Here we are, less than a week into this project, and we’re already breaking our first and only ground rule: that photos should be taken of lots during peak traffic times in order to give a true sense of how the space actually gets used. But we’re making an exception today for downtown Minneapolis. And here’s why. The parking lots in the photos below are well utilized Monday through Friday from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. But after that—during the evenings, on weekends, and on holidays (these photos were taken from about 1:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m. on Memorial Day)—they’re deserted. That’s well over 50 percent of the time, which arguably qualifies this as “how the space actually gets used.” The lots below cover a stretch of about three-quarters of a mile along 5th Ave. S that is (with a couple of exceptions) more or less dedicated entirely to surface parking.
The problem here isn’t that this parking exists—people who want to drive to work should be able to, so long as they are willing to pay the market value of the 75-162 square feet that their parking spot inhabits (a figure which doesn’t include the extra square footage for circulation areas, end of aisle areas, or landscaping). The problem is that we’re building out instead of up. These lots could easily inhabit one-seventh of the space they currently do if we simply stacked them on top of one another into a parking garage. Big garages are expensive to build, sure, but when you consider the trade off—blocks and blocks of land that could be generating tax revenue for the city through property taxes from condos/commercial real estate and sales taxes from businesses—a large investment in infrastructure would easily pay for itself over time (not to mention the fact that development would instantly increase the value of the land, thus also the potential tax revenue for the area). Because while these parking lots take up a certain amount of very valuable square footage in the heart of the city, what’s really being lost is many, many times more cubic feet of space—apartments and retail/office buildings that could build up as high as they pleased (or as high as the city would allow them to).
The trickle down benefits of this model would be many—as land becomes more valuable and parking becomes more expensive, many more people would be incentivized to take public transit (if there is one place that our transit system will reliably take you, it’s downtown), and thus the transit system would be in a position to increase frequency/quality of service. Or, given the new livability of certain areas of the city, some of those people might finally choose to live there, increasing the economic potential for those areas and keeping their money (property taxes and discretionary spending alike) in Minneapolis proper rather than the surrounding suburbs.
Much more on this to come in the weeks ahead. For now, the photos:
The parking lot at 3rd Ave. S. and 2nd St. stretches two city blocks to 5th Ave S.
The view from 5th Ave. S and Washington. The below photos are a block-by-block trip down 5th Ave. to 10th St., an eight block stretch in which seven entire square city blocks are devoted entirely or substantially to parking (the one exception being the block that is inhabited by the Minneapolis Armory).