Let’s move before they change the parking rate

vibrant!No, I cannot quit writing about economic-impact-of-the-arts reports. Let’s try something a little more focused, and talk about … parking.

Parking is part of the cost of attending a show, if it takes place in an area without free parking and you don’t live nearby. Economists think charging for parking is ok because your car is taking up scarce space that has to be allocated somehow. Free parking means space is allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis, which is not all that efficient (people have to arrive much earlier for events than they otherwise would, in an effort to secure a space). It’s a cost of living in one place but wanting to see things (or go to work or go to school) in a different place, the need to rent a space to put one’s vehicle.

“Economic impact” studies of the arts include spending on parking – see the Americans for the Arts, or a recent study posted by artsjournal.com (which seems to think these studies are all worth passing along…) from Chicago. In one sense, the “impact” studies have something right: people often spend money on parking when they go to a show, and parking is a legitimate part of the measured economy.

But consider. People walking to a show therefore have less “impact”, as do people who take public transit. If we include parking in “economic impact” it also makes sense to include gasoline, and increased maintenance and depreciation on vehicles (to be honest I don’t know if they do include these things). If I run into a deer on the way to see a show in my home town (a not unheard of occurrence), the “economic impact” is really big.

And I just cannot help but ask … Why? Why is one of the benefits of the arts that people pay for transportation and parking? Why do we think the arts in the Chicago Loop are especially valuable because. in part, it costs a small fortune to park there? The way “economic impact” is measured, it would rise if parking lot owners decided to increase rates – why would we see this as a good thing? A sign of the importance of the arts?

Until next time…


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  1. If they’re going to measure parking revenue in any meaningful way, they must balance what they find against the absence of revenue from people who chose not to participate in the arts in these locations because parking is so expensive. I’ve participated in quite a bit of performing arts research and learned over the years that the price of amenities in a given theater’s location can be a powerful disincentive.

    • I commented below on this — basically, the fact that there is practically no parking in Center City Philadelphia at all, neither at the Kimmel nor around it, caused me to burn $122 and a vacation day for a bucket-list ticket I couldn’t use and ended up ripping up.

      I’m sure not going to do that again, and this is coming from a habitual arts patron during my time in southern California. But now, whatever money I’d have spent on the Philadelphia Orchestra will stay right in my pocket precisely because parking is not only expensive but mostly just nonexistent.

      Butts in seats means cars in spaces. If you can’t do one (and at a reasonable price), you don’t get the other.

      I can’t wait until the orchestra asks me for a donation, and I get to tell them that I already donated over a hundred bucks to them for nothing in return.

  2. Interesting article for me to run into, given that I had a major disappointment triggered by shamefully inadequate parking near the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia last Friday. Basically, I wasted $122 and a vacation day on a ticket to hear Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto that I ended up having to rip up because I literally could not find parking in the area, even at the Kimmel’s parking structure — a structure which, I add, I have literally NEVER ONCE SEEN WITHOUT A LOT-FULL SIGN OUTSIDE. I was hoping that since it was a mid-day concert on a weekday, maybe it might not be bad. Maybe I might actually be able to park at the actual hall where I had bought a ticket.


    I think the Kimmel parking structure is just a solid concrete block with a façade stuck to the front.

    That $122 ticket went unused. And I showed up with plenty of time.

    This has honestly never happened to me before — not in multiple concerts at Chandler Pavilion, nor Disney Hall, nor the San Diego Opera, nor the Alex Theater, nor the Hollywood Bowl with its legendarily crazy parking. I have NEVER ONCE had to give up on a ticket and go home before Friday at the Kimmel Center.

    Who did I see outside of the hall, actually walking in? Bluntly put, what looked like a bunch of rich, old people. Rich enough to either live in town or be dropped off by drivers in long, black cars with tinted windows, and old enough to not have to burn vacation days.

    And I’m sure the orchestra is doing the typical Greek-chorus-handwringing about how on Earth they can ever manage to get people other than the old and rich to their concerts.

    Well, for starters, they can consider the logistics of the neither-old-nor-rich, and what we’ll actually need to attend concerts.

    Seriously — I’ve attended so many concerts in San Diego, Glendale, Burbank, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara that I’ve lost count, and this has NEVER ONCE happened out there. Do we really need to wonder why West Coast orchestras and operas manage to fill seats with non-old and non-wealthy patrons? Those venues know damned well that if they want butts in seats, they’ve got to get cars in spaces. Period.

    Never again. Period. Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto is a bucket-list concert for me, and I’ll finally see it someday, I imagine. But not at the Kimmel.

  3. If we’re going to measure the economic impact of an arts organization on a place, consider how the economic impact of a public park is measured. Land values in the immediate area rise. Public parks, arts facilities, etc., are urban amenities that, when done right, carry the greatest benefit to residents in the area. Call me crazy, but I think they call that “the community.”

    Check out Donald Shoup’s books on the economics of parking, and think about whether you’d rather have lots of parking in a city or neighborhood, or if you would rather have lots of people there.

        • I’m not in agreement with this. I think that saying things like “we want people, not cars,” and prioritizing land values and hence rent hikes is always, always, always going to result in gentrification. I cannot think of a single instance where that wasn’t the case. And if it’s only possible in some tiny percentage of rare cases, then making policy assuming that your situation fits into that tiny percentage is, to put it mildly, not a good way to make policy. It’s a bit like buying lottery tickets to finance your retirement. Sure, there is a vanishingly small but nonzero likelihood that you’ll be in that small number of winners, but I’m not encouraging anyone to make plans based on it happening.