Parking Doesn’t Make a Good Place But People Do

by John Riecke

The news that the Cherry Creek mall will begin charging to park in their garages has been met with varying levels of disbelief, derision, statements of personal boycotts, and threats to drive thirteen miles away to Park Meadows. One of the largest concerns for business owners on Broadway when a new bike lane was installed was that they would lose customers because people would find it confusing or difficult to park nearby, and within six hours of the official opening several complained that business was affected. City council just passed a ban on new developments in zone districts previously allowed to develop without parking.

I think we forget that parking is tacked-on to places that aren’t designed to make it easy for people to be there. Take a look at the two Google Earth aerial images below (they are the same scale). One is Park Meadows, a very popular mall with ample parking. The other is Capitol Hill, a very popular neighborhood which is famous for its lack of easy parking.


Capitol Hill has almost as many stores (and not just fashion clothing), definitely as many restaurants, but also an incredible number of museums, schools and, most importantly, people. One is built for people and one is built for cars. It should be obvious which is the more dynamic, resilient, and productive place. Or to be crass, one has in-built customers and one has asphalt.

I put it to you, would you rather drive to Park Meadows or walk around Cap Hill? I’d point out that there are no hidden gems in Park Meadows. There is no variety of architecture. No one has ever happily recommended to me a restaurant in the mall, or told me about a bar to visit in the multi-acre parking lot. I’ll never stumble upon a cool bookstore in the mall and share the discovery with my friends. Why does the presence of free and easy parking engender such passion? People should have such passion for places, not parking lots. A parking lot is not a place, and the presence of free parking doesn’t denote ease of access, quality of service, or quality of life. Often it denotes the opposite.

The easiest customer is the one that lives nearby. The parking least damaging to the fabric of a place is the parking that’s not needed. Don’t fight for parking, fight for people.


John Riecke holds a degree in Political Science from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. A resident of Capitol Hill, John is a volunteer for the local neighborhood organizations, Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation and Capitol Hill United Neighborhood and enjoys studying economic systems and engaging with city planning efforts. John became interested in city-building like many do when he bought his first house.

By | 2016-12-27T17:04:34+00:00 August 30, 2016|Categories: Motor Vehicles, Pedestrians, Transportation, Walkability|Tags: |10 Comments


  1. Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog Denver August 31, 2016 at 9:10 am

    […] “Don’t Fight For Parking, Fight For People” (DenverUrbanism) […]

  2. Julio August 31, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    And weirdly Park Meadow is kind of a worse place to even drive around. I tried to return some ill-fitting Christmas clothes there last year and the parking lot was mess..the traffic was slow and terrible, the parking lot full to the brim, the sheer size made it difficult to figure out where I was going and people were just stressed out and driving like it. In contrast, though parking in Capitol Hill can be tight, the simple grid system makes it relatively easy to navigate the neighborhood and the two-hour and meter parking in many parts of the neighborhood actually make it relatively easy to find a parking space (though maybe not a permanent space to store your car).

    Even preferable to driving, Capitol Hill is very accessible via bicycle and public transit as well.

    • TakeFive September 2, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      Comparing Capitol Hill to Park Meadows seems odd. Park Meadows is a relic of the past even in Suburbia. Additionally Cap Hill is a primarily residential development and the other retail.

      In sprawly suburban Phoenix for example, development of Life Style Centers are all the rage. Adjacent to the retail is likely multi-family residential and then office.

      In Denver several older Malls have been redeveloped usually incorporating mixed use. Generally, suburbia although not urban dense has shifted to mixed use development with more walkable higher densities than in the past.

      • SPR8364 October 8, 2016 at 6:58 am

        Life Style Centers (LSC) in Colorado (e.g. Northfield, Southlands) are mostly just suburban shopping malls where they are too cheap to roof the mall portion. If given a choice during winter cold and summer heat, if I have to shop MULTIPLE stores in a mall, I go to a covered location. The only time I will go to an LSC is when I want to go to only one specific store and leave. Some of them add housing and offices nearby, but there is nothing stopping a covered mall from doing the same. Besides Park Meadows is still a very successful and popular mall here in the Denver metro.

        While it is true that some very old malls have been converted to mixed-use malls (e.g. Cin City, Southglenn, Villa Italia), these are primarily in first tier suburbs which are beginning to transform into denser neighborhoods. And, people still drive to them like a mall. So, really not all that different from Park Meadows. The housing and office portion are usually too small for the amount of shopping. So, it still depends on pulling from a very large surrounding region.

        A mall is still a mall and the point that this article brings up are still valid.

  3. Larry Sykes September 1, 2016 at 11:56 am

    As heartened as I am by Denverurbanism and Denverinfill advocating for the benefits of dense urban areas over the bloat of suburbia, I find it troubling that the content generally fails to acknowledge the privilege and affluence required to make living in such areas a realistic option in most economically vibrant American cities. It’s lovely that some of us can choose a healthier, greener, and more culturally vibrant place to live (I live in Baker and work in the Golden Triangle, and I thoroughly enjoy it), but a city that’s lovely for me and my young, professional peers to live isn’t necessarily enough for an entire society. We need to get our heads out of an urban v. suburban mentality; 15-20 years ago that was an important driver of urban planning efforts in Denver, but today there are much bigger planning issues to work on in this city. So let’s pat ourselves on the back for what good we’ve done and then start to critically examine it.

    • John R September 1, 2016 at 6:30 pm

      Quite the opposite, the kind of development I’m advocating, that is walkable, fine-grained, mixed-use, and dense, is actually better for everyone in clouding and especially the less affluent because it removed the need for a car, engenders more interaction with neighbors, and provides more opportunities for small businesses to be established and provide local employment and income. Just because it’s popular right now doesn’t mean that it’s exclusive to white privileges – Welton street in Five Points before five years ago embodies the same ethos which I call out in this article but in a lower income, minority-majority neighborhood. This kind of development is better for everyone, rich and poor. Just because it’s finally become popular with the monied class doesn’t mean there’s a conspiracy to push out the poor, it just means we need more parts of the city to work like this – it’s in demand.

      • Larry Sykes September 2, 2016 at 7:21 am

        That’s the theory, and I sincerely believed in it until I started seeing the effects of the current boom the past few years. And I’m certainly not claiming a conspiracy; like the economist Steve Levitt of Freakonomics points out, there are always unintended consequences of intervention. All I’m saying is that the consequences of Denver’s renaissance, which in practice have been far from “better for everyone”, should maybe be acknowledged on this platform for urban planning issues in Denver. A grain of salt to go with our rightful appreciation for our great urban neighborhoods.

  4. Ryan Dravitz September 1, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Nice post Mr. Riecke! It’s funny, and not surprising, that there a lot of complaints about Cherry Creek switching to paid parking. It made me think about my past.

    When I was 18, I went to Los Angeles for the first time. I remember getting angry because you had to pay to park everywhere. Surface lots for Ralph’s (aka King Soopers) / Trader Joe’s? Yep. Malls? Yep. Everywhere in the urban sprawl of LA? Yep. But now that I’m a little bit older it all makes sense. It’s a smart business move.

    As far as parking everywhere else, my urban dream is garages with retail. It’s inevitable that we are going to have to provide parking for some areas (Downtown visitors, retail centers) / people (elderly, handicapped, etc); given the parking ocean at Park Meadows is a bit crazy. Can you imagine a more ‘urban’ format with retail on the bottom of a garage around Park Meadows and still have parking for the mall? It would be great! Same with Mile High and Pepsi Center. I understand it makes economical sense to a developer to have surface parking but a garage with retail and bars would be outstanding. One can dream…

    Also I’m not saying we need to cater just to the car / better parking garages, it just would have been nice for the above example to happen initially and is also my dream fix for these areas that will always want to have that much parking. I’m a huge advocate for transit and Cherry Creek desperately needs a good connection to downtown.

    • John R September 1, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      Actually what’s best for the developer is not having to pay for any parking at all, especially if he doesn’t need to since everyone lives close enough to bike or walk. It’s why old parts of town don’t have built in parking, not only was it unnecessary it would be wasteful. That parking lot is somewhere actual customers could live.

  5. Cindy S September 4, 2016 at 9:10 am

    While I see your point and certainly prefer architecture etc., and even the idea of less cars on the road. I do disagree with this article to the extent that a) when it comes to a mall you will need a car like you do for grocery store+ shopping = bags and many times a lot of bags. The more $$ you spend the more bags you should have and that’s what the owners want is for you to spend $$. b) while we do now have light rail and bike lines we still really are not a city like NY where you can truly live w/out a car. Until the city has a true and reliable system in plan then people will have cars. Some might not drive them all the time, but also considering weather here in the winter you really need a car. I’ve even taken the light rail to the airport, but so far it is still easier and more reliable to just take my car. How now can I vote against charging for parking cars at the CC mall? In my opinion too… the Cherry creek idea is just another way for them to make $$$ and gouge the consumer.

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