Tag Archives: parking

Central Park

Among the annoyances of having to work for a living (aside from having to work for a living) is the getting to where your workplace is – and, assuming that, as in most American locales, short-sighted politicians with lobbyist bucks in their PACs have helped to eviscerate your town’s public transportation, then the getting requires driving. And driving requires a place to park. And, if you do not work in the ‘burbs or on the prairie – where fine arable soil now lies, out of sight and out of mind, beneath flat, parched and blacktopped acres painted with corralling lines and illuminated by buzzing light poles, offering free parking within stroll distance to your office/factory/shop/cell – then you pay to stow your vehicle on a razed-building footprint that’s now a lot, or in a multi-story garage building within some city’s limits.

ParkingGarage

For the past seven years, I’ve been doing just that – committing my car to minimum-security lockup for eight hours a day while I do somewhat the same for myself. Two parking garages have been involved, and to me they seemed, though structurally different in subtle but noticeable ways, very much the same in personality and affect: floor after oil-stained and grimy floor, dark (even in day), barren (even when parked solid), echoey down its low-ceilinged/vaulted-concrete claustrophobia-inducing corridors illuminated with dim and flickering and green/yellowish rods and protuberances that give every inch the quality of the lighting employed in snuff films, and all tied together with a spiral bow of ramps, and home to the funkiest stairwells and slowest elevators since Otis installed his first emergency-alarm button.

Grim eyesores of our car culture, ugly over-charging profit machines of politically connected and corrupting developers – this is what I have thought of these ubiquitous and obtrusive storage boxes. Personality-less. Places without placeness, and certainly without art.

But, lately, for no good reason, I find myself having a change of heart.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not looking at these lurid architectural layer cakes as some sort of black-sheep member of the Guggenheim Museum family – a twisty path leading to landings on which are not paintings but Priuses – but I have come to realize that these garages are not devoid of placeness, as I thought. In fact, quite the opposite. Especially if American mass media is any gauge, these undistinguished buildings are central to a kind of basic American placeness. In fact, they are redolent of placeness.

Scorpio

It is uncountable how many times in movies that parking garages – whether over- or underground – have been used as the arena for screeching car chases (those echoes, those hairpin turns, those bowling-alley-like high-speed head-on approaches) or foot chases, or muggings, or shootings – way out of proportion to their actual danger or the role they seem to play in our waking lives. Cars race into them, out of them, around and through them; cars with secreted bombs blow up in them, and cars explode out of them, sailing through the air to the ground or water or whatever lies below – an exhilarating propelled dive from imprisonment to freedom without having to surrender the time card and pay the inflated fee to the under-interested drone in the booth.

all-the-presidents-men

Do we hate and fear these places so much that we impose our nightmares on them? Or are we drawn to them because they are the most closed of public spaces, and anything can happen in them – placeness tofu, bland in and of itself but taking its piquancy and identity from added spices? Structural Zeligs that blend in but are present at key events? It was in a parking garage that Deep Throat met with Bob Woodward. It was in a parking garage that Jerry and George and Elaine and Kramer were lost in a Pirandellian episode that was among the most existential in television history. Deborah Sorenson, of the National Building Museum, suggests  that, depending on the structure, they are either cliff or cave, and she lists dozens of films and series that have used parking garages as the focus of plot points.

Seinfeld

Maybe they had no placeness until the movies gave it to them. But they have it now. Maybe 20 bucks for an all-day piece of this uber-American mass-media theme park is not a bad admission price … and you get to park your car, too.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art & Architecture, Culture, Life, Musings, Random

Parking Place

Old cities are being suffocated by cars. And I am not just talking about the huge volume of traffic flow. When a city such as ours – built in the 18th century for horses and carriages, and which then expanded, in the 19th century, with modern public conveyances like trolleys, an elevated line, subway and trains – has its 21st-century residents hell-bent on having a four-wheeled vehicle per capita … well, where are they all supposed to go? America is big, but cities have limits. Especially old cities. For a time, in the 20th century in this city, there was a belief that the resident of each house had an unofficial ownership of the space right in front of his/her property, for the purpose of parking. At that time, there was usually just one car per household. Now, it is per adult.

Certainly, for an 18th-century rowhouse, nothing but a Smart car would fit across its breadth. But, even for 19th-century rowhouses, most cars are longer than the distance between party walls. And if you put four to six people of driving age in one rowhouse … well, their four to six cars will take up the entire block. It is a mathematical thing and a spatial thing. And, usually, a rental thing.

What’s a neighborhood to do, especially those permanent residents who leave for work and return in the evening to find no parking spaces on their entire block, possibly for several blocks? Students, sometimes six to a house, have had their vehicles parked most of the day, since they have only one class to go to, and a big SUV to get them to and from it. The scarcity of street parking was making it difficult for homeowners to live here, the curbside space was bursting at the seams. Finally, someone in our neighborhood did something about it: permit parking.

Recently, I awoke to the sound of drilling, and within an hour or two, there was a fence-post-like array of street signage up and down our three contiguous blocks, on the curb-parking side. “2 HR Parking 8 am – 6:30 pm, Mon thru Fri, Except Permit Parking 15.” Additionally, “No Stopping Anytime” signs were placed at a certain distance from the corners. This is a so-full-up area that every conceivable space is used, including sidewalks, if they are not cordoned off in some manner. I look out my windows now, and through the trees I view full-frontal red, white and green signs. And they are large. The funny thing is, though, that most of the difficult parking is at night, not between 8 am and 6:30 pm. But maybe the idea is that the hour or so at the tail end of the “controlled time” is enough to give the permanent residents a chance at a space, if they move quickly. Although, if someone was clever, they could begin parking their non-permitted car at 4:30 pm and be good to go for the night.

My straight-across-the-street neighbor came home one night, after the signs were installed, and said, “Yippee, I can park right in front of my house again!” I asked if he had obtained a permit and he said that he had, and that it cost only $35. Many of the students renting on our street have out-of-state plates and I wonder if they can obtain a permit. Maybe that is the point. Otherwise, it is just a small reminder that they don’t control these blocks. To me, this is more of the theater of city life. I and a few of the residents on our side of the street have driveways – a luxury item in these mean streets. So, the advent of permit parking doesn’t affect us one way or the other. Obviously, it pissed off a number of residents enough to make them happy to pay for the likelihood of a parking space.

Suddenly, a few months into this, someone came out and changed the signs to, “2 HR Parking, 7 pm – 7 am, Mon thru Sun.” Obviously somebody figured out the uselessness of the original timeframe.

I can’t say I enjoy looking at all the signage, nor do I enjoy looking at all the cars lined up nose to butt with about four inches between, resembling metallic sausage links. From space, the parked cars solidly lining the steep hilly streets must look like multicolored guardrails, or some sort of low-cost version of housing.

So, where is the placeness of neighborhoods if they become parking lots? You might think that any new housing that appears would have to confront and solve the problem of parking, or, at least, not contribute to it. Somehow on our street, three new houses were built on a lot big enough for one and, yes, they have garages. Unfortunately, the garages are not big enough for the new owners’ cars. So the result is that there are now seven additional cars seeking spaces. And the space required for the seven cars is, by measurement, greater than the space that the three houses inhabit. And so it goes. 

Where does it end? In New York City there are these parking elevators that stack cars up several stories high in a confined area, maximizing air-space parking on a small footprint of land. Also in NYC, there are high-end apartment buildings with indoor parking – right on your own floor! Here’s a thought: When the cities get maxed out, hire big-wheeler auto-transport trucks to carry muliple vehicles around and around, circling through the city streets until they are called or texted to bring the car to your door. A new kind of carryout. The streets would be clear but the diesel fumes would kill everyone, so there would be no need for cars anymore. And no need for permit parking in residential neighborhoods – since there would be no residents.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Life, Musings, Random, Uncategorized