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Top 10: Most offensive parking lots

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Downtown Houston at the height of urban renewal. No way to build a city.

Parking lots are the scourge of cities. They eat up valuable land that could be used for activity-generating purposes, and they spread development out so that walkable and transit-supportive densities aren’t possible. There are precious few things you can do to kill quality urbanism faster than introducing a bunch of parking lots.

Today, therefore, BeyondDC presents the top ten most offensive parking lots in the DC region. These are the lots that do the most damage to their environment. Each link leads to an aerial image of the lot in question.

Number 10: GWU Garage
DC’s height limit has long been a subject of much debate, but one of its indisputably positive effects has been that land downtown is at too much of a premium to waste on parking lots. As far as I’m aware, this is the only free-standing above ground parking garage downtown. At least the one above Union Station is an air-rights development.

Number 9: RFK Stadium
The only reason the acres and acres of asphalt at RFK aren’t higher on the list is that they’re basically out of the way. If they chopped up a neighborhood, they’d be worse.

Number 8: Pennsylvania Avenue at the Capitol
What a depressing end to what was supposed to be America’s finest street. How is it exactly that what should be one of the city’s prime corners is actually such a wasteland?

Number 7: Courthouse Plaza
One block from Court House Metro and smack in the middle of everything, this lot is a huge psychological barrier between the commercial and residential sections of Arlington’s Courthouse neighborhood.

Number 6: Nationals Stadium
Remember how Nationals Stadium was supposed to have awesome views of the Capitol dome? Remember how it was supposed to feel fully integrated with the surrounding city? Oops.

Number 5: Downtown Rockville
Like Courthouse but worse, because it’s *between* Metro and the most active part of downtown. Repeated attempts to redevelop this killer have fallen through.

Number 4: Capitol South
A full-block parking lot directly above a core Metro station, in one of the most historic and beautiful neighborhoods in the city? Really?

Number 3: Howard University
Usually where a major university fronts onto a major commercial street the result is a high-quality mixed-use neighborhood downtown. By any reasonable account, Georgia Avenue in front of Howard University should look like U Street. Instead, it’s an ocean of surface parking lots.

Number 2: Old Convention Center
The only reason this giant multiple-square-block scar on the urban fabric doesn’t top the list is that it’s been due to be redeveloped since day one.

Number 1: Union Station South
Who thought it was a good idea to put four square blocks of surface parking adjacent to one of America’s biggest transit centers, smack between that center and most of the activity it serves? Oh right, the Federal government. Congresspeople need their parking, after all. Thanks a lot, guys. :Facepalm:

Take a look at how many of the top 10 are the result of institutional decisions rather than free market ones. Without pulling a cadastral map and actually looking at ownership, I’d venture to guess that of these 10, only Courthouse and Rockville are the result of the market. All the others, every single one of these lots within the District of Columbia, is likely the result of governmental or quasi-governmental misuse. The market almost certainly would have seen all these properties developed productively years ago.

(Dis)Honorable Mention: Union Station north garage, King Street Metro, the Pentagon, the Natural History Museum.

October 22nd, 2009 | Permalink
Tags: top10, urbandesign



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