As more real estate development projects enter into the planning and construction phases in the Greater Downtown Detroit area, some people (especially those from the suburbs) are worried about parking. They claim that as developers transform parking lots into buildings, they’ll have to park farther from destinations and pay more at parking lots or garages. But as Detroit attempts to climb back to world-class prominence, it will have to act more like New York City and Chicago in sacrificing ease and comfort for a more vibrant downtown.
It’s an expectation when driving in the downtown of a major U.S. city that parking will either be very scarce, extremely costly, or both. On the other hand, Detroiters expect to be able to park within a minute walk of their destination. As the city develops, redevelops, and constructs new buildings, the sea of parking lots Downtown must vanish as well. And it’s not as if there’s a need for all the parking Downtown; 40% of Downtown land is currently devoted to parking.
We’ve created a map of surface level parking lots in Downtown Detroit, with parking lots in magenta, Ilitch family-owned lots in yellow, and construction projects in orange. It’s easy to see how much parking is available in the 1.39 square mile area, and we need to let go of these lots if we want to get serious about our city’s growth.
Shifting Parking Ideals
Cities around the world are tightening their restrictions on parking, citing studies by urban planners which find parking spots sit vacant for most of the year and take up a huge amount of valuable, buildable land better suited for shops, apartments, and offices. Hank Willson, principal analyst at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, says, “Though the perception is always that there’s never enough parking, the reality is different.” Where there used to be parking minimums for developments, some cities are actually enacting parking maximums to combat the asphalt sprawl.
The Ilitch family has promised to construct new buildings across their 50-block The District Detroit, but they haven’t constructed much. The envisioned Columbia Park micro-neighborhood featuring “new offices, retail specialty shops and loft-style condos” is still only a field of parking lots on the northwest side of Downtown. And with the income generated by parking lots, it’s easy to see why construction hasn’t started yet.