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Paved Paradise: How Parking Policy Impacts Public Health

In May 2024, parking policy reform enthusiast Henry Grabar led a series of conversations about parking policy throughout Hawaiʻi. Henry Grabar is a staff writer at Slate and a Loeb fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. His work has been published in the Atlantic, Guardian, Harper’s, and the Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World (Penguin, 2023). 

Grabar describes how parking, often overlooked in urban planning, has significant negative impacts on our cost of living, environmental sustainability, urban livability, economic well-being, and social equity. Ample, often free, parking spaces encourage car ownership and use, leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Additionally, parking lots consume vast amounts of land, reducing green space that could mitigate flooding and support biodiversity. This contributes to climate change and diminishes the potential for creating more sustainable urban environments.

Excessive parking infrastructure leads to urban sprawl and reduces walkability, making cities less pedestrian-friendly and diminishing the quality of urban life. Areas dominated by parking lots are unattractive and unsafe for walking and cycling, discouraging these healthier and more sustainable modes of transport. Furthermore, while parking policies aim to alleviate congestion by providing ample parking, they often increase traffic congestion, as more parking encourages more driving. A significant portion of urban traffic is attributed to drivers searching for parking spaces.

The cost of providing parking is substantial and often hidden within the prices of goods, services, and housing. Free parking is subsidized by businesses and taxpayers, leading to higher costs for everyone and contributing to housing affordability issues. The opportunity cost of land used for parking is also significant, as this land could be used more productively for housing, parks, or commercial activities. Parking and parking mandates for new developments can stifle innovation and limit the potential for vibrant, mixed-use neighborhoods, missing out on potential economic benefits from higher-value uses.

Parking policies tend to favor wealthier car owners, exacerbating social inequities as public funds are used to subsidize parking infrastructure that benefits a relatively privileged segment of the population. Encouraging car use over active transportation modes like walking and cycling contributes to sedentary lifestyles and related health issues. Grabar argues that to mitigate these negative impacts, cities need to rethink parking policies and adopt new approaches such as parking maximums, dynamic pricing, shared parking, and improved public transit. By prioritizing sustainable, equitable, and efficient urban development, cities can improve for both people and the planet.

Watch Grabar’s Better Tomorrow Speaker Series at UH Mānoa in May 2024: Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World. For more information on HIPHI’s work on safe, accessible, inclusive mobility, contact Jessica Thompson at jessicathompson@hiphi.org.

Jessica Thompson

Jessica Thompson

Program Manager: Safe, Accessible and Inclusive Mobility (SAIM)
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