Temporary Travel Office



Tour group in the Illinois Medical District HQ, photo by Mark Cooley

Where shall they park? The answer became clear as more and more municipalities, from Los Angeles to smaller centers, voted for city-funded open lots. At mid-decade, Andrew Mellon, secretary of the treasury, told Colliers magazine that he would like to move the Washington Monument for more parking lots.
A Brief History of Parking: The Life and After-life of Paving the Planet, Jane Holtz Kay, Architecture Magazine, February 2001

Parking Public is a research initiative documenting specific histories of public parking development as it relates to the more general ideology of utopian capitalism.
The Travel Office has been at work studying the changing context of parking in U.S. cities and towns, producing guided and self-guided tours to better understand how parking fits into our desires and frustrations for livable spaces.
Currently, we are looking at the shifting landscape of surface parking lots across the country, especially in cities and towns with urban centers.

These tours give Parking Public participants up close experiences with the spaces of public parking. Our goal with the tours is to historicize parking within the larger ideology of automobility and what Richard Davies has called an "Age of Asphalt."

Some documenation of our past tours is available to here, but you can also find more pictures of tours and locations on our flickr Parking Public set.

Check out our short video essay on the history of parking lots in the US.



    Touring parking in downtown LA

    The Travel Office's Parking Public tour of downtown was based out of a storefront on South Spring Street, in Gallery 727. Operating from July 14-16, 2005, the Travel Office held two walking tours each day, looking at the specific history and present of parking on historic Spring Street.

    South Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles was once known as the "Wall Street of the West" due to the high concentration of financial institutions that operated there. Bank of America had its office headquarters near the corner of 6th and Spring until moving to Bunker Hill in 1972. Next door was the Pacific Stock Exchange, the last major financial institution to leave the area. Although little has changed architecturally on South Spring since the 1960s, the area has seen major changes in just about every other way.

    Although parking lots were uncommon before WWII, downtown is now loaded with on and off street parking. It's now easy to park downtown, at least for a price, but before the war was a different story, as the city's preferred method of transit was the streetcar. For a very brief period in 1920, the city even instituted a ban on parking cars downtown.
    The largest operator of parking services in the Downtown area is by far Joe's Auto Parks. With connections to Five Star Parking and L & R Investments, Joe's is part of a large conglomeration of parking service companies that manage open lots, garages, and valet services around the country. Of the estimated 100,000 parking spaces downtown, Joe's operates over 10 percent of them. Currently, parking lot managers, like Joe's are finding offers from condo and loft developers looking more attractive.

  • CHAMPAIGN, IL 2006

    Champaign tour group

    The Travel Office's Parking Public tour of municipal parking lots in Champaign, IL was created for Mind in Matter, an exhibition at Opensource Art in downtown

    In the 1960s, the city of Champaign, IL began a multi-million dollar downtown parking improvement project that ended up creating the landscape downtown visitors see today. The history of municipal lots extends almost to the beginning of parking itself, as many cities struggled to maintain business districts during the Great Depression, and later during the migration of capital to growing suburbs.
    By the 1940s (when 1 of 5 cities with a population of over 10,000 operated downtown parking facilities), the need to regulate parking became apparent, and cities like Philadelphia would develop ordinances that would govern design and maintenance of lots.
    Champaign, in its attempt to save its urban core, initiated a metered parking program in 1947, not coincidentally, the same year that suburban malls were opening outside of town. The resulting diminished occupancy of downtown buildings, due to relocated businesses, provided available real estate that would eventually become parking lots.

    This tour focuses on surface, or open-air, lots - the parking facility of choice for 80% of all parkers. These parking lots may not look very different from one decade to the next, but they have undergone regular changes that reflect larger social phenomena. An average parking space in the 1950s was 7 feet wide, but grew to be up to 10 feet during the height of car sizes in the 1960s. We are now at an average space width of between 8 and 9 feet, with lot costs averaging 5-10 dollars/square feet.

    Of course, the public operation of parking lots did not go uncontested by those who believed they could profit from privately run ventures. In 1951, at a convention in Chicago, the National Parking Association would form to represent the interests of privatisation in the growing parking industry.

    As in Los Angeles and other urban centers, private and state interests converged in Champaign. The municipal parking program begun in the 1960s operated economically through the Champaign Development Corporation, a group of businessmen and bankers who purchased property to sell back to the city to develop parking facilities. There are currently both metered and permit lots operated by the city, and drivers can park for $0.25/hour or $120/3 months. Most of these lots are free during off hours and Sundays.

    Currently, downtown Champaign is going through redevelopment efforts, again a condition occurring across the US. Champaign's Redevelopment Incentive Program - ironically R.I.P. - gives grants to entrepreneurs and developers to renovate existing buildings, and is often paired with a redevelop liquor license. There are currently more bars in downtown Champaign than in neighboring Campus Town (the retail district attached to the University of Illinois) and Urbana.

    In the late 1960s - early 1970s, the City of Champaign began a multi-million dollar effort to convert the land here to parking lots. Many of the business owners who were located here were removed by condemnation orders of the city, though most settled out of court.

    Currently, the city is going through another kind of development, one where the parking lots built during the 60s - 90s are valued as available, and cheap, space for infill construction projects. As in many cities across the country, many of these projects are attempts to make themselves more attractive to the "creative classes" - those with disposable income and information management jobs. Lots N and HS have become the site of M2 on Neil, a mixed use facility housing retail, offices and condos. M2 is a $40 million project by the local property development company, One Main.

    As a construction effort desirable to the city's redevelopment initiative, the project is receiving not just affordable land, but $5.5 million in additional financial incentives to complete the building. One Main is also responsible for the other major urban project in downtown Champaign, just across Neil St. from M2, known as One Main - it's address. One Main was also built on a former municipal lot, one that was only operational for 12 years. The company is undertaking 3 similar projects in another Illinois mid-sized town with a prominent university, Normal that are worth over $75 million. Parking will still be a feature of the development, only in the form of a privately managed 500 space architectural facility.

    The city is developing other plans for its many other lots, which currently represent 1/3 of all parking in downtown, including turning one of the more prominent ones into a landscaped plaza for gatherings and outdoor events. Beautification projects are high on the list of desires.

    One Main's descriptions of their desires and actions towards a new "creative" downtown in rather oddly violent terms. They proposed "To take development back from the edge of the city and drive it deep into the heart of thriving downtown."

  • BROOKLYN, 2006

    Touring the Grant Field Muncipal Lot in Brooklyn

    The Temporary Travel Office participated in the 2006 Conflux Festival in Brooklyn NY. On Friday, September 15 (during a rainy rush hour), a Travel Office agent led a group of 12 tourists through the history of parking in the United States and some of the specific developments in Brooklyn, NY. Of particular interest to us was the geographic distribution of privately vs publicly operated lots.

  • HOLLYWOOD, 2007-8

    Touring parking in downtown LA

    Hollywood, like many cities across the country is rapidly changing. The Travel Office's tour of Public Parking in Hollywood, conducted most recently in 2008, looked at the emerging relationship between neighborhood resident groups, speculative developers, architectural preservationists and, of course, tourism.

    Our tour visited 2 sites of significance within this emerging and contentious situation: 1. a former parking lot site owned by the largest parkign operator in the Hollywood area that is now the site of a future Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum 2. a concrete traffic triangle slated for beautification by a neighborhood organization that has also been active fighting the pigeon population and efforts to create permanent homeless shelters.

    See the itinerary for the tour, and download a guide book.

  • Wrigleyville, Chicago, 2010

    Our tour of parking in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood covered only a single block, but it is a block dense with parking stories! From the ongoing struggles for parking one would expect around a popular sports stadium to Native American urban protest movements to the City of Chicago's recent privatization of its parking meter system, this tour covered a lot of parking ground.

    Download the guide book and take your own self-guided tour of the area.