There is a remarkable front-page piece in the Times today rather unsubtly titled “Parking around Seattle may get worse as city planners favor transit.” My first thought was Seattle was taking away street parking for transit lanes (Ha!) but in fact it’s just eliminating parking minimums in certain areas.
I was all set to write a takedown but Erica Barnett at PubliCola seems to have covered the main points. Apparently a top-down command-and-control economy is the only way to save local business, especially since local auto shops are worthy of protection but “developers” are something to be fought.
Like many political issues, I think this gets rather unfortunately wrapped up in identity politics. Urbanists try to discourage driving, partly for environmental reasons, partly for aesthetic ones, and partly because car dependence is simply unworkable at a certain level of density. Admittedly, among some there’s an added sense of “screw’em if they refuse to stop driving.” The other side opposes these measures, thanks to a combination of fear of losing their current quasi-free, low-effort car access, the abrasion of the less tactful urbanist edge, and a general sense that their lifestyle is being labeled as immoral. That said, the impact is likely to be either beneficial or small. Either people will switch from driving, in which case we’ve just created affordable housing with few negative externalities, or people won’t, in which case the market will demand parking in accordance with the old minimum.
Anyhow, I think moral condemnation of people’s choices isn’t helpful. Except for those of us who are simply too poor to consume anything, most of us have at least some indulgences that have significant environmental consequences. Some of us drive the SUV when there’s a suitable express bus, some of us eat lots of meat, and some of us fly all over the place for leisure. I’ve been searching for a syntax that says “it would be good public policy to stop encouraging people to do these things” without the added connotation of “people who do that thing are morally wrong.”