Parking Madness: Cleveland vs. Spokane

Another day, another parking atrocity. Eight cities have already faced off in Parking Madness, where we attempt to find the worst parking crater in an American downtown. Milwaukee, Tulsa, Dallas and Louisville emerged victorious in the first half of the first round.

But there’s still a good number of cities with parking wastelands yet to be sufficiently ridiculed. On the agenda today, two formidable contenders: Cleveland, Ohio vs. Spokane, Washington.

First, let’s look at Cleveland’s Warehouse District:

This animated gif, which uses images from the urbanism blog I run in my spare time, Rust Wire, shows the neighborhood in the 1970s versus today.

These days, the Warehouse District is actually a pretty happening part of Cleveland. The area has been redeveloped with nice restaurants, coffee shops, a specialty grocer, and hundreds of apartments. Close to 3,000 people currently live in the Warehouse District.

But this parking expanse creates a no-man’s land between two of downtown Cleveland’s most popular areas — the Warehouse District and East Fourth Street — discouraging walking between the two districts and thus weakening downtown Cleveland immeasurably.

Meanwhile in Spokane, we have a special kind of parking disaster: the convention center parking crater. Here’s the before and after:

Pictured here is Spokane’s convention and performing arts center, a.k.a “Spokane’s meeting place,” according to promotional materials. The convention center is situated right on the city’s 100-acre Riverfront Park, along the Spokane River.

The Spokane Center was built on the site of Expo ’74, the “first environmental worlds fair,” the convention center’s website explains. The venue promotes its center-city location as a green amenity, pointing out that it “encourages low-impact transportation which reduces energy and emissions.” At least they charge $10 to park.

The decision about which of these sites is the most shameful is up to you.

Which city has the worst parking crater?

  • Cleveland (72%, 275 Votes)
  • Spokane (28%, 108 Votes)

Total Voters: 380

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Winner: Cleveland!

Next up, Atlanta versus Denver.

  • Spokane wins this one because the crater looks like it was a more deliberate choice there. It also looks like they destroyed their primary train station to make it happen.

  • thielges

    This is a tough one because both craters look like they blasted a big hole in the urban fabric. Kudos to both submitters for including before/after photos and enough context to understand what happened.

  • vnm

    I gave the edge to Spokane because this took place during a time of population decline for Cleveland, so at least they had that as a (lame, unacceptable) excuse. But except for a blip in the 1960s, Spokane did this while their population was rising!

  • foo

    The comparison animated pictures are eloquent and tragic in both cases. Hard to choose which is worth. I have relatives in Spokane, and despite the parking canyons, they *still* avoid downtown because they complain that it’s difficult to park. Depressing.

  • Miles Bader

    In a way, giant wastelands of parking like this actually do seem to make more “difficult” to park. Sure there’s “space” for your car, but using it seems to entail a super depressing hike through a blasted post-apocalyptic landscape, and the more “parking,” the longer and more depressing the hike. I’d avoid it too, even if I was a carhead.

    I suspect if you put the same amount of parking into relatively hidden garages, underground robo-parking, or even more sanely designed surface parking, people would fine it much more appealing…

    People are sort of delusional I think: they want a parking space, but they want it directly in front of their destination on a shady tree-lined street, they don’t want to pay anything, and they don’t want lots of other peoples’ parking messing up the experience. You know, just like the car commercials promise… ><

  • Alan

    I thought so too at first but its just perspective. It’s still there or nearbyl.

  • composter

    Um, not to be difficult or anything, but do you really want to contend that Cleveland was better off in the ’70s than it is now? Forty years ago, the Warehouse District was decaying warehouses and suburban shopping malls were racing to keep up with a flight to greener pastures that continues to this day.

  • Andrew

    For what it’s worth, the Spokane Convention Center last year received voter approval to expand an additional 90,000 sf due to increasing demand, and there is a concept being explored currently to place a large-format hotel on top of the parking lot you see right across the street from the angular performing arts center. Therefore, much like our GU Bulldogs this season, the Spokane parking crater will not be able to advance to the next round.

  • That is good news. It’s been encouraging how many of these places have viable redevelopment plans.

  • One thing to keep in mind is that the huge hole on the NW corner of Cleveland Public Square was cleared for a skyscraper (Ameritrust Center) that was cancelled due to the Ameritrust merger »

  • fred

    I walk by those big parking lots in Spokane frequently, and they look even bigger from the angle in the picture. Spokane’s downtown has actually improved much in recent years, and there is a move to create more infill downtown. That biggest lot, ironically owned by the city, is supposed to have a high rise hotel built on it starting in June. Downtowns thrive more when they aren’t so spread out, and I wonder if parking garages are part of the answer to that.

  • BlueFairlane

    I feel the same way about Louisville’s inclusion in this. In the ’70s, downtown Louisville was a pit people only visited when they felt like getting killed. Nobody ever considered it a destination. Now, it’s a thriving part of town full of restaurants, museums, and arts opportunities. Compare downtown Louisville with downtown Cincinnati, which is still has its crumbling row houses a mere 100 miles upriver, and you see a world of difference. I think this series makes the error of valuing the quantity of something over the quality of that thing.

  • That’s not what we’re saying at all. Imagine how great the Warehouse District would be today if more of it were in tact.

  • Spokanite

    Yes and no, they cleared the island on which the station and tracks were built to make 100 acres of green space, first for the Worlds Fair, then used as Riverfront Park.

  • Spokanite

    There’s a smaller station open nearby but it gets few passenger trains between Seattle and Chicago. They kept the old station’s “Clock Tower” which still chimes in the center of Riverfront Park.

  • BobaFuct

    Having grown up 20 minutes from Spokane, I know it well, and don’t really care for it…but there have been efforts as of late to revitalize the core to a degree, and the area in general has become much more bike and pedestrian friendly (it was previously ped/bike hostile, so it doesn’t take much to improve on that). Spokane really was a pit in the 70s/80s/90s, but is starting to turn around, and from what I’ve read, they seem to be taking a somewhat progressive (for eastern Washington, just having a bus system is progressive) approach. Yes, I-90 was needlessly expanded, but there also has been a decent amount of development downtown and around Riverfront Park and the Arena that has a more urban TOD feel to it.

  • Alan

    Ah thanks!

  • Erik Smith

    Just stumbled across your blog, some eight months late. And it has a certain resonance for me — I grew up in Spokane, and remember well when the bulldozers came and flattened a big percentage downtown, including the blocks you see in the above picture. It was 1973, the city was getting set for the big world’s fair. Every property owner in the downtown core with a marginal building and who couldn’t quite justify the investment in fire-code upgrades decided that this would be a splendid opportunity to put up parking lots for the Expo ’74 traffic. I remember watching the wrecking balls that summer. I was 12 years old at the time. On every block of downtown that summer there was a demolition fence. And it was sorta cool looking through the eyeholes and watching all those buildings come down, but even then, I wondered, gee, when the fair is over, what are they going to use all those parking lots for? And why do they have knock down those two cool train stations anyway? (We lost two of them in the Lilac City demolition derby.) While city boosters still celebrate that wonderful summer when Spokane hosted the world and wound up with a park on the fairground, that whole rah-rah can-do thing, I see it as the summer when the downtown core began an inexorable decline, and find myself half wishing they’d left well enough alone. (The fair was pretty neat, though, I’ll admit.) Even now there really isn’t much civic consciousness or appreciation for Spokane’s historic turn-of-the-last century downtown. As recently as five years ago, the city allowed demolition of pretty
    much a full square block of magnificent salvageable buildings in the
    downtown core, because a developer was determined to lay down new
    blacktop, and the council lacked the political will to stop him. People are stunned when I tell them that every parking lot in downtown
    Spokane once had a building on it, often three and
    sometimes seven stories tall. About four fifths of the city was still there when I was a kid; now about half of it is surface parking. It is a stunning thing to see from the air. The one piece of good news recently is that the block that dominates the view you see above is going to become the site of a massive 15-story hotel — the architectural renderings have just shown up in the paper, so I know it must be so. Little by little, someday I hope most of those blank spots are filled in. It is a pity, though, that the wonderful downtown I remember is largely gone — it seems clear to me that the massive destruction of 1973 is one of the reasons downtown Spokane has become a windswept wasteland. Back then you saw plenty of vacant storefronts and seedy SRO hotels, the sort of thing people considered blight, but you also saw people on the sidewalks and jammed-up traffic in the streets. People nowadays have trouble believing that, too. Had those buildings remained and if the infrastructure of the community had been retained, I think downtown would be a happening place today, and I might not even have moved away the first chance I got.


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