Drew Dara-Abrams

Drew Dara-Abrams helps urban designers, transportation/transit planners, and geographic software developers to measure, analyze, and understand their users. He holds a Ph.D. in computational geography with an emphasis in cognitive science from University of California, Santa Barbara, and consults at City Building Tools.

Need parking? There’s no app for that…yet

Our parking problems need nuanced civic tech solutions.

Parking meter, circa 1940. Via Wikimedia Commons

Parking meter, circa 1940. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“We will not abide businesses that hold hostage on-street public parking spots for their own private profit,” said the San Francisco city attorney last month, after declaring illegal Monkey ParkingParkModo, and Sweetch, new start-ups that provide mobile apps for buying and selling curb spaces.

Some might see this as a case of cities standing in the way of private-sector innovation, comparable to regulatory fights over Airbnb and Uber. However, those profiting by using Monkey Parking to “share” their on-street spots are effectively trying to sell something that doesn’t belong to them. Curb parking is a publicly owned “commons” — not the private possession of whomever occupies a space.

Even if their solutions are illegal, these start-ups are right: parking is broken in many American cities, and their solution is a business opportunity for both the public and private sectors. We need a thorough reassessment of parking management in American cities, and civically minded technologies are a big part of the solution. That’s the thinking of other departments of San Francisco’s government as well as one of urban planning’s most cited and least read theorists, Donald Shoup.  For the nascent field of civic technology, Shoup’s nuanced research demonstrates how new technologies and policy can together improve city life — and lead to true public good — at the same time as the city attorney’s enforcement actions highlight the potential pitfalls of “sharing” services designed only for private profit. Read more…

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