Those Ugly Surface Parking Lots Are Actually Costing Cities Money

Parking lots are already one of the worst things ever invented by humans—acres of buckling, blighted fields of concrete that often sit completely empty. But now a new study shows that parking is not only ugly, it's actually making cities lose revenue.

Conventional wisdom—or at least the argument from business owners whenever a city tries to restrict parking—is that parking spots equal money. But, according to Norman Garrick, who headed the study in his role as associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Connecticut, parking lots are actually taking up space that could be better allocated for better income-generating activities.

The studies looked at three cities that restricted the growth of parking lots over the last 40 years—Arlington, Virginia; Berkeley, California; and Cambridge, Massachusetts—and compared them to three Connecticut cities that added parking with abandon: Hartford, Lowell, and New Haven.

When cities added more parking, they actually hurt their chances for growth:

In Cambridge, parking increased 39 percent while usable building area—a term that indicates a building's footprint multiplied by its height—increased 46 percent. In Hartford, by contrast, parking increased 158 percent while useable building area grew by only 27 percent.

Which means that cities that try to convert acres of land into temporary housing for cars, thinking that they're luring economic activity, are actually throwing tax money away. Just to put the whole thing in perspective, look at it this way: For each of its parking spaces, Hartford loses an estimated $1,200 per year. [BloombergBusinessweek]

Photo by Matthew Stones