Parking is such sweet sorrow

Fascinating example of infrastructure mandating (and at the same time limiting) the culture of a particular place, from the journal of the University of California’s Transportation Center. Includes this quote from urban historian Lewis Mumford: “The right to access every building in the city by private motorcar, in an age where everyone owns such a vehicle, is actually the right to destroy the city.”

Disney Hall’s six-level, 2,188-space underground garage cost $110 million to build (about $50,000 per space). Financially troubled Los Angeles County, which built the garage, went into debt to finance it, expecting that parking revenues would repay the borrowed money. But the garage was completed in 1996, and Disney Hall—which suffered from a budget less grand than its vision—became knotted in delays and didn’t open until late 2003. During the seven years in between, parking revenue fell far short of debt payments (few people park in an underground structure if there is nothing above it) and the county, by that point nearly bankrupt, had to subsidize the garage even as it laid off employees.

The county owns the land beneath Disney Hall, and its lease for the site specifies that Disney Hall must schedule at least 128 concerts each winter season. Why 128? That’s the minimum number of concerts that will generate the parking revenue necessary to pay the debt service on the garage. And in its first year, Disney Hall scheduled exactly 128 concerts. The parking garage, ostensibly designed to serve the Philharmonic, now has the Philharmonic serving it; the minimum parking requirements have led to a minimum concert requirement.

from “People, Parking, and Cities,” by Michael Manville and Donald Shoup, Access, Fall 2004 :: via Koranteng’s bookmarks

Originally published at

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