Parking Lots: Metaphorical and Otherwise

Where did I put that idea?

In the creativity world, we have this thing called a “Parking Lot.”  It is a sheet of flip chart paper on the wall where you put the totally unrelated concepts, facts and wonderings that aren’t related to what you’re brainstorming about at the moment.  The idea is that you will eventually go back to them and work on them.  So you start off taking about challenges you’re having in your advertising team, let’s say, and someone, says, “Hey what’s going on with our paychecks always being late.”  So instead of being a jerk of a facilitator and saying, “Hank, we’re not talking about that now, shut your hole!”  Instead you leave it open ended and say, “Hank, thank your for bringing that up, it’s important, but how about we put that in the parking lot and we’ll get into that later.”

How might I get my money on time?

Hank agrees and you move on.  Sometimes you go back and work on the paycheck issue, sometimes it gets forgotten.

There is a reason creativity professionals use “parking lots” as a metaphorical SPCA’s for stray ideas that no one really wants to own, clean up, spay, feed or deal with in general.  Parking lots are literally, where you park your two tons of crap for a nominal fee so you don’t have to worry about it while you work all day, or go shopping or to a movie.

Parking Lot, SPCA for cars and ideas

You are essentially parking economic responsibility.   Before you get bent, I am also parking my own economic responsibility.  I park in parking lots all the time, with my car.  Just like throwing away food from the refrigerator, I feel guilty about it.  Nonetheless, I am guilty of driving a car.  I drive pizzas, and from time to time, I drive when I don’t need to.   To bike purists, I am a sinner.

The fact that I own a car is anti-ethical to my message of bikes are good and cars are bad.  I acknowledge all of this.  Like a recovering alcoholic, I am trying to wrestle with my demons.  It would be a lot easier to quit my car cold turkey though if 50% of downtown space in Buffalo wasn’t covered in parking.

Downtown parking lot space.jpg
Ah, if parking lots were unicorns!

Jane Jacobs called parking ramps “desolators.”  They become dead spaces when they are not in use.  (Aside from my friend Sheba who put on bike races in them). Additionally, they also make diversity of commerce around them nearly impossible.  Think of it, when you hang out in Buffalo, how close is the coolest part of town to parking ramp or lot?  Never that close.  In your mind’s eye, look at the block where the parking lot is, not pretty, downright fugly right?  Parking lots are like black-holes sucking the life and vitality out of neighborhoods.  The only thing worse are junkyards.

Vacation in scenic Rusty Truck Hills!

Think of all the people that are actually driving to work, try this sometime.  When you’re going to work, actually take into account who is driving.  90% of the time, everyone around you is in a car by themselves.  All those cars are driving to town to their very own parking space.  Then they go home at night, to sit in their very own parking space at home.

When walking is faster

What would it take to get people out of their cars?  I actually ride to work when I work downtown.  For my pizza job, I have to drive for work, the distances are too far apart in the suburbs for bike delivery.  Just riding downtown a few days a week is actually a pain in the fanny, and I’m a pro.  Often, I have multiple things to stop for.  There is a dress code expectation and then there’s the weather.  When it’s nice out, it’s less complicated, but rain makes things much more complicated.  Rain equals more clothes which makes the bag heavier which is bad when you have a back problems and miscellaneous arthritis issues.  Then there are arrangements of baskets, trailers and different size bags.  It’s a lot of planning.  Driving a car is comparatively easy.  You just take yourself, as is, plop into the seat and drive away.

This is nothing to say of how scary traffic is for normal people who’ve never been bike messengers in ten cities across the U.S. and Canada for ten years.

I have genuine sympathy for people like my best friend with her three kids out in Lancaster where they have good schools.  I’m tired all the time, and I don’t have three kids to ferry around to all their stuff.

Not these kinds of kids

To solve the parking lot problem, we have to solve the inconveniences, pain, scary parts of riding a bike.  I run every concept through the prism of my best friend with her three kids living in Lancaster and commuting to the medical campus everyday.

I would start with a plush, Wi-Fi equipped, reclining seats shuttle or subway from the burbs to the city.  That covers the lion’s share of the distance.  When it gets to the medical campus and other important stops, it would actually be within a reasonable walking distance to the point of interest, rather than 3-5 blocks out of the way.  Buffalo is freaking cold in the winter.  All you guys out there, imagine walking five blocks in heels, in subzero temperatures after you just had a fight with the kids about homework.  Add a gale force wind and a sprinkle of frozen snow which feels like a thousand needles on the skin of your face.

Go ahead guys, use the HOV lane

To help alleviate the situation, schools could allow kids to ride to school (There are many schools that won’t) and prohibit all parents from driving their kids to school.  The whole reason schools prohibit kids from biking to school is that there are too many parents dropping their kids off in cars.  Why?  Fear, I guess.  Laziness maybe.  Frankly I don’t know.  This all started with the Gen X’ers, my generation.  These are the same people who walked or took the bus to school, so I don’t know who came up with this dumb idea.

Solve:  Bike lanes all over the place for kids to safely get to school.  Older kids escorting younger kids.  How about they take the bus?  Inner-city kids still walk and ride the bus.  What are we afraid of?  The problem might actually be parents out-sized paranoia that their kid is going to get snatched because there is more news about kidnapping than ever in history.  Statistics bear this out.

Basically, it’s the suburbs that have necessitated an explosion in driving and traffic in general.  When Europe was rebuilding after WWII they made a point of hanging onto their intrinsic train systems, they just updated them.  It is important to remember the ideas we once parked in the parking lots.  Sometimes looking back at what that parking lot used to be can be really inspiring.  For the parking lot at Main Place Mall in downtown Buffalo, many grand old buildings were demolished.  One was so well built, they had to dynamite it repeatedly to bring it down.  Parking lots themselves, when you take in the neighborhoods where they live, can become the repository of aspirations.  Don’t just write them off, consider what could go in their place that would turn that neighborhood around.  It just takes a little brainstorming.




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