From the Texas Panhandle to the Bay Area, from the shores of the Detroit River to the Gulf Coast of Florida — America’s cities are a pockmarked mess, blighted by asphalt parking expanses you can practically see from space.
Streetsblog readers submitted two dozen horrendous parking craters for consideration in this year’s Parking Madness tournament, and the editors picked 16 to vie for your vote as the worst of the bunch.
It was a competitive tournament, with many matches decided by just a handful of votes. In the end, no parking atrocity could beat the waterfront in downtown Camden, New Jersey, for all-around dreadfulness in the eyes of our voters:
Even hollowed-out Parkersburg, West Virginia — with a name that seemed destined for victory in this contest — fell short in the championship match. Camden emerged from the final poll with a 15-vote margin to claim the third annual Golden Crater title, joining Tulsa and Rochester.
Readers were swayed by two big factors in addition to the sheer size of Camden’s parking crater: the waste of waterfront space and the proximity to transit linking the area to neighboring Philadelphia, right across the river.
It also helped that Camden had a contingent of locals cheering it on, hoping that Parking Madness infamy will lead to positive changes. Joseph Russell described Camden’s parking crater this way when nominating it for the tournament:
My entry: the neighborhood-killing parking lots on the waterfront in Camden, New Jersey. Years ago, this area housed factories for companies like RCA. Ever since, they’ve been used as parking lots for the equally neighborhood-deadening L3 Building, which is essentially a fortress separating employees from the rest of the city. Residents of the Cooper-Grant neighborhood are trying to rebuild a viable neighborhood here, and the negative effects of these huge parking lots stand directly in the way of that goal.
And here’s what Russell told us after Camden won:
I’m glad to see that I could bring such attention to Camden’s land misuse. Your articles have been widely shared around the local urbanist blog scene, with people like Jon Geeting of PlanPhilly.com pushing people to vote. A common theme I’ve heard this whole time in the comments section of the blog posts, on Twitter, and on Facebook, is just how much potential those lots have to be something better. I believe that the potential to transform those lots into something that works for the city and the region is what made Camden a compelling choice to win Parking Madness.
My hope is that over the next 10-20 years, those lots are transformed into a viable neighborhood with the kinds of things that every city needs: grocery stores with healthy food to sustain its people, retail to provide places to shop locally, restaurants for dining out, and jobs for city residents. I hope to see the neighborhood become even more walkable, with the most egregiously large lots, such as those for the L3 buildings, broken up to allow the city’s historic street grid to reassert itself.
I’d like to see transit-oriented development on the lots surrounding the area’s existing public transportation assets in the form of the 24-hour PATCO High Speed Line running into Center City Philadelphia, NJ Transit’s Riverline that runs between Camden and Trenton, numerous busses, and a ferry between Camden and Philadelphia’s waterfront. The city has such an amazing potential to be better than it is for all residents, and it’s my hope that one day soon we realize that. It could be such a prosperous place if we want it to be.
It may be useful to look through the document put together by the steering committee of the Cooper-Grant and Central Waterfront neighborhood groups. Reading it, you can see that there are members of the community dedicated to turning this neighborhood around. It’s a fantastically horrible shame that these huge lots are allowed to destroy the urban fabric and hold the area back.
Angel Alamo, a commissioner on Camden’s parking authority and until recently the chair, weighed in on Twitter last week, saying, “we already know you want Camden to win.” (Come now, it’s clearly the locals who put Camden over the top!) We asked for further comment after Camden won. Here is his response (lightly edited for clarity):
…the 10 years that I have served as commissioner on the Parking Authority I have seen great progress happen at the Camden waterfront. The Camden waterfront has a big attraction with the Susquehanna Bank Center, Camden Children’s Garden, Adventure Aquarium, the battleship New Jersey, Camden Riversharks baseball, and also all of the other attractions that we have in the summer time. So we want to be able to provide plenty of parking for our visitors. We continue to improve to make the waterfront better not just for the visitors but for the residents as well.
Before the tournament began, we sent images and descriptions of all 16 competitors to UCLA Professor Donald Shoup, who recently retired after 41 years of groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of how parking works. Stay tuned tomorrow for Shoup’s take on Parking Madness and this year’s contestants.