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Why Too Many Parking Lots Are Bad for Cities

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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 Many cities have outdated zoning laws that require a certain amount of parking depending on a building’s estimated users.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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Air Quality in American National Parks and Big Cities Is Roughly the Same
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National parks usually have more vegetation, wildlife, and open spaces than urban areas, but the two don't look much different when it comes to air quality. As City Lab reports, a new study published in Science Advances found that U.S. national parks and the nation's largest cities have comparable ozone levels.

For their research, scientists from Iowa State University and Cornell University looked at air pollution data collected over 24 years from 33 national parks and the 20 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Their results show that average ozone concentrations were "statistically indistinguishable" between the two groups from 1990 to 2014.

On their own, the statistics look grim for America's protected areas, but they're actually a sign that environmental protection measures are working. Prior to the 1990s, major cities had higher ozone concentrations than national parks. At the start of the decade, the federal government passed the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments in an effort to fight urban air pollution, and ozone levels have been declining ever since.

The average ozone in national parks did increase in the 1990s, but then in 1999 the EPA enacted the Regional Haze Rule, which specifically aims to improve air quality and visibility in national parks. Ozone levels in national parks are now back to the levels they were at in 1990.

Ground-level ozone doesn't just make America's national parks harder to see: It can also damage plants and make it difficult for human visitors to breathe. Vehicles, especially gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs, are some of the biggest producers of the pollutant.

[h/t City Lab]

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Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.
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There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]

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