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How Parking Meters Turned Around a Struggling Downtown

The revival of Old Pasadena is one of the truly great urban success stories from the past few decades. The area's comeback was not based on shifting demographics or "political will", writes Colin Marshall, but a less sexy foundation: parking reform.
November 20, 2013, 11am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Morgan Brown

With its painstakingly preserved historic buildings, crowded streets, and thriving shops and restaurants, Old Pasadena is a model for the type of human-scaled environment that many cities are striving to restore or create. However, the area went through a significant period of decline before reclaiming its former glory. 

"A walk through the neighborhood today gives no sense of its sketchy recent past, and people offer a cornucopia of suggestions as to what, exactly, to credit with its thorough revival," notes Marshall. "Shifts in supply and demand, demographic trends, 'political will,' and so on: you can pick the one that best suits your prejudices. For my part, I've heard no more intriguing explanation than the one laid out by UCLA urban planning professor and parking theorist Donald Shoup."

Shoup credits the installation of parking meters, and the decision to dedicate meter revenue to improving the public infrastructure and services in the area, for encouraging building owners to invest in their properties:

They knew the money coming in would come right out the other side and fix their sidewalks, put in new street furniture, put in historic streetlights, put in new street trees, clean up the alleys — just about everything a city can to do fix up the public part of a neighborhood. Once the city had done that, the property owners began to restore their buildings, which didn't make sense beforehand. A lot of new restaurants and stores opened. And Pasadena had $700,000 a year, still, in parking revenue to steam-clean the sidewalks twice a month, to have added police protection, to remove graffiti every night. Now 30,000 or 40,000 people go to Pasadena to walk around every weekend.

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Published on Tuesday, November 12, 2013 in KCET Departures
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