Parking Madness: St. Louis vs. Kansas City

It’s an intra-Missouri battle today in the fourth match-up of Parking Madness, Streetsblog’s annual hunt for the worst parking craters in North America.

Which rival will advance to the round of eight — and a chance at the coveted “Golden Crater” — Kansas City or St. Louis?

First up, the city they call KCMO:


The red outlines denote Kansas City’s moonscape of parking craters. Submitter Emily Katherine says it’s even worse: Many of the buildings between surface parking lots are parking garages. Which begs the question, where on earth are all these car owners headed? From the looks of things there just aren’t that many places left to go.

Onward to St. Louis:


Alex Ihnen at NextSTL sends us this beauty. He notes that this is a publicly subsidized parking crater — as God and nature intended — which is “bookended by two parking garages.” This is the area St. Louis calls Ballpark Village, and it was supposed to be the site of a mixed-use development not long ago. Now the developer says the market won’t bear it and all taxpayers have to show for their investment is this embarrassment, jokingly dubbed “Carpark Village.”


Which is worse, readers? Collect yourselves and weigh in below.

Which city has the worst parking crater?

  • Kansas City (80%, 138 Votes)
  • St. Louis (25%, 43 Votes)

Total Voters: 173

37 thoughts on Parking Madness: St. Louis vs. Kansas City

  1. I’m new to this issue, so I wish you’d include a link to a page that defines parking craters and explains why they are bad.

    I mean, intuitively I can see that they are ugly, and an inefficient use of space for a downtown area…but parking is necessary downtown somewhere, right? Or are you advocating for no parking, all transit in city centers? I’d like to see some of the research/logic behind this, beyond, “look, ugly parking lots!”

  2. There is a vast body of empirical research describing why parking lots are bad for cities. Start with Don Shoup and Jen Gehl.

  3. Looks like ‘Emily Catherine’ made her map on an etch a sketch… Any statistics or quant. to accompany it? How many spaces per lot (med;avd). What’s the required parking ratio per adjacent land use? Inflow of people per block/per day during the week? Or was her analysis just qualitative and I’m supposed to guess…?

  4. Looks like ‘Emily Catherine’ made her map on an etch a sketch… Any statistics or quant. to accompany it? How many spaces per lot (med;avg). What’s the required parking ratio per adjacent land use? Whats the average inflow of people per block/per day during the week? Or was her analysis just qualitative and we’re supposed to guess…?

  5. “Parking Crater”
    park-ing cra-ter
    “ugly, and an inefficient use of space for a downtown area.”

    Yes. You need SOME parking, but excessive parking is not only an “ugly, and an inefficient use of space for a downtown area,” but also encourages more people to drive, which leads to pollution and deadly collisions with pedestrians and bicyclists.

    I mean, do you see the above evidence? Why do you need all of that unused parking space?

  6. What STL vs KC in the first round? No way these powerhouses of parking blight should be meeting this early in the tourney.

  7. Notice how every winner thus far has been the city with an aerial/satellite view? Each city should have the same type of photograph so that a fair comparison can be made.

  8. To be fair, the market can bear the construction of new towers in Ballpark Village, contrary to what is written here. Coincidentally, they just released a statement today about a possible residential tower going up in it soon.

  9. Watching NCAA basketball over the weekend they cut away to an aerial view of downtown St. Louis, and it was depressing. Surface parking lots as far as the eye could see. It’s like the only thing downtown is good for anymore is to park there and then…. drive back to where you came from? No doubt in my mind St. Louis wins this, even though the satellite shot of KC is convincing.

  10. Surface parking lots in downtown areas may be poor land use.

    However, I have to assume this is private property. And if you can show that property owners are receiving offers to buy and develop that property and are turning these offers away, this Parking Madness exercise is pretty useless.

    Certainly there may be some owners who are land-banking. But when you have that much open parking space as you show in Kansas City, I can’t believe if a developer wanted to develop on some of these parcels it would happen. Cities are not going to deny zoning changes and variances because of they want the increased tax dollars a building would generate.

    However, developers won’t develop unless a certain percentage of the building is pre-rented to commercial tenants. Otherwise the banks won’t lend.

  11. “We encourage this by taxing improvements only, providing a disincentive to development.”

    Who is this “we”? What states only tax improvements?

  12. For the most part, land has a value and the improvement has a value. In Chicago, for example, all land has the same tax value per sq ft (within the boundaries of the assessment area) whether there is a 2 story or 10 story building on the land or the land is vacant.

    If you decide that you will tax the land higher than the improvement, the smaller owner could in theory pay more. So if my neighbor and I each own lots 50 x 150 sq feet but his home is larger than mine, in theory he could be paying less or about the same as I am.

    If you go further, and just say, the city will tax vacant land higher than land with an improvement. OK, how does this make a vacant piece of property more enticing to a potential investor?

    Sure, it may incentivise a land owner to sell the property because the taxes are too high. But it still does not explain how you will attract a potential buyer with development plans if there is no market for the office space or residential space. And if there is no market for such space, how do you get financing?

  13. I’m surprised that your response to my request to see some research on this topic was to snarkily copy and paste what I said I already know intuitively.

    Is a parking crater really just whatever a transit enthusiast deems to be an “ugly and inefficient” parking lot, or is there a more technical and precise definition, e.g. a threshold of spaces per driver or spaces per acre? How is “excessive parking” defined?

    “Do you see the above evidence?” What evidence? The pictures? The parking lots look like crap, but there are plenty of urban spaces that are not aesthetically pleasing (and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.)

    As I already stated, in my opinion a useful discussion of parking and transit policy must include more research and data than just “look, ugly parking lots!”

  14. Thanks. I know that there is lots research on parking out there, and this topic is of interest to me, so I’m glad to dig into it.

    My feedback on the original post was more to say that it seems strange to host a “parking crater” tournament without defining that term precisely.

  15. Not even a fair comparison–Kansas City has a much more vibrant city center than St Louis. St Louis has blocks and blocks of vacant land.

  16. As in baseball, Kansas City and St. Louis should only be able to meet in the World Series.

  17. I’m just proud that LA didn’t make the bracket! Maybe we’re making headway here!

  18. I would think it goes without saying that surface parking lots are a blight on cities, but take a look around. Every city that is able to afford it constructs structured parking garages, which are able to park many times more cars in the same space.

  19. Parking craters are bad for a lot of reasons (pun intended). Rainwater has less of a chance to go into the aquifer; if you live in a coastal town like Grand Rapids (close to Lake Michigan), this means flooding is more likely. Socioeconomically, parking craters are the ruination of many a downtown or stadium area. Typically, surface lots have terrible reputations for gang activity, crime, and drug use through the roof. Despite action movie clichés, parking garages are actually really safe and use the skyscraper method on parking; almost nothing is compromised, and less space is used. Also, many people can get jobs and housing easier without parking craters. Currently, United Center has a special shuttle bus to the “local” pubs and sports bars. Without the parking crater there, businesses could be walkable to the arena.

  20. This sounds like a classic collective action problem. Any one of these parcels by itself is worthless to develop anything major on, given that it will be an unpleasant place to live (in the middle of a parking lot) and a bad place to attract customers to a shop (little or no foot traffic). However, if the other parcels were developed, then any one of them would in fact be an attractive place to locate an apartment building or a shop. They’re in walking distance of some major urban amenities, and close to the freeways but not right on top. Presumably they have decent transit coverage as well.

    If one could guarantee that the other parcels would eventually be developed, then you could convince developers to start work on some of them. But no one wants to be the first to move, and they also can’t all move at once.

  21. Hi, Amy.

    The way I understand:

    1. “a parking crater” is basically a witty description for a “doughnut effect” of empty city centres with dispersed suburbs.
    It shows not only in less populated CBDs but also in visually transformed urban landscapes: no density, “fields of asphalt”, no community,…

    2. In order to drive from A to B you need parking spot on both locations. Which consumes enormous amount of space (in both locations and along the route).

    3. Now google for pictures “population footprint Atlanta vs Barcelona”. (Sorry, a comparisson with Europe is urgent in this case)

    Both having 2,6m people this is why Atlanta is broke. It has to support an infrastructure (water, roads, transit, medics, firestations, police, schools…) that is spread beyond common sense.

    4. Livability is in quiet yet lively populated streets, close dense communities where a child, a woman and a senior person can WALK safely.

    Car oriented infrastructure diminishes LIVABILITY of cities.

    5. youtube JAN GEHL and listen+watch him for an hour

    Amy, thank you for your authentic interest.

  22. Yeah, not quite fair comparison. The arial view of St. Louis someone posted earlier in this comment section provides a lot more context. Both cities have terrible downtowns (I live two miles from one of them) with tons of excess parking.

    I know this is totally qualitative, but maybe it would be good to set a little tighter rules like, you have to zoom into a certain level on google maps/earth.

    That being said, go KC! This isn’t even the part of downtown I submitted. We should have two entries!

  23. If you’re referring to my KC image, the area I included is L-shaped, so I cut it into two perspectives to keep some detail. If I zoomed out enough to get all of our major craters, you’d be looking at it from outer space.

  24. I guess outlining parking lots in Paint counts as analysis? I just noticed that in images, it’s hard to tell surface lots from mixed-use structures with roof parking, & wanted to distinguish the two, to avoid over-representing the former. Metadata can be found by following the conversation via link to my original tweet. I apologize if my creative endeavor to create a hashtagged twitpic does not meet your research criteria, ‘Jacob’, but I am having trouble finding this analysis for any of the images. Maybe I should just cancel my final defense and rethink the thesis.

  25. Sorry if I offended you. That wasn’t my intent. I was simply trying to convey there is a reason all of those parking lots exist. Ugly? Yes. But, they have a purpose.

  26. I think the point of this topic is that surface parking lots are a very poor land use in urban centers. The numbers of people in a building have nothing to do with a specific need for surface parking. While surface lots might be a stopgap to get use out of blight demo sites until they are redeveloped, entire city blocks of unimproved surface parking have no place in dense business districts. Our existing parking garages are never full, & when drivers see 10 acres of surface parking lots across the street from their destination, as well as on-street parking, there’s little motivation to use a garage, and the expectation of driving to and parking immediately outside downtown destination persists, leading to resistance to valuable infill development. This lack of improvement means fewer people and fewer dollars per acre. When you park your cars where there should be buildings, say each space & access to it costs you at least 150 sq ft; that’s enough space for several dozen full time employees in an office tower. Each person working downtown generates their own economic output in that area. Tourists don’t come to our downtown to see our surface lots; every lot we replace with a restaurant, a hotel, an office building, or an event space makes the entire downtown more walkable, more viable, and more attractive, even if parking is very limited.

  27. I’m gonna call Kansas City the winner. While that photo bellow is sad for St. Louis, you are looking at a portion of an old industrialized area south of downtown. In KC its impossible to avoid low density buildings and surface parking lots, in STL they are avoidable. Not that the low density is a bad thing, some of KCs best kept secrets are in the low to moderate density brick buildings south of downtown. They have a very different atmosphere, STL is an eastern city at heart, its high density architecture, and street-scape feels like a quieter Chicago or Philadelphia, while KC is a western city, the downtown seems like a quieter Denver or Dallas.
    The parking lot that was discussed above (in the yellow below) has been developed as Ballpark Village ( with phase 2 and 3 on the horizon. The deathly orange area is heavily reliant on baseball games and Purina employees. I’ve seen some drawings of redevelopment in this area but not sure how reliable they are.

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