years ago and to have reported a wave of activity to convert previously derelict buildings into shops, apartments and restaurants. Developers previously viewed such work as unviable due to the requirement to build plots for parking lots, in many cases several times larger than the building itself.

Nashville is one of a new wave of cities hoping to do the same. “It’s about the climate, it’s about walkability, it’s reducing traffic and the need for everyone to have a car,” said Angie Henderson, a member of the Nashville Metropolitan Council who is pushing the parking change for the core area of ​​the city. city ​​suggested.

Henderson said she was struck by the way a dental office in her district was forced to build a parking lot for 45 cars, requiring the felling of trees on a nearby hill, despite there being only room for a handful of patients.

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