This limitation means that the on-street parking program is today more of a “nice to have” rather than something you can count on as a permanent parking solution for your car. As a result, adoption as a first choice for urban parking has been slow and backyards and vacant lots are still getting paved for parking.
My own house has enough parking for all three units, but all things equal, I’d rather have more of that lot back for gardens, sheds, and outdoor space. I have friends and neighbors who don’t have that parking and I saw their struggles. I knew from living in other northeastern cities that it was possible for a city to plow the roads and still allow on-street parking.
Taking a Strong Towns Approach
Enter the Strong Towns movement: a bottom-up revolution in how we think about, plan for, and build communities that grows shared prosperity and resilience for everyone. They have a mantra for how to do public investment right:
Humbly observe where people in the community struggle.
Ask the question: What is the next smallest thing we can do right now to address that struggle?
Do that thing. Do it right now.
Members of my community formed a small group of about four households, and a few other allies, with me taking the lead on organizing and communications.
Setting the Right Tone
The next step was to figure out what our message would be. We wanted to highlight the benefits both to individuals who had nowhere else to go, but also to the city at large. So we focused on how parked cars on the street improve safety by slowing traffic and protecting the sidewalk. We talked about how moving cars out of backyards and vacant lots would free up land for new homes (helping our housing crisis) and gardens that would help reduce storm water run-off. We also highlighted how on-street parking draws people out onto the street (out of their garages and driveways, increasing conviviality). Lastly, although the group organizing it included city planners, developers, lawyers, and academics, we set a tone that we were just doing this as neighbors. Nothing would be “innovative,” “experimental,” “dense,” etc. We used simple language, no jargon, and focused on how we were doing tried and true things that have worked here and elsewhere for millions of people.
Making a Splash
We started our campaign a year ago, in the middle of last winter, where the problems of the snow bans were in many people’s minds. We launched a change.org petition, sharing it around on Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor, and through personal connections. We had over a 130 people sign it, mostly from our neighborhood. Now we had a constituency.
Making the Connections
Then, with our approach and our tone settled and a constituency at our back, we reached out to neighborhood elected officials, neighborhood organizations, and city staff. We came forward not stridently, but collaboratively, following the goals of our tone, above. We sought staff insights into the best way to design it. We lobbied city council and the mayor’s office. We didn’t demand action right away; we could wait for next year (this winter) so there was time to plan. We applauded every positive movement from within the city, and applied friendly relentless pressure when we didn’t hear back.