Why Too Many Parking Lots Are Bad for Cities


Among urban designers, it’s common knowledge that free parking isn’t as good of a deal as it sounds. UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup, in fact, has spent his entire career railing against it. But for most drivers, free parking seems like a boon. Why should you have to pay for it?

As shared by CityLab, the Canadian city of Ottawa has a helpful animated explanation as to why businesses should not be required to provide a set amount of parking spaces. Many cities have outdated zoning laws that require a certain amount of parking depending on a building’s estimated users. This creates unwalkable, barren concrete stretches of cities that aren’t pleasant to hang out in. Consider how hard it is to find parking in New York City, arguably America’s best city to explore on foot, and one with a vibrant street culture. Now think about Houston (seen in the photo above), a city infamous for a downtown that’s almost more parking lot than city.

Ideally, towns should be creating neighborhoods that feel like places you want to spend time in, rather than places you want to abandon as soon as your workday is over. Plenty of cities have these areas, but they’re usually in older neighborhoods whose design wouldn’t pass contemporary zoning regulations. Creating walkable and bikable cities isn't just good for reducing traffic, it’s good for business too, as the many cities currently revamping their downtown shopping areas can attest. You can fit a whole lot more stores in a block with only street parking, versus one in which each of those businesses has a dedicated parking lot. Plus, if people can walk around, they’re more likely to pop into a shop. It’s good for affordable housing, too. You can build a whole lot more apartments if you don’t need a parking space for every resident (even those that don’t own cars).

Get a primer in the video below:

[h/t CityLab]

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Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
Inside the German Town Where Advent Is the Main Attraction
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

The German town of Gengenbach takes Christmas very seriously. So seriously that it counts down to the holiday with one of the biggest Advent calendars in the world.

Two decades ago, the town of 11,000 people on the edge of the Black Forest set out to bring in more tourists during the holiday season. So to make its holiday market more unique, Gengenbach began turning its town hall into a building-sized Advent calendar.

Now, every night from November 30 to December 23, the windows of Gengenbach’s Baroque city hall light up with artistic creations inspired by a yearly theme. At 6 p.m. each evening, the lights of city hall go up, and a spotlight trains on one window. Then, the window shade pulls up to reveal the new window. By December 23, all the windows are open and on display, and will stay that way until January 6.

Gengenbach's city hall lit up for Christmas
Hubert Grimmig, Kultur- und Tourismus GmbH Gengenbach

Each year, the windows are decorated according to a theme, like children’s books or the work of famous artists like Marc Chagall. For 2017, all the Advent calendar windows are filled with illustrations by Andy Warhol.

According to the Guinness World Records, it’s not the absolute biggest Advent calendar in the world. That record belongs to a roughly 233-foot-high, 75-foot-wide calendar built in London’s St Pancras railway station in 2007. Still, Gengenbach’s may be the biggest Advent calendar that comes back year after year. And as a tourist attraction, it has become a huge success in the last 20 years. The town currently gets upwards of 100,000 visitors every year during the holiday season, according to the local tourist bureau.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]


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