I live across the street from our local park, which is in the early planning phase for several capital improvements, including an upgrade to the municipal pool. The excitement of new civic amenities is quickly overshadowed by parking, as a typical starting point with these types of community plans is the question of where everyone will park. This self-imposed hurdle is now commonplace as the initial benchmark whether a civic project will move forward or if it will be successful when completed.
And it’s the wrong question to be asking, because a car-first approach prioritizes the wrong user for this civic investment. Planning for cars is a self-fulfilling prophecy that results in more cars. Parks are for people and not cars, and therefore the questions throughout the planning phase need to focus on the ultimate users of the space, which are people. For instance, a better question to ask is: Who are the users of the park, and how will they access it? If the premier amenity in the park is a jogging or fitness trail, it is highly probable that the users will walk or jog to the park if walking is provided as an option. If the scale and character of the park is of neighborhood scale, it is highly probable that the users will be local residents, who will leave their cars in the comfort of their own garage or driveway. If the majority of the park amenities are for children under the age of 15, then they are too young to drive and will not have cars.
The access, or how people get to the park, is as important as the amenities within it. Access sets the stage and becomes the threshold or gateway into the park. Access to all civic spaces needs to be safe and positively contribute to the growth of the community’s wealth. When we apply a car-first approach, and build car accommodations for the maximum imaginable demand, say during a single event or tournament (comparable to shopping centers overbuilding parking in the belief that they’ll need it on Black Friday), it results in places that negatively contribute to the growth and value of the surrounding community. The design of adjacent streets and providing connections for all users sets the stage as to how a community civic space is ultimately utilized.