I was, unfortunately, unsurprised when I found myself only halfway into the first paragraph of Councilman Espinoza’s City Council Corner letter before I found myself confronted by blatant hypocrisy and unrepentant NIMBYism. His complaint is that by not forcing developers to include minimum parking in new buildings developed in walkable, transit-heavy neighborhoods that this represents “a giveaway of public space for private use.” He says this, while seemingly un-cognizant of the fact that he is demanding exactly the same thing—a giveaway of public space for private use—just for a different set of users. In his worldview, some people who live in neighborhoods and park on the street are allowed, but other people who live in the neighborhood and park on the street are intruders, “taking” spaces from the right people. He chooses to put the onus of this predicament on the developers of new housing, instead of on the current homeowners who choose not to park their car on their own property, in their own garages, but use the public right-of-way instead.
In his second paragraph, he implies that the current exemption is detrimental to quality of life and doesn’t support small businesses. This is exactly backwards. Small businesses on small lots cannot afford to waste their limited square footage on unnecessary parking spaces. Small businesses prefer customers who are nearby, dare I say, who live above them—these people who live within walking distance are built-in customers. They are regulars, they are more likely to stop by when on foot, and they don’t require expensive pavement to bring them in the door. The only quality of life issue raised seems to be the ability for people who live nearby to park on the street. This is not a quality of life issue, it is a convenience, a taxpayer subsidy provided by the city to car owners in order to make it easy to own a car. I am frankly surprised that street parking is considered a greater right than property rights, or an amenity with greater impact than that of more housing for more people. The councilman should be ashamed to be advocating for more parking to the detriment of more housing.
Later on, the councilman seems to misunderstand how neighborhoods and cities develop. He laments that as more people move into the city, smaller buildings are being torn down to provide housing and services to these people. How exactly does the councilman think Denver grew to be as large as it is now? Certainly not by setting in stone that every single family home ever built was required by law to remain a single family home in perpetuity. If that were the case, downtown would not exist. Capitol Hill, named one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the country, wouldn’t exist. It would simply be full of decaying mansions that no one could afford to maintain or keep. The city would have died if every home ever built was protected in perpetuity from redevelopment.
He then excoriates developers for building smaller units and claims that they reduce the desirability of nearby areas. Again, this is the opposite of true. Apartment buildings aren’t built where people don’t want to live, and the increased number of customers tends to create successful retail and commercial districts. Remember when Lower Highlands was just single family homes? Now it’s bustling with energy, with commerce, with people. Just because NIMBYs grind their teeth at the thought of people who enjoy living in such a place doesn’t mean that it’s not true. Lots of people like smaller living in busier areas. The councilman however seems to want to force his prejudice for quiet single family neighborhoods on the entire city. Cities don’t work that way. They grow up, or they stagnate and die. Trying to keep Denver from growing into a vibrant metropolis is a recipe for disaster.
Finally, he asks what other cities have done to encourage alternative transportation and less car ownership. Well, the first thing they do is they get rid of parking minimums. When the city doesn’t force parking into every new building, people quickly find other ways to get where they want to go. Denverites continue to have high levels of car ownership because the city keeps subsidizing the use of cars—by parking minimums, by dangerous streets dedicated to fast moving traffic, and by clueless council members that can’t move past their vision of Denver as a quiet cowtown.