Exploring the politics of parking in San Francisco
February 12, 2009 -- Parking is a contentious issue in San Francisco, with those who want to reduce parking provisions pitted against those who argue for more. In a new paper, Assistant Professor of Geography Jason Henderson unravels the city's parking battles and finds that the debate is about far more than parking spaces.
"San Francisco's parking debate is not just about parking," Henderson said. "It is a contest over how the city should be configured and organized, and for whom."
Henderson explores the politics of parking, examining the web of relationships among parking, space, urban politics and competing values toward cities.
His paper highlights how the provision of parking consumes vast amounts of space and pushes up housing prices. For example, a typical off-road parking space takes up approximately 350 square feet when room to maneuver in and out of the space is included. This is a comparable size to many San Francisco offices and living spaces. Henderson estimates that on average each off-road parking space costs a developer $50,000 to $100,000, a cost which is passed on to the homebuyer. But in most San Francisco neighborhoods, providing parking is something developers can't avoid because city planning laws require each new residential unit to have an off-road parking space.
"This means that neighborhoods like the iconic North Beach simply could not be built today," Henderson said. Mandatory parking provision changes the nature of the streetscape. The lower floors of new buildings are likely to contain parking garages rather than storefronts and cafes, and garage entrances take away street parking and limit where trees can be planted on sidewalks.
Based on four years of research into San Francisco's planning and electoral process, Henderson's paper provides a map of the city's political landscape around parking. Henderson's diagnosis is that San Francisco has reached a political stalemate where making the city more bike- and public-transport-friendly will mean taking away the privileges of cars.
Despite the parking policy controversy , Henderson believes San Francisco can set an example for other American cities. "At least in San Francisco, contesting car space is on the table," Henderson said. "That makes it an intriguing bellwether for other places. To convince people that parking is not necessary, people will have to see it to believe it. San Francisco is poised to be the place to see to believe."
"The spaces of parking: mapping the politics of mobility in San Francisco" was published in the January issue of the journal Antipode.
-- Elaine Bible
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