Monday, August 27, 2012

Parking lots can't vote

In too many places vehicles run the show when it comes to urban design. 

Reflecting on the allure of a pleasant downtown stroll in the fading days of late summer, a thought occurs; the quality of urban design sets the stage for crime or vitality.

Downtowns can draw people in for pleasant strolls or for traversing a no-man's land where drug dealers, hookers, and gang-bangers ply their trade with impunity in dark nooks and crannies.

In one way or another land uses are the key to urban safety and from what I saw this summer, success or failure depends on one particular type of land use - the surface parking lot.


We obsess on the parking lot as though cars are old enough to want their own room. They are everywhere. By some estimates they comprise up to 30% of downtown land use. It's as though cars have their own vote in the urban household.  And if you talk to developers and shop owners, they do.

Yet to anyone amendable to reason and unwilling to sing the praise of the status quo, most parking lots are shameful. They are under-lit (or over-lit), poorly designed and offer poor access controls (or fortress-like walls). They are perfect spots for crime. CPTED consultant John Roberts has written a passionate story about suburban parking lot crime in Target: Wal-Mart.

Similar risks exist in urban parking lots. The obvious design flaw is wayfinding. Wayfinding is an abysmal mess in most parking lots. Wayfinding is one of the easiest problems to solve. A few years ago Saskatoon planner Elisabeth Miller and myself created a design guidebook including 24 design recommendations for surface parking lots.

Here are a few other examples:

Wayfinding, made easy, across a surface parking lot in San Diega
Parking lots need clearly designed access points - Saskatoon, Canada
Pedestrian walkway in Saskatoon parking lot

Covered walkway in Seattle - photo Marie Bailey


  1. Great to see Elisabeth and the City of Saskatoon highlighted in your post. Thanks!

  2. You are welcome Shelley.

    If you look to the archives in SafeGrowth you'll discover the exceptional work of both Elisabeth and Saskatoon have made numerous appearances on this blog over the past few years. Check these out:


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