What makes surface parking so destructive is that it consumes a finite resource with virtually no direct financial benefit. Our pre-occupation at Urban Three is local finance. From that perspective, parking–in particular the vast kind that adorns strip malls and box stores–is dead weight. Local governments, be they in cities, towns, or counties, are all constrained by the land they can develop. What they do with that resource is thus, paramount to how well they can pay their bills. Tax revenue is but one of many resources squandered by each acre of land devoted to deactivated cars.
What’s fascinating about this model is that, without knowing the city or county, having no idea what the underlying development looks like, it’s nearly impossible not to find downtown. (It’s Des Moines, by the way.) Smaller satellite downtowns, new urban developments, and historic districts are similarly easy to find. What’s more difficult is to find the more typical symbols of economic development. Can you find any of the three major shopping malls in this model? The vast office park headquarters of Wells Fargo? The Bass Pro Shop?They blend in with the background radiation of suburban housing and are eclipsed by the potency of compact development. It’s important to keep in mind that this means an acre of big box store or shopping mall is only marginally more productive than modestly sized detached housing.Developments such as these are not touted as success without cause. They often hold a substantial share of a community’s economic activity often producing more property tax individually than downtown buildings. What accounts for this huge disparity in efficiency though, is configuration. Parking dilutes the substantial tax production of development with fiscally barren waste. When we account for that waste we see a much different pattern of tax production.