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January 27, 2021  

Parking’s “Free Ride” Is a Financial Disaster for Cities

January 27, 2021

We’ve written a lot at Strong Towns about the problems with big box stores: the acres of valuable land they (and their parking lots) consume, the way the buildings are designed to be obsolete, the way they siphon money out of town rather than build wealth from within. Yet it’s hard to put all the blame on the Walmarts and Home Depots and Costcos of the world; they have figured out how to succeed under the rules that we—the towns and cities—have established. If we consistently get outcomes we don’t like, we need to change the rules of the game.

The same is true of parking. American cities are massively overbuilt on parking. This has both real costs and opportunity costs. Some of the blame might be put on a parking developer who turns otherwise valuable land into a surface parking lot, holding onto it like a land speculator until it can be sold for a big profit. But don’t we the residents deserve some of the responsibility too? After all, parking developers are thriving within the system we made...or at least allow to continue.

In a recent article, Joe Cortright of City Observatory described aspects of that system: “We have too much parking for many reasons: because we’ve subsidized highway construction and suburban homes, because we’ve mandated parking for most new residential and commercial buildings, and because we’ve decimated transit systems. But a key contributor to overparking is the strong financial incentives built into tax systems.” Cortright then detailed a proposed ordinance in Hartford, Connecticut that would begin to correct this. Expanding fees on private commercial parking lots and structures, the ordinance would, he said, mimic the important features of a land value tax. “Call it LVT-lite,” he wrote.

In this week’s episode of Upzoned, host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, and Chuck Marohn, the president of Strong Towns, discuss Joe Cortright’s article and how cities essentially subsidize parking. They talk about the land value tax, the way current tax systems incentivize parking and disincentivize improvements, and why all that parking is an anchor on our prosperity.

Then in the Downzone, Chuck talks about a course he’s been taking on the Black Death. And Abby talks about new adventures in cooking and making music.

Additional Show Notes: