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Surface Parking Lots: A Downtown Vibrancy Killer

According to Downtown Vision (DVI), more than 50% of downtown Jacksonville's streetscape consists of "dead space" - either parking lots, garages, vacant buildings, or buildings less than 25% occupied. This collection of aerials visually highlight the impact dead spaces (surface parking and underutilized vacant property) in downtown Jacksonville and a number of cities across North America have. Naturally, those with the least amount of surface lots tend to be the most vibrant pedestrian-scale environments.

Published July 7, 2011 in Urban Issues      50 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


feature

Jacksonville, FL

Red = surface parking or vacant property with no building on site.

Austin, TX

courtesy of photolitherland at www.skyscraperpage.com

Boston, MA

courtesy of photolitherland at www.skyscraperpage.com

Chicago, IL

courtesy of emathias at www.skyscraperpage.com.


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50 Comments

tg

July 07, 2011, 07:43:02 AM
I couldn't agree more with this article, the amount of surface parking is ridiculous. Previous suggestions on the site about bringing in food trucks is one of my favorite short term and easy solutions for correcting this problem in the core. However, there are still a lot of people that are out of touch with reality, as I saw a story on the morning news about how an Art Walk vendor was complaining about the lack of downtown parking. There doesn't seem to be a link to the story just yet, but if there is one later I'll post it.

Bativac

July 07, 2011, 08:03:04 AM
Wait, are you suggesting that tearing down historic buildings (and homes in some cases) and leaving vacant lots in their place was BAD for downtown? The very idea --!

TG, as far as the guy complaining about parking, I was out last night at 6 and again at 8:30 and easily found parking right on the street both times. Yeah I had to parallel park, God forbid. I know that at least one of the parking garages was open 'cause a friend parked there.

tg

July 07, 2011, 08:06:52 AM
http://www.actionnewsjax.com/mediacenter/local.aspx

Look for the "Parking Problems" video on the left side.

fsujax

July 07, 2011, 08:30:10 AM
those aerials are impressive. Really puts it into perspective.

avs

July 07, 2011, 08:40:24 AM
We rode our bike downtown last night, so parking is not an issue for those who choose to live in the core.  People in dense urban cities really DO walk and ride their bikes more because it IS easier than parking and what is wrong with forcing people into a little fresh air and exercise???  When we lived in Philly we walked everywhere!  And we weren't walking by a bunch of empty lots, we were walking on sidewalks adjacent to businesses, interesting things to look at as we got to where we needed to go.  I daresay some of the healthiest cities in the US are denser built than JAX and their citizens live closer to the urban core and walk and bike much more.

Not to mention the waste of water running off these lots that could be used for so many other things.

duvaldude08

July 07, 2011, 09:28:08 AM
It was very interesting to see other cities in comparsion. Great read!

jcjohnpaint

July 07, 2011, 09:36:33 AM
I was always curious how hard it would be to get some of this land off of parking agencies to use for some kind of dense housing or something a lot more public and interactive?  Areas like the lot between Prudential and Kipp in San Marco for instance.  That lot would be a great spot for a dense condominium project/ across from Treaty Oak Park.  I am also thinking of the riverfront lot next to the Pittsburgh Convention Center.  You can come up with a million other examples.  This lot has to be prime reality, but continues to be a surface lot.  Seems like such a pitiful bang for a city's bucks.  I know Jacksonville has done a poor job of letting such property become surface lots and sometimes unmaintained surface lots, but how hard would it be to regain the land for something better? 

iMarvin

July 07, 2011, 11:14:21 AM
I remember when you said you were doing this article. It's kind of surprising seeing some of those big cities with so many surface lots like Houston, San Diego, Denver, Dallas, and Austin. Wonder how Atlanta looks...

Overstreet

July 07, 2011, 11:18:24 AM
I'm thinking tearing down the old southside generation station leaving a blank lot with soils issues or the ship yard  would be preferencial to an abandoned industrial facility in downtown.

As a property owner I'd rather pay taxes on a vacant lot than a vacant building. Especially if the lot brought in some parking revenue in deference to a vacant building bringing only maintenance cost.

I'm thinking too that the view of NY and San Franscisco was too narrow when comparing to smaller population cities.

thelakelander

July 07, 2011, 11:54:14 AM
^ I disagree.  Demolition for the sake of demolition is always a bad idea in an urbanized environment.  Old industrial facilities make ideal adaptive reuse projects, primarily because of their unique architecture and historical ties to the cities they are located in.  Here are a few that have found new uses in or near downtowns of some peer cities.  All of these sat vacant for a period of time before being renovated.

Sloss Furnances - Birmingham (a steel industry history museum)


Pratt Street Power Plant - Baltimore Inner Harbor (mixed use)


Gas Works Park - Seattle


Savannah's riverfront (all old warehouse buildings)



Jacksonville Shipyards - Those old brick machine shop and office buildings along Bay would have been great facilities for uses like nightclubs, bars, public markets, etc.  A few of those old cranes could have been preserved as public art as a part of a riverfront park space.


A basic warehouse along a wharf like this one at the mouth of Hogans Creek could have easily been reused as market, event space, etc. and complemented with a public marina.


Inside one of those old warehouses.


Southside Generation Station - It would have been interesting and unique to see a few elements of the old plant, preserved and integrated into a redevelopment project.

thelakelander

July 07, 2011, 11:55:51 AM
As a property owner I'd rather pay taxes on a vacant lot than a vacant building. Especially if the lot brought in some parking revenue in deference to a vacant building bringing only maintenance cost.

This is where public policy should be modified in areas of significant history.  Perhaps a tax abatement model that Philly uses would be suitable for DT Jacksonville to eliminate this issue?

avs

July 07, 2011, 12:15:39 PM
Quote
This is where public policy should be modified in areas of significant history.  Perhaps a tax abatement model that Philly uses would be suitable for DT Jacksonville to eliminate this issue?

+1 Exactly.  I have always said there are not enough incentives offered here to stimulate development in our urban core.  The city has to offer incentives as enticements to get it started.

Tacachale

July 07, 2011, 03:00:45 PM
I agree that demolition for the sake of demolition is a waste. But demolition to make way for new development is something different, and can be a good thing. There are plenty of cases (particularly in other cities) of positive new developments. One in Jacksonville, I'd argue, is the current Main Library.

In the case of the Shipyards, they didn't just tear it all down for the hell of it, it was going to be a new development. That just didn't happen. But even still, it's not as if they tore down the buildings and just left it there. The developers did a considerable amount of work cleaning up the environmental contamination and bulkheading the property, to the tune of over $30 million, IIRC. That's money any developer would have had to spend, whether adapting the old buildings or adding something new.

At any rate I think that's the bigger issue in Jacksonville - allowing demolitions to make way for new developments that are never completed, or for projects that don't make adequate use of the space (like parking lots).

thelakelander

July 07, 2011, 03:24:07 PM
I agree that demolition for the sake of demolition is a waste. But demolition to make way for new development is something different, and can be a good thing. There are plenty of cases (particularly in other cities) of positive new developments. One in Jacksonville, I'd argue, is the current Main Library.

I'd argue the exact opposite.  The new library took out the loft district and Jacksonville's last 1920s era highrise.  It replaced four street frontage blocks of retail frontage with full block dead spaces along Monroe and Duval Streets (Main is borderline dead, imo).  We could have easily put the new library on a surface lot and keep the businesses evicted and the buildings they were housed in.  Such a move would have made the area more vibrant than it is today and saved millions in demolition costs.

Quote
In the case of the Shipyards, they didn't just tear it all down for the hell of it, it was going to be a new development. That just didn't happen. But even still, it's not as if they tore down the buildings and just left it there.

That's the case of nearly every surface lot's history in downtown since the 1970s.  The result is a dead downtown and the complete elimination of LaVilla and half of Brooklyn.

Quote
The developers did a considerable amount of work cleaning up the environmental contamination and bulkheading the property, to the tune of over $30 million, IIRC. That's money any developer would have had to spend, whether adapting the old buildings or adding something new.

Not really.  You could have probably gotten away with continuing to use the site as an industrial related maritime use integrated with other uses in areas where environmental contamination didn't exist.  How the contamination/bulkheading issue would be handled varies depending on the use of the site.  In any event, you don't have to demolish buildings to clean sites.

Quote
At any rate I think that's the bigger issue in Jacksonville - allowing demolitions to make way for new developments that are never completed, or for projects that don't make adequate use of the space (like parking lots).

There's several reasons for surface lots.  However, at the end of the day, they all combine to kill the type of environment that everyone would like to see happen in DT Jax.  Ultimately, how we handle our pedestrian level connectivity issue will have a significant impact on determining DT's future as success or failure.

Kay

July 07, 2011, 03:36:50 PM
"I agree that demolition for the sake of demolition is a waste. But demolition to make way for new development is something different, and can be a good thing. There are plenty of cases (particularly in other cities) of positive new developments. One in Jacksonville, I'd argue, is the current Main Library."

"I'd argue the exact opposite.  The new library took out the loft district and Jacksonville's last 1920s era highrise.  It replaced four street frontage blocks of retail frontage with full block dead spaces along Monroe and Duval Streets (Main is borderline dead, imo).  We could have easily put the new library on a surface lot and keep the businesses evicted and the buildings they were housed in.  Such a move would have made the area more vibrant than it is today and saved millions in demolition costs."

Lake:  I couldn't agree more with your take on tearing down those great old buildings for the library.  It was the wrong move. 

hightowerlover

July 07, 2011, 03:58:13 PM
i dont envy whoever had to make all those red boxes

dougskiles

July 07, 2011, 06:41:03 PM
Thankfully, we still have the Ford Plant.  It could become a great space for artists similar to what has been done at Sloss in Birmingham.  I was there a few weeks ago and took a creative welding class.  It was awesome!

thelakelander

July 07, 2011, 06:51:52 PM
Here is what Richmond, CA developers did with their old Ford plant:



http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-mar-ford-assembly-plant-comes-back-to-life

Ajax

July 07, 2011, 07:46:19 PM
I'd argue the exact opposite.  The new library took out the loft district and Jacksonville's last 1920s era highrise.  It replaced four street frontage blocks of retail frontage with full block dead spaces along Monroe and Duval Streets (Main is borderline dead, imo).  We could have easily put the new library on a surface lot and keep the businesses evicted and the buildings they were housed in.  Such a move would have made the area more vibrant than it is today and saved millions in demolition costs.

Yes, I remember that block before the library was built and I wish it was still intact.  The Rhodes building along Main Street was beautiful, and after renovation could have made a great apartment/condo/boutique hotel along the lines of what's being proposed with the Laura Street Trio. 

I don't know how to add images so here's a link:
http://www.jaxhistory.com/Jax%20Arch%20Herit/D-84.htm

The entire south wall of the library along Monroe street is useless now.  The only way I can think of to bring life to that part of the sidewalk is to install bouquinistes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bouquinistes like they have in Paris, although I realize that would be impractical here. 

Ocklawaha

July 07, 2011, 07:57:57 PM
I agree with the article, we have over 40,000 parking spaces in the central metro area. That said however, if those maps were all the same scale it might not look so out of balance with our neighbors. The OKC scale seems to be about twice what our map is, and thus the few central blocks that are surround the CBD would look way different then ours. Likewise, they need to be the same color, empty squares, red boxes etc so that an even comparison can be made at a glance.  Just sayin'.

OCKLAWAHA

thelakelander

July 07, 2011, 08:24:59 PM
^Don't get caught up on looks of the maps.  They're not being shown to make Jacksonville look good or bad.  They aren't the same scale becaus they were provided by several individuals willing to take up the time to highlight surface parking and vacant lots in their downtown cores.  Heck, it took me a week to do Jacksonville's.  I can take any scaled map, place a red dot of the environment around surface lots and another dot around streets with limited lots.  A view from each dot would reveal the same exact thing in every city.  Little vibrancy around surface lots and more walkability were building fabric is in tact.

The point is, surface lots kill and that there is a direct correlation between surface parking lot density and downtown vibrancy.  Those that are vibrant (from as large as NYC to as small as Savannah), tend to have fewer surface parking lots immediately adjacent to one another.  Those that aren't (Jax, Houston and Tulsa for example) tend to be the exact opposite.  So don't worry about how Jax looks on an image compared to some other place.  Let's use the information to fix Jax's issues and make our environmen better.

heights unknown

July 07, 2011, 08:37:30 PM
Yes, in my opinion it was bad for downtown (tearing down buildings and leaving vacant lots in their places); real bad. What they should have did was tried to renovate the buildings if they could not find a good use for the property or building, but not tear it down. Renovate the building, refurbish it, and either sell out spaces within it for office or commercial use, or sell the renovated building to someone else for a new use.

"HU"

ChriswUfGator

July 07, 2011, 08:59:07 PM
Ironic.

So the first thing I've ever seen DVI get right was releasing these figures showing just how bad of a job they've done.

Brilliant.

Even still, better late than never, glad they've finally put the can of turd-polish away and are acknowledging the issues.

heights unknown

July 08, 2011, 02:22:29 AM
Ironic.

So the first thing I've ever seen DVI get right was releasing these figures showing just how bad of a job they've done.

Brilliant.

Even still, better late than never, glad they've finally put the can of turd-polish away and are acknowledging the issues.
Ironic.

So the first thing I've ever seen DVI get right was releasing these figures showing just how bad of a job they've done.

Brilliant.

Even still, better late than never, glad they've finally put the can of turd-polish away and are acknowledging the issues.
Ironic.

So the first thing I've ever seen DVI get right was releasing these figures showing just how bad of a job they've done.

Brilliant.

Even still, better late than never, glad they've finally put the can of turd-polish away and are acknowledging the issues.

Yeah you can't shine sh** with sh**. (LOL)

"HU"

lewyn

July 10, 2011, 02:17:08 PM
All very well and good to point out the obvious fact that a downtown dominated by parking is not a good thing.  But the question I wish someone would investigate is: WHY are there so many parking lots?  Is it because of municipal requirements?  Or because downtown landowners are holding land as parking lots until property values increase enough to justify something more productive?  Or because improvements are taxed more than parking? (or some other reason I haven't thought of)

ChriswUfGator

July 10, 2011, 02:49:05 PM
A combination of all three, and heavily the latter two. Downtown zoning and building codes are a mess. And the problem with the guys who think they're going to get rich hanging onto empty buildings and vacant lots is that it's a self-defeating enterprise, when you get enough of those guys (which is 2/3'rds of our downtown at this point) their own outrageous rent demands and sitting on property rather than allowing to serve its best use under whatever market conditions exist actually prevent the type of development from occurring that they are banking on raising their property values over time. Sitting and holding can work OK if it's one or two guys doing it, but when you have a whole parade of them controlling most of a downtown, their actions in aggregate actually stifle economic activity.

And COJ hasn't discouraged any of this, either, designing a set of parking enforcement policies that for years created an artificially inflated risk/benefit ratio for parking lot operators. Although the collapse of downtown is now so complete that even draconian parking enforcement is unable to make the lots and garages pay, as there are simply no longer enough people down there to fill even a paltry number of the available parking spaces.

Stephen Dare and I counted up various reports and estimates, and finally figured the accurate number of parking spaces is somewhere around 30,000 and 35,000 and that there somewhere less than 8,000 workers downtown now. So each individual worker would have to bring 4 or 5 cars with them every day before we'd even use what's there, let alone start to have a shortage.

Yet, for some reason, the usual suspects continue wanting to include new parking garages with every proposed project. Which seems mystifying, until it was revealed that the taxpayers are actually subsidizing the operation of many of these garages through contracts that guarantee the owner's profit regardless of whether the garage is unused. Which most of them are. Which explains things. It's just a money-grab.

I am hoping these issues are addressed with the new administration.

Ralph W

July 10, 2011, 04:14:44 PM

Yet, for some reason, the usual suspects continue wanting to include new parking garages with every proposed project. Which seems mystifying, until it was revealed that the taxpayers are actually subsidizing the operation of many of these garages through contracts that guarantee the owner's profit regardless of whether the garage is unused. Which most of them are. Which explains things. It's just a money-grab.

I am hoping these issues are addressed with the new administration.

How much longer do these graft-like contracts have before sunset? Why were they set up that way in the first place? Were the city father's heads so far into the sand they could not see daylight? Did any of those city fathers benefit from these contracts?

thelakelander

July 10, 2011, 07:28:02 PM
All very well and good to point out the obvious fact that a downtown dominated by parking is not a good thing.  But the question I wish someone would investigate is: WHY are there so many parking lots?  Is it because of municipal requirements?  Or because downtown landowners are holding land as parking lots until property values increase enough to justify something more productive?  Or because improvements are taxed more than parking? (or some other reason I haven't thought of)

The answer is quite simple and one we've answered over time with several past articles.  The moonscape we have on our hands today is the result of a wide variety of reasons.  Every surface lot has it's own story.  The majority of lots east of Broad came about from a plan to eliminate an Africian American neighborhood that city and civic leaders saw as blight.  People were eminent domained out of their homes and businesses and city tore them down.  Some along the skyway's path (such as the dirt lots bounded by Lee, Bay, Jefferson and Water) were blocks of buildings torn down to make way for the initial line to the convention center. 

Others were torn down for new developments that for whatever reason never got off the ground.  Examples of these include the Shipyards and the retail blocks along the southside of Forsyth between Laura and Ocean Streets.  Others had buildings on them that burned or collapsed, such as the old Arcade Theater between Adams and Forsyth.   Another group was torn down for surface parking because that was a cheaper option than paying taxes on an empty multistory building.  Examples include the George Washington Hotel and the old hotels along Clay Street, between Forsyth and Adams. 

Then you have lots created by owners like KBJ, who just didn't want to pay for the upkeep of historic buildings on their property, but also didn't want to give up the rights to the land that sat underneath them.    Then there's another group that came down for failed redevelopment schemes of creating mall like park spaces throughout DT.  Portions of the hole that is now Main Street are a result of this tear it down and start over mentality.  All in all, over the last forty years all of these individual acts have combined to contribute to the mess that is DT Jacksonville today.

simms3

July 10, 2011, 08:05:37 PM
Well if there is any hope, Chicago used to have a similar proportion of surface parking as recently as the 1980s and early 1990s (in Streeterville, north of the river, and all up and down Michigan Ave).  Frankly, what is there now was complete wasteland when I was a kid.  In fact, I am on record with my friends/associates predicting that Atlanta in 2020 will be where Chicago was in 1990.  That's a 50 year gap.  That provides hope for Jacksonville to be where say Seattle or Minneapolis are in 40-50 years (and in terms of urban core development, both of those cities are slightly ahead of Atlanta today...so Jax could be looking pretty good when we are still alive Heh).

thelakelander

July 10, 2011, 08:17:32 PM
No need to go as far north as Chicago.  Uptown Charlotte was a mess in the 1970s and 80s.  It still has its fair share of surface lots today but a good amount has been utilized for new infill development over the last 20 years.

exnewsman

July 12, 2011, 09:40:28 AM
If the owners of these lots would only take care of them - maybe do some landscaping or soemthing to make them a little more appealing then it wouldn't be quite as bad. But most look awful. But they won't. No incentive to beautify. They'll do as little as possible and will only care about the money they bring in, not how it affects the overall look of our city.

AFCassidy

July 27, 2011, 03:13:12 AM
Completely agree with exnewsman.  The abandoned and trashed concrete "parking" lots are more the problem then a true excess of surface parking spots.  They look like the "forbidden zone" in a sci-fi movie.  I wouldn't park my car in most of the random lots scattered around downtown because they're often filled with debris and homeless people.  Seems like a good chance of catching a nail in my tire or having someone try to break in.

Nice, clean surface parking is a nice feature to have for residential buildings and businesses.  Folks who live downtown want to be able to access their vehicles quickly and often wind up driving to other parts of the city daily or at least mutliple times per week.  And visitors like the ability to park without having to deal with a garage.  This is Jacksonville, after all.

thelakelander

July 27, 2011, 05:51:43 AM
Visually improving those blighted lots will make it easier to drive by them but it won't encourage walkability and vibrancy.  As long as your pedestrian zone is littered with surface parking, you'll struggle with walkability no matter what the condition of that surface parking is.  Case in point, even at SJTC you'll struggle to see a steady stream of people strolling the sidewalks on the northside of the center.  However, you'll discover tons of people walking in the section where retail buildings line both sides of the street and interact with the sidewalk at a pedestrian scale level.  Btw, this isn't just a Jacksonville thing.  It's a part of human nature.

malseedj

July 27, 2011, 09:15:00 AM
One basic thing overlooked by this "Parking Lot" study is that it seems that all vacant land is considered a "Parking Lot" even if the fence around the lot is securely locked all the time.  Old buildings are just that "Old Buildings".  Owners do not just demolish an asset. They look at the cost on what is known to professionals, and not those who seem to post on this board, is "Repair, Rehabilitate or Replace.  I am tired of want to be posters who are not owners posting such trite.

If we can get enough useable space in the core we may be able to redevelop.  The problem is simple economics as well as lifestyle.  Why would a major firm subject its employees to the task of working downtown when cheap and available development is easy to accomplish on the Southside. 

Next look at employee skill sets in the immediate commuting area.  That is a no brainier literally!

thelakelander

July 27, 2011, 09:24:35 AM
Regardless of however we want to spin things or discuss how we got to where we are today, the end result is still the same.  An abundance of surface parking kills walkability, flat and simple.  This is just as true in NYC, Chicago and San Francisco as it is in Houston, Tucson and Jacksonville.  If we want a pedestrian friendly downtown, we're going to have to find a way to overcome it.

ChriswUfGator

July 27, 2011, 11:07:19 AM
One basic thing overlooked by this "Parking Lot" study is that it seems that all vacant land is considered a "Parking Lot" even if the fence around the lot is securely locked all the time.  Old buildings are just that "Old Buildings".  Owners do not just demolish an asset. They look at the cost on what is known to professionals, and not those who seem to post on this board, is "Repair, Rehabilitate or Replace.  I am tired of want to be posters who are not owners posting such trite.

If we can get enough useable space in the core we may be able to redevelop.  The problem is simple economics as well as lifestyle.  Why would a major firm subject its employees to the task of working downtown when cheap and available development is easy to accomplish on the Southside. 

Next look at employee skill sets in the immediate commuting area.  That is a no brainier literally!

Your whole viewpoint on this issue is exactly what originally created the problems you now point out.

And yes, many owners did simply demolish assets downtown, often due to nonsensical tax valuations, and other times in anticipation of redevelopment projects that have about a 2% chance of ever appearing locally. The entire western half of downtown was demolished in the 80s and 90s for a redevelopment project that fell through, and to this day sits vacant.

I'm having trouble understanding your view, and why more of the same will somehow now fix it?

malseedj

July 27, 2011, 12:50:51 PM
Chris

Its called Econ 101.

John

thelakelander

July 27, 2011, 12:55:05 PM
So what's the difference between Econ 101 in Jacksonville and nearly every other city in the United States?

fieldafm

July 27, 2011, 01:08:28 PM
Quote
Owners do not just demolish an asset. They look at the cost on what is known to professionals, and not those who seem to post on this board, is "Repair, Rehabilitate or Replace.  I am tired of want to be posters who are not owners posting such trite.

The market is not always rational... that's Econ 101.

Speculation and backward economic incentives played a huge part in the state of downtown today.  For example, an owner of a buidling can look at an older vacant building they bought cheaply next to the courhouse that was bundled with other properties as part of a tax lien sale... decide its easier to tear it down and just pay taxes on the lot(supremely cheaper than paying taxes on a building and also carrying the liability if someone gets injured and paying insurance on the property), have a nominal revenue stream from 'parking operations' and help their tax returns wash it all out from the depreciation.  What has that created for downtown?

Meanwhile, they hope they can flip that property someday to a developer that is getting all kinds of government money for a big pie in the sky project like Landmar, Kuhn, etc that will buy the land at a huge profit from the current owner.

Is that rational?  Does that create the most utility for a given property in a commercial district?  Sometimes, you need to change your incentives for behavior to change. 

AFCassidy

July 29, 2011, 10:06:29 PM
Lakelander, my point is that what is being called an overabundance of surface parking is really an overabundance of junky, abandoned lots.  They're not really parking... no one really parks in them.  They're just empty lots that look like "the forbidden zone" from a zombie movie.

Having a reasonable amount of surface parking helps downtown.  If we had scattered surface lots next to businesses and eliminated all the wasteland areas that map would be a lot less red. 

As an example, earlier today I walked down to my car, which is parked in the lot next to my building, and drove over to the Burrito Gallery to get takeout for dinner.  Would have walked, but it's 102 degrees out and a good 6 blocks away. 

If Burrito Gallery didn't have an adjacent parking lot, I would have gone somewhere else. 

ChriswUfGator

July 30, 2011, 07:20:42 AM
Lakelander, my point is that what is being called an overabundance of surface parking is really an overabundance of junky, abandoned lots.  They're not really parking... no one really parks in them.  They're just empty lots that look like "the forbidden zone" from a zombie movie.

Having a reasonable amount of surface parking helps downtown.  If we had scattered surface lots next to businesses and eliminated all the wasteland areas that map would be a lot less red. 

As an example, earlier today I walked down to my car, which is parked in the lot next to my building, and drove over to the Burrito Gallery to get takeout for dinner.  Would have walked, but it's 102 degrees out and a good 6 blocks away. 

If Burrito Gallery didn't have an adjacent parking lot, I would have gone somewhere else. 

That evidence doesn't support the conclusion you're drawing. The fact that you drove more reflects that we have so few restaurants open downtown that you would have had to walk 6 blocks to get a burrito, and that our public transit system is so poorly designed and managed that using it didn't even cross your mind because you didn't have 3 hours to spend going the 6 blocks, not that surface parking is any great thing to have downtown. In a vibrant city, none of this would have been an issue. In, say, Boston, you wouldn't have found yourself reaching so quickly for the car keys.

thelakelander

July 30, 2011, 09:32:18 AM
Of course it doesn't support it because his analysis of the situation overlooks several critical infrastructure components of a vibrant downtown scene.  First, imagine sidewalks being lined with shade trees and awnings.  So much for the negatives of walking on hot days.

Greenville, SC:





Second, imagine a downtown streetscape where buildings actively engage the pedestrian at street level.  Those walks seem much shorter.

Downtown Deland, FL:



Third, add some density to it (instead of surface parking lots), and you'll find yourself probably not having to walk six blocks because you'll have another viable option nearby.

Center City Philly:


In short, we've failed in providing the basics if we're at the point to where people feel they have to drive (instead of walk) in the heart of the Northbank to travel six measly blocks.

AFCassidy

August 01, 2011, 02:42:11 AM
My comment was based on today's downtown and not an imaginary future Jacksonville. 

Center City Philadelphia couldn't be any more different from Downtown Jacksonville.

I mean, I could take it one step further and say that the way to build an awesome, vibrant downtown is to fill all these parking lots up with skyscrapers and tourist attractions and then build an urban transit system to connect it all.  Done.

My point was that parking right now should not be the enemy, particularly when we have very few people actually living in Downtown Jacksonville and most businesses rely on visitors from other parts of town.  Sure, all these other things would be wonderful - shady tree-lined drives full of busy businesses and full office buildings and a fully-connected transportation system that works.  And maybe someday downtown will evolve into that.  I hope that it does.  But as you well know, transforming an area isn't an overnight process.  The evolution you describe would take years if not decades and cost millions upon millions in public money that we don't have right now...

Being realistic and returning to the point of this article, the problem is that downtown Jacksonville has is too many empty and abandoned lots and not too many parking lots.  That red on the map is mostly made up of wasteland zones that no one would feel safe parking a car on.  Does anyone actually disagree with this point I've been trying to make?

That's all my point has been.  People wag their fingers and roll their eyes about downtown having "too much" parking when the reality is that most of it isn't real parking and isn't even in a place where it could be useful as parking even if the lots weren't covered with rocks, bits of scrap metal and dirty needles.  What's worse is that when so-called downtown advocates complain about excessive parking downtown, they lose people's support who live in the rest of the city and who don't feel like easy in-and-out access to downtown is such a bad thing.  The real point of this article isn't parking - it's vacant, abandoned and junky looking lots.   

thelakelander

August 01, 2011, 05:55:16 AM
The map consists of both because they both equally create dead zones at pedestrian level.  However, the majority of those dirt lots are parked on, on a regular basis.  Here are a few for proof:













The downtown today is a very sick one and the abundance of surface parking lots (both unpaved and paved) are one of the huge reasons for that condition.  If we want it to be vibrant again, reducing the number and strengthening pedestrian level connectivity is going to have to happen.    If not, we might as well admit defeat, pack up and leave because there are no real life examples of vibrant downtowns with more surface parking than buildings at street level.  There's no proof that we can be the first.  That's the basic point of the article.  Unfortunately for Jax, that's about as realistic as it gets.

Btw, DT currently has about twice as many available parking spaces as people.  Ever person could drive two cars down here and manage to find a space for both.  Its not going to hurt the area if the majority of surface lots are replaced with infill development over time.

ChriswUfGator

August 01, 2011, 11:28:14 AM
My comment was based on today's downtown and not an imaginary future Jacksonville. 

Center City Philadelphia couldn't be any more different from Downtown Jacksonville.

I mean, I could take it one step further and say that the way to build an awesome, vibrant downtown is to fill all these parking lots up with skyscrapers and tourist attractions and then build an urban transit system to connect it all.  Done.

My point was that parking right now should not be the enemy, particularly when we have very few people actually living in Downtown Jacksonville and most businesses rely on visitors from other parts of town.  Sure, all these other things would be wonderful - shady tree-lined drives full of busy businesses and full office buildings and a fully-connected transportation system that works.  And maybe someday downtown will evolve into that.  I hope that it does.  But as you well know, transforming an area isn't an overnight process.  The evolution you describe would take years if not decades and cost millions upon millions in public money that we don't have right now...

Being realistic and returning to the point of this article, the problem is that downtown Jacksonville has is too many empty and abandoned lots and not too many parking lots.  That red on the map is mostly made up of wasteland zones that no one would feel safe parking a car on.  Does anyone actually disagree with this point I've been trying to make?

That's all my point has been.  People wag their fingers and roll their eyes about downtown having "too much" parking when the reality is that most of it isn't real parking and isn't even in a place where it could be useful as parking even if the lots weren't covered with rocks, bits of scrap metal and dirty needles.  What's worse is that when so-called downtown advocates complain about excessive parking downtown, they lose people's support who live in the rest of the city and who don't feel like easy in-and-out access to downtown is such a bad thing.  The real point of this article isn't parking - it's vacant, abandoned and junky looking lots.   


Simple question: So why is downtown like it is today, if your views are valid?

The only thing downtown isn't lacking is an overabundance of parking...

avs

August 01, 2011, 11:43:33 AM
Having lived in Center City Philly, I can tell you it gets super hot and humid there - even with the tree canapy and shop overhangs.  The density doesn't allow alot of air flow off the water.  That being said however, people there would STILL choose to walk 6 blocks to get a burrito because no one wants the hassel of moving their car and fight for another spot only 6 blocks away only to drive the short 6 blocks back and have to find a new parking space.

Most people living in dense urban centers like that don't even have cars.  They walk, even in the heat because owning a car in the city is a huge hassel.  Dense cities discourage car ownership.  Parking is scarce and expensive and public transportation is more readily available (that includes bicycling and the use of your own two feet).  Dense cities do not have tons of parking - parking and cars are a premium, not what the average city dweller uses or prefers.

Most cities do not depend on surburbanites for their vitality either.  They are dense and can provide the demographics to support their downtown neighborhood.  Jacksonville needs to stop trying to cater to the suburbanite to drive to downtown and visit on a Friday evening.  It should be seen as a neighborhood whose population has dwindled.  Incentives to move downtown and to start local businesses downtown need to be put inot place so that the neighborhood of downtown becomes its own self-sustaining neighborhood.

AFCassidy

August 02, 2011, 03:56:35 AM
AVS -  Simple question, why?  Why force downtown Jacksonville to be something that it has not naturally evolved into and that people don't seem to have a burning desire for? 

Why is downtown like it is today?  I think there are a ton of reasons.  Jacksonville's climate doesn't make it ideal for strolling around on the streets most months out of the year.  It's hot, it rains, etc. 

The bigger issue is that "downtown" is probably too large of an area, plus the city itself is huge geographically and our population is too small.

This isn't SimCity, we don't just pop in successful boutique shops, cafes and apartment buildings over these vacant lots to create an instant downtown.  Suddenly and randomly eliminating parking lots in the name of "walkability" would hurt current downtown businesses, many of which are just barely surviving anyway.   

The way I see it, the solution is to focus on planting grass and not pulling weeds.  Pick and choose areas that might be ripe for walkable zones and try to encourage development there and support the businesses that take the risks.

If it's successful, if the shops and cafes take root and the apartment buildings and lofts fill up, the real estate value will increase and the vacant lots will magically begin to vanish.

thelakelander

August 02, 2011, 07:15:50 AM
AVS -  Simple question, why?  Why force downtown Jacksonville to be something that it has not naturally evolved into and that people don't seem to have a burning desire for?

It didn't naturally evolve into what it is today.  It was forced against its will through demolitions, kicking people and businesses out of their buildings and short sighted redevelopment schemes by the city over the last few decades.  Before then it and the surrounding neighborhoods were very walkable.  Why continue to force a development model on downtown that has been already shown to be a proven failure time and time again?  Remove the regulations and things that hold it back and you'll see if naturally evolve into a denser place again.

This is Downtown Jacksonville in its natural organic state:








Quote
Why is downtown like it is today?  I think there are a ton of reasons.  Jacksonville's climate doesn't make it ideal for strolling around on the streets most months out of the year.  It's hot, it rains, etc.

This wouldn't explain why people are walking in DT Charlotte, Savannah, Orlando, Miami, Winter Park, Deland and a host of other large and small cities with similar climates.  It also wouldn't explain why people walk and hang outside in San Marco, Riverside.  The common thing in all the places where people walk is they have things that actively engage people at pedestrian level.

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The bigger issue is that "downtown" is probably too large of an area, plus the city itself is huge geographically and our population is too small.

This wouldn't explain why downtowns in cities like Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Louisville, Charlotte and Columbus, OH work.  I see this more of being an excuse than actually dealing with the problem.  I also don't see downtown revitalization as having to be difficult.  People here just tend to make it more complicated than it really has to be.  Embrace the fact that it's sick, buy into the idea of clustering complementing uses within a compact setting, easing up regulation and better connectivity with the surrounding districts and you'll see the area start to sprout back to life naturally.

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This isn't SimCity, we don't just pop in successful boutique shops, cafes and apartment buildings over these vacant lots to create an instant downtown.  Suddenly and randomly eliminating parking lots in the name of "walkability" would hurt current downtown businesses, many of which are just barely surviving anyway.

You're right, but that's not being advocated here.  You can't just magically make parking lots disappear and new infill appear overnight.  However, you can create a condition where it makes market rate sense to go with historic preservation and infill over time instead of surface parking. Btw, this will help DT businesses.

Quote
The way I see it, the solution is to focus on planting grass and not pulling weeds.  Pick and choose areas that might be ripe for walkable zones and try to encourage development there and support the businesses that take the risks.

On the ground level sure.  However, you'll have to do something much more drastic for long term stability.  In rehab, you don't ween someone off drugs by giving them less and less.  You do what it takes to stop the bad habit.  In an urbanistic sense, we need to do the same.

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If it's successful, if the shops and cafes take root and the apartment buildings and lofts fill up, the real estate value will increase and the vacant lots will magically begin to vanish.

I see no reason to go with development schemes that end in "ifs."  There are two many successful examples around us to go on ifs.  The model described above works and is pretty affordable to do.  We should apply and run with it.

avs

August 02, 2011, 07:55:10 AM
No city "naturally" evolves into anything.  The simple fact is Jacksonville hasn't strategically allowed its downtown to develop.  Jacksonville has allowed its developers to push it's development outward.  Why?  Money of course!

It isn't too "hot and rainy" here to walk.  Again, its hot and muggy in Center City Philly - sometimes I would wonder if it was actually hotter up there in the summer than in Tampa, where I was from.  The summer's are just shorter up there - 3 months instead of our 5-6 months.  I was talking to my sister yesterday, who now lives in Philly; she was walking home from work in the rain.  It is just preferable/easier to walk than have a car in a dense city.  Not to mention the Town Center in Jacksonville is an outside mall.

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The bigger issue is that "downtown" is probably too large of an area

Downtown is not too large of an area.  Tons of cities are larger than downtown Jville and are vibrant and lively.  There are also tons of downtowns smaller who are vibrant and lively.  It comes down to public policy - that is what drives and allows/disallows development.

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Pick and choose areas that might be ripe for walkable zones and try to encourage development there and support the businesses that take the risks.

I like this idea.  "Encourage" development in small increments.  Those smaller areas can be connected via development of some of these vacant lots.  Long term, downtown really doesn't need them.  Development has to take a long term approach.  Not developing the vacant lots because parking maybe needed now so people can drive into downtown hinders development that could be used for living spaces for downtown residents.  That's not a long term plan for a developed downtown.

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Suddenly and randomly eliminating parking lots in the name of "walkability" would hurt current downtown businesses, many of which are just barely surviving anyway.

Who said anything about sudden and random?  Besides, you said yourself many of these lots aren't even usable to park in.  How can developing unusable vacant lots to connect smaller walkable areas hurt business?  Seems like it would connect two areas previously unconnected thus helping business.

krazeeboi

August 02, 2011, 08:06:11 AM
While just about any Southern city, with few notable exceptions, has a plethora of surface lots in its downtown that hamper vibrancy, downtown Jacksonville has enough density and urban fabric intact to create some vibrancy and synergy downtown. It just needs to have the right civic and business leadership in place to make it happen.
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