Truck garden

The streets in New Haven are still lined with last Sunday's snowfall. Because most winters aren't as snowy as this one, or perhaps because the City of New Haven (rightly) has more pressing needs than a couple of inches of slush on their urban pavement, their snowplowing program focuses more on snow "moval" than snow "removal." The plows push the snow from the streets into the parking spaces, and then cars, afraid that their hummer�s won�t clear the three-inch accumulation of snow in the designated parking spot, simply plant their vehicles further away from the curb.
The narrowing of the usable street-space that results from this situation prompted me to start to question the amount of public street space currently dedicated to parking in urban and suburban America. Why is curbside parking a free, or essentially free, public good? What sorts of behavior are we as a society inducing with this policy and what more productive things could we do with that space, or with the income we could generate for charging more for the use of that space?
Research conducted by NYC based Transportation Alternatives shows that between 28 and 45 percent of traffic on some New York streets consists solely of motorists circling the block searching for cheap on-street parking. T.A. found that drivers searching for curbside parking on Columbus Avenue on the UWS spend 50,000 hours cruising for parking, wasting $130,000 per year in fuel and producing an additional 325 tons of carbon dioxide.
Some U.S. cities, following the European example, have begun to experiment with raising peak-hour parking rates to reduce traffic by decreasing demand for metered parking. In October 2008, the NYC DOT kicked of the "PARK Smart" pilot program in Greenwich Village where meter rates were doubled from 1-4pm during peak parking hours.
While working out the logistics would require further reorganization of our parking infrastructure, it also makes sense that parking should cost more for larger cars and vehicles that take up more space, thus creating incentives for Americans to drive smaller (and theoretically more gas efficient) vehicles and allowing cities to dedicate less space to vehicle parking. An article published in Dwell's June 2008 issue [not available online] noted that some East Coast cities could fit inside the area that West Coast cities devote to parking infrastructure � for example if half the parking spaces in Los Angeles were eliminated, than an area larger than the city of Boston could be re-appropriated. (Dwell also profiled a number of snazzy new space-reducing car designs, including long, skinny vehicles that could be stacked vertically for parking, to which my response is that bikes are also long, skinny, and quite easily stored in vertically stacked columns).
To help us wean ourselves from the plague of free and pervasive on street parking, we can take creative steps to reclaim this public space. Transportation Alternatives has an annual "PARK(ing) Day" in New York where they encourage New Yorkers to reclaim parking spots across the city for a day, creating miniature parks, playgrounds and social gathering spaces across the five boroughs.
My plan for reclaiming public parking combines elements of Parking Day with guerrilla gardening. As soon as the growing season begins, I'm going to create an urban garden truck and park it in the large, city owned, free parking lot behind our New Haven apartment. If I had enough money, I would purchase a whole fleet of rotting pickup trucks, load them with dirt and seeds, and fill every parking space in the lot, offering fresh veggies and flowers to the neighborhood. And if you have an old truck or other vehicle you'd like to donate to the project, please email me - or plant it in your own neighborhood.

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