Wednesday, September 21, 2011

RIP Parking Meters

The NY Times just ran a story on the removal of NYC's remaining coin-based meters. We've written about this change that has been happening to the administration of car parking in cities across the country, a shift from municipal to corporate operations. Often this is done as a form of short term revenue generation (ala Chicago) that ends of being a pretty bad deal for both the city and those trying to park in it. We see the shift to privately managed public services like this as simply one (extremely) mundane element (along with things like E-Z Passes and biometric travel security) of what some call the "control society," where behavior is regulated by pay-to-play mechanisms rather than (or along with) traditional disciplinary measures. A "kinder, gentler" form of enforcement, if you will.
The NYT story ran just a couple of days after the International Park(ing) Day, a day where people transform parking spaces into open spaces of gathering, like a pocket park. We wonder what the shift in parking administration might mean for this kind of temporary reclaiming of space, that pretty much depends on a shared practice of public space and understanding of a public good. As long as metered parking spaces operate as a municipal function, one can at least expect a certain amount of latitude in behavior. Many city planners and bureaucrats are actually advocates for non-automobile uses of space after all. But what happens when that space is managed by interests that actually have no stake in maintaining a public beyond one that is a paying customer, and property lines (and the power they engender) extend further beyond the confines of corporate walls?
If you're really interested in the history of parking meters and their rise in cities, check out this report from a 1958 volume of The Patent, Trademark and Copyright Journal of Research and Education on the Parking Meter Industry (pdf).