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Don’t be a Deck: A Parking Garage Theory of Patience and Acceptance

Like so many Americans, I have grudgingly spent a fair portion of my time on Earth in parking decks: at hospitals, schools, events, downtown in any city. It is no secret to anyone who has used them that these structures are a recurring and frustrating part of contemporary transportation in the US. They are so integrated, in fact, that they tend to be ignored until their natural limitations collide with their unavoidable and imperfect utility. However, there is worth in examining any aspect of our complex culture, and in the modern-day spirit of examining underprivileged narratives, today I want to see what I can extract from these mundane humble concrete labyrinths that see thousands of miles of traffic per day.

In a way, parking decks seem to represent our culture’s ability to innovate around logistical hurdles whilst creating a constituent nightmare in the same realm.

The explosion of urban development as a result of the Industrial Revolution created dozens of such conundrums for architects, engineers, and innovators. Throughout the twentieth century, the question of how to accommodate our new lifestyles and technologies while managing booming populations continued to be on the forefront of the minds of many at the helms of businesses and metropolitan centers. Automobiles began to be more and more commonplace, and the problem of how to efficiently move and organize them evolved into one of the single-most enduring issues of city management.
Parking decks were created just 15 years after the automobile’s invention to solve a problem that had no doubt become rapidly insurmountable, and “[b]y the 1950s, the country was experiencing a parking garage construction boom” (NPR). As was the case with skyscrapers, the pressures of urban life drove construction of parking concepts beyond flat open lots and metered street-side parking. While Eisenhower’s interstate system seemed to address the macro-level issues of mass evacuation and moving the increasing volume of traffic between cities, the “double-helix” parking deck was expanding within cities to house the bustling populations now moving in and out of urban centers at unprecedented levels.
Fast forward to present day, and the game is a cartoonish rendition of what was originally a good idea. Many cities have simply gotten beyond the saturation threshold for the technology, which now facilitate a chaotic time-sink now commonplace in daily American life.

The traffic moves slow; people exemplify their ugliest side; hundreds of gallons of gasoline are vaporized.

The wonton expenditure of time, sanity, and fossil fuels would seem to contradict many of paradigms of contemporary living. One would think that innovations in public transportation would have long outstripped the need for mass individual parking, but our world, in this and many other ways, is far from perfect. Thus, since reimagining the fundamental organizing principles of our collective transportation efforts is an issue far beyond the scope of this blog, my aim is to address what we, the users, can do to endure the social affliction that is the parking lot phenomenon.
Until such time as innovation replaces the need for these bastions of waste and tedium, my humble opinion is that patience is our only weapon. This is especially true when one considers the way people tend to interact with parking decks. The problem is that the parking deck concept pits two fundamental American values against one another: individualism vs. instant gratification.
In my experience, it is the tendency of the overwhelming majority of Americans to seek out the first-nearest (read, lowest-common-denominator) parking space. This behavior is typical of the American condition, and in 2-D parking situations, it only presents a problem for users who decide to compete for these spaces. In a flat strip-mall parking situation the scarcity of space is often imagined, as there are often many available spaces toward the back, and although many rationalize the decision as one in search of a shorter walk, in reality, one wastes more time and gas to this end than if they simply parked in the back and walked. However, the American “1st place” ethos seems to demand we seek to “win” by minimizing our walk.

The parking deck is where the urge to resist collective efforts collides with impatient American public practices.

Unlike a flat lot, the typical parking deck creates a single-file situation that necessitates a collaborative effort. Consider the following hypothetical: say, you the reader, enter a hospital parking deck on a Saturday; there is a considerable amount of traffic headed into the deck due to visitors; upon entering the parking garage you notice a long line moving slowly past fully occupied rows of cars; after a long wait you finally find a place on the fourth of five floors, which is nearly empty; you wonder to yourself what could possibly have taken so long. The answer is simple when one considers the conveyor-belt movement of traffic in conjunction with the warring urges to park on a low level, near an elevator, and as soon as possible.

Common sense tells us that 200 cars cannot simultaneously achieve this goal, especially if the first available space is several floors high.

But as with the 2D lot, many people slowly creep their way to the lowest common denominator, convinced they are saving time as they rigorously inspect each space, oblivious to or defiant against the idea that they are in fact increasing the time expenditure of themselves and everyone behind them.

Should you be in the front of the line, take the opportunity to drive to the top.

This is known as taking one for the team, but amazingly, in this instance, you are the primary beneficiary. If you choose to ignore the ego’s itch to hunt the low-hanging fruit and assume the responsibility of easing up congestion, you are exercising acceptance and collectivist mores. By taking the high road you are freeing up space and time for at least one person behind you to make their way forward a little easier.
And if they don’t follow your example, it will not hurt you. It is better than communism, it is “Self-Interest Incorporated.” At that point have done your duty while doing yourself a favor by consciously reducing the stress of one potential frustration.
Me, I try to imbue my parking time with positivity. I try to relish my ability to park in the sunshine (since garages are often most crowded during business hours), and in the instances where I am indubitably stuck behind those who would choose to quibble over the scraps, I turn up the music and let the knowledge that there is a space waiting for me the top -and that that’s where I’m headed ASAP- help my patience outweigh the impulse to lose it.

Signing off,
Michael Weddington


Disclaimer: Despite cameras and call boxes becoming commonplace in the last few years, I do acknowledge the fact that the relationship between women and parking garages is historically troubled, and people’s behavior outside of their cars in these situations is the territory of an entirely different essay best left to a more qualified person to tackle. Thus, this article should not be seen as an indictment of anyone’s efforts to keep themselves safe or as a minization of another social problem but as a good-natured conceptual critique of a phenomenon in American engineering, architecture, and culture.


Source/Further Reading: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120545290

Entry #1: A Parking Garage Theory of Patience and Acceptence
May 19, 2019