I remember a time when, as a carbrain, I used to strongly advocate for more parking spaces in our towns and cities.
It still makes sense, if you come to think of it, because for those of us who live in a place where public transportation sucks and walking (or active mobility), can be considered an extreme sport, it was, and still is, very inconvenient to have no parking options as close as possible to wherever it is we need to be as we go about our daily lives.
However, if you come to think of it further and analyze parking from a resource management point of view, parking spaces qualify as one of the most wasteful uses of valuable urban space.
It’s not just illegal parking that’s the problem, even if all these people who park anywhere they please, whether it be on public or private property, should have been penalized by the local government a long time ago for their improper and illegal use of space.
Even legal parking is becoming an issue, especially in growing cities where businesses are forced to provide it because our cities are designed and built in such a way that makes it an absolute necessity. We don’t think about it because we have always assumed it is necessary, but for most businesses, providing parking spaces comes with a cost and that is almost always passed on to customers. We just don’t know it.
If you look at a shopping mall, notice that almost 50% of the urban land area it occupies is dedicated for parking. Either that or an entire parking building or certain levels of the mall building have to be dedicated for empty cars. And because land and parking buildings don’t come free, especially in super prime locations where malls are usually built, incurring that cost to provide precious parking means the mall operators ultimately charge their tenants more, who in turn will have to pass on those “necessary” costs to their customers.
In the public space, there are the streets and roads that our government spends billions on. Looking closely at how that infrastructure is used, one will notice that almost 50% of our roads and a lot of sidewalks are used as for parking. Government spends billions of our hard-earned taxes for transportation infrastructure but 50% of it is occupied by a car that is owned/used by 1-2 persons only, taking up valuable space for hours upon hours, being a hindrance to the transportation system.
And then there are the homes, which most Filipinos with cars have, but ironically, most actually don’t have any garage space. However, because there is nothing to stop the garage-less Pinoy from buying a dream car or two, they end up illegally parking on the street, again taking up public space that could be better used by the transportation system in general. These park-squatters ultimately waste billions in precious government funds every day but nobody seems to care.
Now that I look at it differently, I no longer see parking as a necessity for “good” cities. Instead, it has become a glaring symptom of a poorly planned transportation system. I know it’s something that we will have to deal with for another couple of generations at least, because even if we had leaders who wanted to, it will take political will, urban planning, wisely allocated funds, and time to wean us away from a car-centric society and build a city that makes better use of its resources by focusing on public transportation and active mobility. However, it is something that has to be done soon because our obsession and dependence on cars and the parking that comes with it simply unsustainable.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still happy to find a convenient parking spot whenever I need one. And I will probably resort to parking illegally if everybody does it anyway. The point I’m trying to make is I don’t want parking to still be a problem for the next generation, especially when there are solutions and better ways of living our lives.
These will involve paradigm shifts that may seem inconvenient at first blush, but it can actually be better for our communities, the environment and even our health. Hopefully we have “leaders” that also see the problem and are visionary enough to make that long term commitment to change how our cities are planned, built and managed.*