Parking Madness: Long Beach vs. Muncie

We’re approaching the end of the first round of Parking Madness, and boy, have we seen some catastrophic damage. After today, there are two more parking craters to reveal in this year’s bracket.

In our last matchup, parking-cratered downtown Wilkes-Barre bested shopping mall parking lots in the northeast Bronx. Today, a coastal California parking crater goes up against a crater in the heartland.

Long Beach


Here’s a sad waterfront parking crater right next the Pacific Ocean. It comes from our friends at Longbeachize. They write that it’s “mostly used to host the Grand Prix once a year. What can the other 11.5 months of the year be used for?”



The parking lots of downtown Muncie, Indiana, have been conveniently outlined in red by reader Zane Bishop. He writes:

The real tragedy here lies less in the size of individual craters and more so in the overall number and density of parking lots. By my estimate, Downtown Muncie is almost 50% parking. Better yet, nearly all of this parking is reserved for offices, meaning it is only being used 25% of the hours of the year. These lots replaced many historic buildings, which were torn down due to neglect and abandonment after development shifted toward suburban areas.

A sad story, and all too common.

Which city has the worst parking crater?

  • Muncie (81%, 313 Votes)
  • Long Beach (19%, 75 Votes)

Total Voters: 388


27 thoughts on Parking Madness: Long Beach vs. Muncie

  1. This is a poor comparison that highlights the problem with the top-down, formal analysis that is the basis of this game. Muncie is half parking lots because it is a shrinking city. Downtown buildings were bulldozed because of bankruptcy and vacancy, not to make room for parking. The ‘sad story’ is not that Muncie looks bad from above, but rather the social and economic catastrophe unfolding on the ground.

  2. Long Beach by far – the parking crater was built on the beach ! Look closely and you will see at the top of the photo a 100% walkable downtown that overlooked a spectacular sandy beach. They built huge parking lots on the beach !

  3. Beach is a bit of a stretch. What Long Beach has done is taken the mouth of the Los Angeles River (an area directly across the river from Long Beach Harbor), and put in restaurants, shops, a couple of marinas, an aquarium, a major hotel and a convention center. (Much of which is not visible from the photo).
    I’ve been there for events at the convention center, and the parking does get crowded. It’s actually quite walkable, especially because of city-operated shuttle buses and a light rail line.
    Also, the beach, which stretches off to the east from the photo, is mediocre at best, thanks to the Long Beach Harbor breakwater nearby.

  4. The Muncie photo is all relatively small surface lots. If the land values were great enough that surface lots no longer represented the highest and best use of that land in the eyes of property owners, then they’d get infill development and parking garages. It’s all land economics at play.

    Would love to see some additional analysis in some of these parking crater posts, as opposed to just polemics… urban land economics drives so much of why you get surface lots in CBD areas that aren’t doing well.

  5. One again Long Beach demonstrates the practice of building a huge surface lot to serve event space: stadiums, convention centers, and fair grounds. These lots can indeed become quite full, but on days when there is not an event, or even before/after the event on the same day, they are truly scaring the landscape.

    Far better, although more expensive, to build structured parking that would take up less space. That would both create less of a walking/biking barrier and also would leave even more space for other or smaller events or uses.

    This match-up is a tough one, because John West makes a good point about buildings being bulldozed in Muncie because of economics, not just parking policy. But now the old downtown is gone and it will be hard to fill back in; people will decry “lack of parking” and worry about too much density. [eye roll] But I still think I have to give it to Muncie.

  6. There are parking structures at the Long Beach Convention Center. That parking lot serves a convention center, performing arts center and minor league hockey arena. Frankly, the overall area, which includes waterfront marina shops and restaurants, is a lot more walkable than it looks.
    Of course, I may be biased because I’ve been there and not just looking at top-down photos.

  7. Is it all economics, though? In Santa Monica for example the land values are pretty high yet you have plenty of surface parking very close to the beach. At least here it’s bad economics to replace those lots only insofar as the NIMBYs will tie you up in expensive fights for years and years if you try.

  8. Who owns the lots? Are they municipal lots? If so, have they put out an RFP for infill development? The response by the market will tell you what you need to know. And yes, you are totally right than any prospective developer has to roll the costs of endless meetings with angry residents into the soft costs for a project.

  9. I feel like with a lot of these cities that started emptying out, sure, there’s a number of things that aren’t “parking makes for a shitty urban experience” that can be pointed to as the root cause of what’s happening. We know that decades of bad government policy is what shifted people into car-dependent suburbia, for instance. I’m having trouble Googling for specific information on what set Muncie on its downturn, but in general, at a certain point I think a lot of these places are stuck in a feedback loop where decades of paving over everything and turning the cities into parking lots has made them such undesirable places to live that even people who would rather live in a city would rather just move to one that’s already thriving, or at least more in the middle of an upturn, as opposed to being the ones to try to kick off an urban renewal themselves.

  10. I was in Long Beach a few years back for Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike (and two other conferences back-to-back). It’s not just the convention center parking lot. It’s the size of Shoreline Dr, the parking for the yacht club, and the overall amount of underutilized concrete and asphalt between the downtown and the waterfront. Lots of landscaping, very little “place” feeling for the amount of paved surface.

  11. Here’s just one example:

    Private lot with its own parking, as many of the older businesses in Santa Monica do. The NIMBYs here are fine with building more parking but not more housing, and then bitch and moan about the gridlock here.

    One of the worst parking craters here though is the city hall parking lot, unfortunately. That and having to walk over the 10 make for a huge gouge going down the middle of the city.

  12. I grew up in San Pedro, on the other side of the harbor from Long Beach, so I can say that there was a lot more dead space before the Pike shopping center was added. The waterfront also looks a lot better since they added Rainbow Harbor and the aquarium. There is a geographic barrier (i.e. a rather steep slope) between Pine Avenue and Shoreline Village which can be hard to navigate, but if you know to use the convention center promenade and pedestrian bridge over Shoreline Drive, then it becomes a lot easier. The shuttle buses also help. Again, I may be a bit biased here.

  13. Yes, and the Red Cars used to take you from San Bernardino to Santa Monica. And coffee cost a nickel. All of that was gone before I was born.

  14. Hi Jason, Thank you for the thoughtful reply. Perhaps some are leaving Muncie because of poor policy and design, as you suggest. I work there as a planning professor. My colleagues and students have been doing a lot to encourage growth in the downtown, to make the city more walkable and bikeable, to condense development in the urban core. These efforts do not register on the aerial photo that is the basis of this game.

    There are more obvious causes of decline, however. Muncie has suffered a wave of plant closures that resulted from the automotive restructuring spurred by the great recession. People in Muncie are struggling with a heroin epidemic, joblessness and poverty, which is typical of places that experience heavy job loss. Sneering at our overabundant parking is both trivial and callous. A focus on design and the top-down, google-maps-view of our city obscures more than it reveals in this case.

  15. Long Beach’s is definitely more of a literal crater, but I had to go with Muncie here. Clearly more deserving of a “parking madness” ‘award.’ A sad confluence of many factors, which all feed off of each other to produce a perpetual downward urban spiral. Too much of America’s heartland needs a cardiologist, stat.

  16. Same as I said for Bronx vs. Wilkes-Barre:

    Long beach is a port-industrial area turned convention-entertainment. Muncie is an actual downtown that’s had its heart ripped out.

  17. S Walnut Street looks glorious and you can see a poster child for the modernism backlash when you compare the horrible Chase bank to rest of the buildings.

  18. Long term, with the large amount of space in Long Beach, it can be redeveloped into something more beneficial. The problem with Muncie is that many of the blocks are small lot developments that will be hard to bring back into an economically viable fashion. As Charles Marohn has noted, it’s better to keep older buildings there and spruce them up rather than bring them from the basement up again.

  19. Hi John,

    Thanks for your work to strengthen the urban core of Muncie. The intent of these posts is certainly not to denigrate the efforts of people like yourself or to sneer at the complex problems facing the places we highlight. In fact, the places that “win” the bracket tend to have a contingent of civic boosters who propel turnout. A deep run in Parking Madness usually sparks press coverage that local advocates for walkability or downtown investment can turn to their advantage.

    I understand that the mechanism can seem crude, but we’ve found that this format can be a highly effective way to draw attention to the problems affecting urban cores, be that industrial flight or other factors, and create momentum for better public policy.

  20. I think the reason Long Beach takes the cake—and not just because I live in and write about Long Beach—is that DTLB is actually growing significantly and, above Ocean Blvd., is entirely walkable and bikeable. DTLB holds the highest walk score within the city, directly on par with DTLA and other walking paradises. It’s home to an downtown that is in love with its historic buildings, its culinary scene, and its density. The issue—and one I’ve extensively discussed and the Urban Land Institute studied—is the disconnecting arterial that is Ocean Blvd. North of Ocean is a downtown paradise; south of Ocean, however, is dominated by large retailers, a convention center, and other huge parcels. In other words, our waterfront—one of Long Beach’s most unused and powerful assets—is fairly unfriendly to the human scale.

    Fun fact: this parking lot actually used to be called the Elephant Lot because whenever the circus came, this was the only lot big enough to house the elephants.

  21. May I request that you start including scale bars on these photos?

    BTW: Disqus is unlogginable. Can you switch to something (anything) better?

  22. I’d like to add that Long Beach’s parking lot was formerly wetlands and open water. It represents possibly the most egregious and pointless destruction of a rare environmental resource, and almost certainly illegal if it was proposed a few years later.

  23. By “beach” and “mouth of the LA River”, you both mean salt marsh, an extremely rare habitat almost entirely eliminated from southern California (just a handful of acres remain in LA County: Malibu Lagoon, Ballona Creek, Golden Shores, and Los Cerritos wetlands). I

  24. Finally, a decent matchup. Muncie is an absolutely classic example of an aggregate parking crater, while Long Beach is more of the missed-opportunity type that will probably see redevelopment once the whole IndyCar things fades out (as F1 did before it). Have to go with Muncie for the permanent devastation on this one.

  25. Would love to see Streetsblog hold an Urbanizing Madness (Parking Sanity?) bracket sometime to focus on how parking craters were filled in. Plenty of examples out there now, and would make for an uplifting counterpart to the sometimes-depressing Parking Madness.

    My No. 1 seed in such a contest would go to Toronto:

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