(This is *most* of the rough draft of a letter I’m sending out regarding the proposal to gut a building at my hometown’s most important intersection to replace it with *gulp* parking.)
I am writing to you because I am very concerned about the proposed development of the Court Square Building (13-31 Elm Street). The proposed renovation of the building itself and the contiguous Byers Block looks to be a very thoughtful plan and has my full support. I must, however, express great concern, bordering on dismay, that the developers of these parcels believe that it is necessary, even desirable, to tear down all or part of the Shean Block in order to build a parking garage for the development.
I am not only a longtime resident of the urban core of the city, I am a student of urban design and spend a great deal of my time and energy expanding my knowledge regarding issues connected to cities. (I invite you to visit rationalurbanism.com to view how these efforts have so far been expressed on the Internet). I am attaching, along with this communication a list of studies, reports, and investigations which demonstrate clearly the baleful effects of excessive parking (and there IS an excess of parking downtown) on cities.
I do not wish to treat you as ignorant, but there is a general misunderstanding and misguided ness when it comes to parking in urban centers. The general mindset is that cities have suffered in competition with more suburban typologies in areas of commerce because of the ease of ingress and egress which “strip” developments provide to the automobile. While this is true, what is NOT shown by the data is that cities can compete with these developments in this way. No matter how “car centric” or automobile friendly a city center becomes, it can never be as car friendly as the sprawl typologies designed 100% around the car, and what cities end up doing is eviscerating themselves AND the elements of urban centers which hold a competitive advantage over sprawl.
Cities compete best by focusing on what they have to offer which sprawl development does not, and putting parking front and center reduces those strengths.
Let me be clear: Cities do need to provide adequate parking. The core of downtown Springfield already has more than sufficient parking. ( please see “The Myth of Insufficient Downtown Parking” for a photo essay giving visual evidence for this). Of course, every developer, and every development would like to see what parking there is in the downtown be as proximate and convenient to THEIR development as possible, but the health of the downtown as a whole depends on what parking there is being unobtrusive to the people who are USING the downtown.
You see, people choose traditional urbanism over sprawl based on what they experience AFTER they get out from behind the wheel and become pedestrians, not motorists.
In this particular case it must be understood that the Court Square development should not be allowed to make the most important intersection in the city, the corner of State and Main (I’ll allow a moment for that to sink in) THE CORNER OF STATE AND MAIN, into an area primarily designed for car storage. I really do believe that the potential developers of these parcels honestly think that building a parking garage is a necessary component to the success of their project; I do not think that they are bad people. I do, however, know that they are misguided: Parking kills cities, and weakening the urban fiber around their development, which in the long run will only thrive if the entire downtown thrives, is a bad idea.
The Shean Block, by the way, has one of the most successful and most vibrant ground floors in the downtown. Its exterior may look tired, but it is an example of near perfection in terms of its pedestrian friendly permeable design. Even in its current state it is more alive and has attracted more appropriate street level programming than any other building at that intersection. It is magnificent. I do not say this dispassionately, I walk by it often in the early evenings taking my stepdaughter to dance classes, and walking with my wife to our favorite restaurants in the downtown among other things.
Please think of your favorite cities, your favorite urban experiences, and ask yourself: Was parking at the center of what made that experience what it was? “State and Main” is the most important intersection in the city; it is as much the center of the city as is Court Square.
The developers should be encouraged to make both the State Street and Main Street frontages of this building part of this development, give them taxpayer money for that if you will. They certainly can and should do what they can to squeeze whatever parking they can out of the empty hole at the center of the block bounded by these buildings, perhaps building a smaller parking deck in that space, but the commercial and retail space at the very center of the city of Springfield, the corner of State and Main, should be emblematic of the city’s goal to put people first in the downtown.