|Uptown Whittier's parking garage makes room for storefronts.|
Photo: Google Maps Street View
My gut has been telling me that two hypotheses about urban planning and blogging are probably true. The first is, you get farther with honey than with vinegar. In other words, I'd rather find things I like and praise them, than find things I don't like and criticize them. Keeping things positive is good. It makes people think instead of feeling defensive. The second hypothesis is that prevailing attitudes make changing cities really hard in a lot of places and therefore, progress should be celebrated even when that progress is very small or incremental.
In that spirit, I'd like to celebrate the beautiful incrementalism of mixed-use parking garages. As Jeffrey Spivak noted in the May/June 2013 issue of Planning Magazine "more garages are incorporating mixed uses, by adding stores and restaurants, and developers don't want customers' first impressions to be of some ugly, generic facade" (p. 23). The beautiful thing about a mixed-use garage is that it's an improvement for people who are trying to get around on foot relative to a lot of conditions that are common today. First of all, a given amount of parking can be handled with relatively little land compared to a surface lot. That means destinations aren't as spread out and walking distances are shorter. Secondly, by adding storefronts to a garage, there is no interruption in the sequence of interesting things for people on foot to look at. In this way garages can fit more gracefully into an urban environment and avoid disrupting it.
As we strive towards a more sustainable future with less driving and more efficient land use, it's worth remembering that mixed-use garages can make a place better for both cars AND pedestrians. In a lot of contexts, that's real progress.