Parking Madness 2019 Round 1: Houston vs. Boston

houston b&a

We’re getting into some of the heavy hitters today in Parking Madness, our annual tournament examining the damage done to city landscapes by surface parking lots. This year’s tournament, however, flips the script, attempting to find the “parking crater” that has been most transformed into a beloved city space.

There’s still time to vote in yesterday’s matchup, which paired Atlanta and Oakland transit station infill. Minnesota has already advanced with a win over Kansas City.

Today we’re looking at two major cities that have been growing their parking craters away.

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This shocking historic panoramic of downtown Houston in the early 1980s comes to us via Houston-based planner Christof Spieler.

houston before

houston after

Spieler explains:

One of the most famous photos pf Houston is the Alex Maclean aerial photo of parking lots in Downtown Houston in the early 1980s. That exact spot is now Discovery Green, a thriving urban park, and the surrounding convention and hotel district.

He adds, in reference to the “after” photo that it’s even better than it appears. “Apple Maps isn’t quite up to date” he said. “One of the lots at right is now a new performing arts high school.”


Boston’s Seaport is one of the nation’s most famous reformed parking craters. The area, in fact, was a previous contender on our regular parking crater competition in 2015. But since then the cranes have been hard at work.

boston seaport before
Boston Seaport circa 2005. Image: Ted Pyne, MassGIS


boston seaport after

Ted Pyne, a reader who nominated this space, says:  “The 2018 image is already out of date. Four of the parking lots in the July 2018 image are now under construction.”

Both of these areas still have a fair way to go, but they are certainly headed the right direction when more places for people to live and work and fewer spaces that are dead zones of unsustainable car storage.

Tell us which should advance to the second round!

20 thoughts on Parking Madness 2019 Round 1: Houston vs. Boston

  1. Great job in both cities. I have to give the edge to Houston for really going after that sea of parking adjacent to the literal downtown core. But these are both terrific stories.

  2. 20 years ago, that Boston photo was a bunch of $3/day gravel parking lots on the “mud flats” on the wrong side of the Big Dig. There was collection of old masonry warehouses that were thoroughly derelict. Then we finished big dig, took down the elevated highway separating that area from downtown, all the old warehouses turned into fashionable lofts, and there’s been gazillion dollars worth of new development. It’s insane how much a ratty old elevated highway through the core of a city devalues a place.

  3. Sadly, mass transit did not follow the development. The silver line is okay, but rail would be better, especially if development continues at rapid speed.

  4. Why no South Park in LA in this competition? It would be a strong contender for the championship.

  5. Bostonian with a five year old here. The removal of parking has made it a nightmare to take him to the children’s museum in the Seaport.

    The Silver Line is terrible. Buses in Boston are unreliable. And those condos are mostly empty and completely unaffordable – even for this well paid guy in the tech industry.

    Removing the parking essentially removes poor and middle class access to Seaport. How many kids do each of you celebrating the loss of parking have? Have you waited in the cold slush for a MBTA bus that will never come with a three year old?

  6. The silver line is terrible. I frequently have to wait for multiple buses to go throught south station before I can get on one because the MBTA doesn’t ever increase supply to meet demand.

  7. You can go to South Station and walk across the channel. It’s less than half a mile and about the same distance as walking from one of the former lots north of Seaport Blvd. There were never any big lots right near the museum because there have been buildings there for a long time.

    Transit access to the Seaport is a legitimate complaint but the Childrens’ museum is literally just on the other side of the bridge.

  8. No, I can’t if the 71 bus don’t come to take me from the red line to my house. I just get stranded in Harvard Square and have to call a Lyft. This has happened twice in the past year.

    Ironically, they are also eliminating parking in Harvard, too.

    We got rid of our second car to consciously choose bikes and buses two years ago. I can tell you every weak link in the unreliable MBtA, I promise.

    I can also tell you if my job wasn’t a cushy tech job with flexible hours, I would have been fired for being MBTA-late many times over those two years.

  9. Of course it is. The wealthy are getting wealthier and investing in their children. They can also afford the leisure time, beautiful new condos, and Uber rides required for access.

    Is attendance up Friday night, when Target subsidizes entry? If so, I’m probably wrong. If it’s flat or down, I might be right.

  10. Yes, because poor people in Boston definitely have cars and don’t use public transportation

  11. Many poor people in Boston need cars to keep their jobs.

    My current neighbors work at a bakery, restaurant, and bar.

    She need to be at the bakery before the bus starts running three days a week. The bar and restaurant both close after the MBtA stops running. So she drives in, drives home (bringing them breakfast), and then they drive into work.

    My former neighbors were a med student and teacher. The med student couldn’t afford the time it took to get to Medford from Brighton, especially when the bus is full before it gets to your stop on peak hours, but could afford the cheap Subaru.

    The teacher needed a second job to pay student loans. It was impossible to count on the bus getting her from school to work on time, but she could count on a gracious manager hooking her up with validated parking on nights she worked.

    Not to mention all the people I don’t know in Quincy, Mattapan, and the North Shore who don’t even have access to a bus connection to the subway.

    I wish it weren’t so, but the working poor often depend on owning cars – especially those with inflexible hours. Uber and Lyft are prohibitively expensive if you work late in the service industry.

  12. “bostonian” or suburbanite? If the former you could take the red line to south station and walk across the channel to the Children’s Museum. MUCH more affordable than driving/parking

  13. I love the implication Lucius, that suburbanites should stay out of the city. Only people who can afford the condos deserve children’s museums.

  14. Drew, that was not my intention, and I’m sorry my wording implied that. I was asking whether to take you literally on whether you’re a “Bostonian”, because that would mean you have inexpensive and direct transit access to the museum. Even if you live in the suburbs you have a 50% chance a one-seat ride to south station. North station is less directly accessible to the museum but if money is truly an issue it can still be done cheaply.

    I guess to put it in simpler terms, I don’t see the link how eliminating parking in downtown means the poor and middle class are marginalized. In terms of your question about waiting for a bus with a kid, yes, I raised a kid in Boston along a bus ride and did not own a car. We rode the bus (to subway) or a bike to daycare everyday. Maybe we lived by two of the more reliable bus lines, I don’t know, but it did not hinder our ability to go to any of the museums in the city and was far cheaper an option than driving and parking. Heck, we took the bus to Brigham went my wife went into labor because we knew it would take to long for a cab to come (this was pre-Uber/Lyft)

  15. I’m curious where the single stop ride to south station is from Natick, Hull, Burlington, or even Belmont. These are just the burbs where some of our friends live, not even close to a comprehensive list. Heck, you have to take an unreliable shuttle from Mattapan and it’s “on” the Red Line.

    In my other comment, I mention being stranded twice at Harvard Station because the 71 bus never came. I have the luxury to afford a surge priced Lyft in such circumstances – without a credit card we would have been stuck there until we could get a ride or walked the four miles home in slushy snow.

    I’m willing to die on this hill (metaphorically speaking): Public transport in Boston has not kept up with growth and eliminating parking exacerbates that problem, especially for the poor.

  16. About 40 different suburbs have stations with direct, daily service to South Station. No one has claimed that every single municipality in the metro area has equal service, but as American cities go, you’d be hard pressed to find a more comprehensive system for a city of this size. Per your question, Burlington is a gap in the network and Belmont is served by North Station but your friends in Natick can get directly to South Station from either West Natick or Natick Center. Hull is tricky because it is basically an island connected to the mainland by filled tidal flats, but Nantasket Junction and Cohasset stations are within a couple of miles of the base of the now-peninsula, or the T has an affordable ferry to Rowes Wharf, a short walk for an able-bodied person.

    Your experience on the 71 bus sounds shitty, and I can empathize with frustrating service, especially on slushy snow days. Is the system perfect? No. But is it delinquent and untrustworthy and a evil agent that holds down the middle class? Hardly.

    I’m truly sorry that you can’t rely on transit and need to drive places for your family to succeed. That sucks. Have a nice day.

  17. I live how you keep pushing the question back upto the middle class. Middle class people have the time and money to make the system work.

    Poor people don’t have the time or money. The criticism is valid.

    I never said anything was evil, merely inadequate for the growth of Boston. Fun fact, straw men ride the T for free.

    I’m having a great day with a five year old following me on a bike – we don’t have to deal with the MBTA today.

  18. I forgotthat on the internet one overlooked detail invalidates the entire argument. Now you’re completely right, the T is perfect for real Bostonians.

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