Downtown Kansas City, Missouri, like other metropolitan centers, has higher amounts of parking than its neighboring suburban and rural areas. A majority of the land cover in downtown Kansas City, is made up of off-street, on-street parking or underground parking garages. Parking lots create an opportunity cost issue, in addition to taking up land that could be used for other purposes.
The myriad of free parking options can indeed overvalue or underestimate the true cost of driving and discourage alternative modes of transportation, such as bus transit through the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA), and cycling. Although regions are required by federal law to develop long-term transportation plans, parking is implicated predominantly by local needs and development.
As we replace prime greeneries with lots, we are losing out on plants and vegetation which are key for healthy biotic survival. Parking lots are often made up of large expanses of dark asphalt, which absorb sunlight and increase air and surface temperatures, causing what is called, the “Heat Island Effect.”
Without landscaping and trees, sunlight falls on the dark pavement in parking lots ultimately adding to this urban heat island effect. The effect is denoted by the increased temperature that urban environments experience over their greener, lot-less counterparts. Increased temperatures lead to more energy used to keep buildings cool, increased amounts of ozone pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and decreased health and comfort arising from fatigue.
As the region loses green space to pavement, it also creates large areas through which water can no longer filter. This contributes to flash flooding such as the one in Brush Creek in 1977 and 1998, degraded water quality, and stream and river erosion. Shade trees combat many of these problems by blocking sunlight and reducing surface and air temperatures. It is therefore very important that parks not disappear to appease our collective hunger for parking space. The remaining parks, such as Loose, Shawnee Mission, Antioch, Penguin, Sar-ko-par, McCoy, Fleming and Macken are some that are being maintained well, but there is no collective will to expand or create more innovative solutions elsewhere.
Although it goes without saying that street-parking can attract customers to local businesses and establishments, and might be equated with regional development over a period of time, what is a healthy balance between lots and parking in an urban area?
Should we strive to provide parking for attracting consumers of local business and opt for economic development, or stress more ecological solutions to parking?
Credit: Images by Martin Seliger. Data linked to sources.