the message of parking – Museum of Nature

A parking lot is a message.

The possibility that a private car might need to sit empty in a storage space is more important than any other use of land.

That message is that potential car storage outweighs all other uses.  A parking lot in public space says that the possibility of storage of a private car is more important than any other public use.  A car might need to come and sit empty for a while, and so space must stand empty.  An empty space in a park setting awaiting an empty car is more important than a child playing, a senior strolling, a student sunbathing.  Someone, somewhere outside the city core might need to store their car for a few hours in the middle of the day in summer, and that’s more important than any local use 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

There is clear evidence that green space is essential for mental and physical health.  There’s clear evidence that urban intensification must be matched by local green space, so that people packed into small units in towers have some space outdoors in the city.

There’s clear evidence that car use is a factor in obesity, stress, and creates huge amounts of particulate, greenhouse, and noise pollution.

Parking ignores the clear importance of green space for mental and physical health, parking is a message that we’d rather incentivise obesity, road “rage”, and pollution.  Oh, and cars are the single biggest killer of young people in Canada.

Parking lots are an incredibly inefficient use of space.  And parking lots are ugly, both by their inherent blank gritty spaces as well as what are inevitably the cheapest possible standards for design.  Putting parking lots next to heritage, giving privilege to car storage to any other use of public land next to important national sites, is nothing less than contempt for beauty and disdain for history.  (It’s not just the Museum of Nature that does this, the entire strip of key buildings from Library and Archives Canada to Parliament has surface parking all around it.)

To summarize: the car kills you slowly or the car kills you quickly, and the car makes for dirty, ugly, wasteful spaces.  You would be crazy to give it priority in public space.  But we do.

All of which to say it doesn’t matter whether the Museum of Nature’s west parking lot holds 7 cars, or 29, or 48, or zero.  It is a stupid use of public greenspace.  The idea that this can be mitigated by restoring the grass so that you can gaze across a strip of green AT A BIG CENTRAL SURFACE PARKING LOT is ridiculous.


The idea that a green space just east of condo densification should be allocated to a car lot based on the possibility of maximum use for a few days at the absolute peak of the summer season is insulting.  Even if this lot were full all the time it would be a terrible use of space and a terrible priority.  The fact that it is never anywhere near full just makes it contemptuous and wasteful.  Some theoretical cars for a few days mean months of dead ugly space in the middle of the west park.  Some empty private cars might need to be stored, so no park for you.

It comes down to this:

Storage for cars that might come is more important than cities for actual people.

If this isn’t completely wrong (and incidentally the complete opposite of what green space, transportation and environmental plans say at all levels of government) then I don’t know what is.


May 21, 2012  parking in downtown Ottawa