Driving through downtown on a recent Friday afternoon, it took two trips around the block to find a parking spot on the street. For the privilege of meeting someone for a cup of coffee, I had to feed the strange little meter two quarters, take my gloves off in the biting cold to extract the wafer-thin parking receipt, walk back to my car and be sure to place it right side up on the passenger side of my dashboard. When I tried to close the car door, the wind did its best to blow the little slip on to the floor of the car, which could have gotten me a ticket if the meter maid had come by and couldn’t see it.
All told, the parking experience cost me about four minutes out of my day. If I had been writing for a less prestigious publication with a heftier expense account, I could have just parked in a lot.
So why do we always hear people complaining about how hard it is to park downtown? Sure, there are daytime hours when you have to work at it, but for the most part, you can find a place to station your ride in the heart of downtown without too much trouble. And if we start having a harder time finding parking—well, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. If you look at the cost and the hassle of parking in other eastern cities, we really don’t have much to complain about.
We’re a city with a proud history that’s been stuck for a couple of decades trying to figure out its future. Now it appears that we are on the brink of great things. If you listened to Mayor Matt Driscoll giving his March 11 State of the City address at Syracuse University (and weren’t distracted by Crouse College’s massive organ rising behind him), you couldn’t help but be impressed with the number of new building projects getting started in and around downtown.
There’s King & King, Architects, getting set to reoccupy the western edge of downtown, restoring the heirs of Archimedes Russell (the noted 19th-century Syracuse architect who helped found the firm) to their rightful place in an urban setting. There’s the Jefferson Clinton complex, the first new major commercial building in downtown since 1991. Soon work will begin on the new headquarters of O’Brien & Gere, which tells you that all this talk of green technology isn’t just talk. One of the nation’s leading green technology firms is moving in from the suburbs to downtown. That’s huge. And then there’s the Center of Excellence, pushing the frontier of downtown east across Interstate 81.
Space that has long been vacant and off the tax rolls is filling up. New chic urban housing is following as developers see the opportunity to turn payrolls into rent checks, and city planners and business owners see the chance to rekindle nightlife on now-darkened streets. All this is running against the national trend. Our rebirth is coming at a time when many cities are paralyzed by the economic free fall, and started before the federal stimulus money kicks in.
And if the price of all this is an extra trip around the block to find a parking spot? We should welcome such suffering gladly. What we need to get in the habit of doing is telling people from other places how easy it is to park.
And if it takes longer to park, that may mean there’s something worth the wait. Maybe Yogi Berra was right when he said, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” Parking hassles can be a blessing in disguise.
Park place: Among the recent changes to downtown parking have been these one-block-fits-all meters. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
Here’s a simple truth: If you’ve got something great, people will find a way to get there. Ever heard of Woodstock? Ever watch those lines of people walking from their car to Yankee Stadium? No one is complaining about how hard it is to park. They’re there for the game, and the parking is barely a blip in anyone’s mind.
The same is true for a basketball game or a world-class concert at the Carrier Dome. Sure, the parking is a pain in the butt, but people come anyway. Kevin Costner didn’t have to worry about parking in Field of Dreams, but the experience of the Dome shows that if you built it, and it’s really great, they will come, even if they have to park a mile away and take the shuttle bus.
In downtown the best example of this is the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, which has the worst parking imaginable (unless you’re driving a Harley) and features a line out on the sidewalk even in the depths of winter.
Economists may differ on how to measure the progress of a city. I’ll take this as my yardstick: the longer it takes me to park downtown, the better off we’re doing.