I once new a man named Greg. He demolished buildings, and the City often called him for emergency demolitions. I remember once arguing with him about destroying our heritage, removing needed housing and things like that. But Greg was proud of his work, and he earnestly believed what he was doing was good for Cincinnati. He said that he still had much work to do in neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine, because the buildings were too close together and at least every other building needed to be demolished, "so that adjacent buildings could have parking".
Since the 1950's this has been a prevalent attitude about cities like Cincinnati. It is an attempt to remake the city like the suburbs. I would guess that close to 50% of the buildings that existed in OTR in 1950 have been demolished. Liberty Street was widened, parking lots were built. But even with so much destroyed, there is still not enough parking for the 4 story buildings with streetfront retail.
People have been trying to make OTR an easy to drive and park neighborhood. They think that this is necessary for its survival, but they are really destroying it.
The problems with Greg's parking solution is manifold.
it is a waste of existing buildings.
it is a waste of city infrastructure
it creates unpleasant places
it creates unwalkable places
Look at some of the photos in this post. How safe is it for a pedestrian to cross Liberty Street? How pleasant are these parking lots and billboards? These pictures show a once, quintessential, livable, walkable, urban city, trying to become "car-friendly", and it is a shameful destruction of a beautiful city.
I've noticed that most of the new condos being built on Main Street and Vine Street come with private surface parking spaces. The City recently funded new parking lot for an OTR business that already has a large parking lot.
All of these surface lots once contained homes and businesses.
A few months ago, I posted a street scene video from 1901. As was typical before rubber wheeled motor vehicles, the street was shared equally by all types of transport (streetcars, horse carts and pedestrians, lots of pedestrians).
Rubber wheeled vehicles fundamentally changed the city. They are more dangerous to the pedestrian. They encourage dispersal. They encourage isolation. They require separation.
Now, if you consider all the ways to get somewhere, which is the most pleasant, most green, most economical, most urban? ...? Walking! On top of being healthy, and cheap, walking is also the only real way to build an urban commercial district or a neighborhood. Walking is interactive, safe and compact. Walking is green. Walkers dominate successful cities.
Now, how can a city create more walkers? Well, the sidewalks and street crossings should obviously be safe, both from crime and from cars. But more importantly, a city must have places within walking distance. Places that are worth the walk. Many planning books have studied the density required to make walking feasible.
And if a city were to decide that they wanted to support the pedestrian, support development of street level retail, and generally move the city in a non-suburban direction, what should they do toward that end? Some cities, such as Vancouver, are removing highway ramps that over-accommodate cars at the expense of the pedestrian.
Many cities never gave up their pedestrian support system (ie: streetcars, subways and elevated trains.) They have vibrant business districts, lively streets and often a growing urban population. Others that had gotten rid of rail are successfully rebuilding light rail and streetcar systems.
Cities are for people, not cars. If we make the pedestrian the first priority, density and thriving business will follow.