A parking study and plan for downtown St. Louis, backed by an ordinance that would adopt the findings and enforce them as law, could have prevented the demolition of the Ambassador Theater, the Century Building, and more.
A friend of mine from Providence, Rhode Island who now lives in St. Louis recently commented to me that he could not believe what downtown St. Louis had demolished for parking lots and garages, even since the 1990s. "Providence would have never done this," he said of the woefully misguided razing of the Title-Guaranty Building on the Gateway Mall. As many others have observed, vibrant cities hold onto human scale buildings and architectural diversity because they contribute to urban life. Supplying more spaces for cars creates convenience for drivers alone--not the route to urban revitalization.
A recent planning-related article I read put it simply: if you plan for cars, you'll get traffic; if you plan for people, you'll get people.
Without offering up a potshot at Culinaria--recently under fire for reportedly leading to the closure of several businesses downtown--the Century Building fiasco should have been the city's final wake-up call. Losing human scale, mixed-use buildings--or foregoing the opportunity to erect these buildings--should no longer be an option for downtown St. Louis. I'm confident that a parking study would reveal downtown is oversupplied. A complementary downtown parking plan could target city-owned garages for removal, or city-owned surface lots downtown (are there any?) that could be used for development.
A consulting firm well versed in urban planning and transportation planning would call for a ban on the construction of any parking-only building until the study was next updated (10 years?). We all know, and yet I feel compelled to repeat, that each parking lot and garage is an incentive to drive. For those that feel downtown parking is a pain and feel that parking garage rates are inflated given the oversupply of spaces downtown, it's an incentive to avoid downtown altogether. A sound parking plan would be, conversely, an incentive for public transportation ridership, for biking, and for walking. This translates to a more active, walkable, and walked city.
(See my St. Louis Beacon piece from last year for more thoughts on how parking-abundance hurts livable cities.)
Cary, North Carolina (outside of Raleigh) has a parking study that I stumbled across while doing research for work. While I've not delved into it too deeply, it intrigues me that a suburban community would look into determining parking deficit/surplus. When city government pledges to help each downtown law firm, etc. build its own adjacent parking garage, does it even ask this basic question?
Cary Parking Study Analysis
To see more of the Cary Study's documents, click here.
When will downtown St. Louis have a strategic parking plan? The answer is, almost assuredly, when "we" write it.
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