Parking. Its a sore subject here in Chicago.  In 2008 the City decided to privatize it’s 36,000 parking meters – in reality leasing an 8′ wide section of asphalt from the curb to the sometimes-present-bike lane – to a group made up of Morgan Stanley, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Allianz Capital Partners for a $1.16B. Since then, everyone in the City, nay, the world, seems to have developed a disdain to the selling off of public assets.  And rightly so.  Bloomberg News discovered just last month that we Chicagoans got royally hosed on the deal.  It turns out the private group will net $9.58B over the course of the 75-year term.  Oops.  This is more than twice what Alderman Scott Waguespack estimated the City would loose in profits when he denounced the deal and subsequently voted against it in the City Council.

This doesn’t stop the City from praising itself for the move, as Chicago’s CFO, Gene Saffold, touted, “The concession agreement was absolutely the best deal for Chicagoans”.  Going on to wax delusional, “The net present value of $11.6 billion in revenue over the life of the 75-year agreement is consistent with $1.15 billion the city received.”  Um, yeah.  You say this guy does the City’s accounting, eh.  Meanwhile, the Chicago’s Office of the Inspector General called the deal “dubious” since Saffold, “failed to calculate how much the system would be worth over 75 years.  The present value of the contract was $2.13 billion, more than the $1.15 billion the city received”, according to Bloomberg.

The City used to count on the revenue from parking meters for public improvements.  However, a private entity did not lease the meters to improve public infrastructure.  Seeing that 70% of the $1.16B concession has already been used to plug municipal budget shortfalls, it is unlikely that there will be any funding of public improvements in the near future.  The financial aspect of this deal tends to blur the real impact to the public.  We have leased a portion of the public realm that is partially responsible for the functionality and beauty of the streetscape, thereby, eliminating our ability to create more sustainable and multifunctional environments.

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I doubt the Parking Meters LLC would be open to removing revenue creating parking spaces for the good of the environment or the public.  Any chance to implement on-street bicylce parking? Stormwater gardens? Expanded sidewalk cafes?  Native or food landscape islands?  Streetcar lane?  All unlikely.  We have now deemed miles of asphalt as a 75-year monument to automobile parking.  Just like any ecosystem, monoculture environments eventually fail.

Creating productive ecosystems in our public right-of-ways, instead of parking corrals, would do more to enrich the public and ensure a sustainable environment.  Better yet, it would be right outside our front doors.  Public space that belongs to all of us; old or young, rich or poor, licensed and unlicensed, drivers or non-drivers.

Lakeview’s public space will get a makeover on Friday, September 17, 2010 for PARK(ing) Day.  We will host, for the second year, a temporary park for the day in front of Southport Grocery (3552 North Southport Avenue).  Except this year our park will grow from three spaces, to encompass both sides of Southport Avenue and down the entire block.  Our friends at Uncle Dan’s have decided to join in the parkification this year and will help us fill up the block.

PARK(ing) Day is a one-day, global exploration of the creative potential of streets that celebrates urban parks and promotes the need for more of them by converting public parking spots into temporary parks for a day—a ‘reimagining’ of a public space.  Artists and citizens work together to transform metered parking spots into PARK(ing) spaces: temporary public parks for all to enjoy.  The annual event was originally created in 2005 by Rebar, an art collective, in San Francisco, California.

Our PARK(ing) Day theme this year is a “Bicycle Refueling Station” featuring free food, live music, bike parking, and relaxation areas.  With a higher percentage of street space currently allocated to vehicles and gas stations, and only a fraction allocated to the public realm, the bike refueling station is the bicyclist’s non-gas, rest stop.  Moss will “lease” the entire block of parking spaces for the day and convert them into a bike and pedestrian friendly oasis.  The oasis will be complete with trees, shrubs, and green sod, donated by Grand Street Gardens and Lake Street Landscape Supply.  The oasis relaxation stations provides a respite where weary bikers can kick-back and enjoy a cold beverage and a snack, provided by Southport Grocery, lounge on hammocks supplied by Uncle Dan’s Outdoor Store, and enjoy live music.

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