Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza appears determined to serve a single term. How do I know? Just look! He is trying to offend every constituency he can by installing parking meters where they shop. Several neighborhoods on the East Side have successfully resisted – Hope Village north of Rochambeau is one example – at least for now. Thayer Street is the latest victim.
Its merchants have mounted a revolt against the parking meters, advertising a petition against them on the marquee of the Avon Theater. Merchant Kenneth Dulgarian, who owns the Avon with his brother Richard, has written a rousing denunciation of the policy for the Providence Journal’s shrinking oped section: “Parking meters spread economic plague“:
Parking meters have become an economic plague in Providence. Their continuing proliferation is enraging customers, destroying businesses, and undermining City Hall’s repeated boast that the capital city is “open for business.”
He goes on to question the idea that parking meters will help solve the city’s budget deficit. The meters are costly to install, break down frequently, are thus costly to maintain, and require more employees to fix them and keep them operational. Now that I no longer live downtown I drive a lot (I used to take the bus to work, but the bus service is not reliable enough to use it for chores or occasional meetings) and am often able to find a spot whose meter is broken or still has time left on it. Perhaps it is just broken, and that was the time left stuck on it – free parking for those lucky enough to find it.
Dulgarian argues that the costs of the meter system combined with the reduction in taxes from shops hurting or already closed probably comes close to drowning out any revenue the meters bring in.
The meter policy reminds me of the state’s bus policy. Instead of improving bus service, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority has historically used the strategy of raising fares and cutting routes to make up annual budget deficits. So people increasingly find the bus inconvenient for a wider and wider range of uses, causing RIPTA to raise rates higher and reduce more services – so that people increasingly perceive the bus as a less reliable mode of transit that still costs ever more to use.
As they say, this is no way to run an airline.
The municipal adoration of parking meters reveals a similarly shortsighted management of the public weal. Recently it was reported that more and more managers in City Hall are costing the taxpayers more and more money. The city seems capable of thinking up more and more things to do, some of them necessary to fix previously enacted things that don’t work, and many entirely unnecessary except to stroke this or that narrow constituency.
This is a problem with municipal government not just in Providence but across the state and the nation. It is not just taxpayers who suffer higher taxes for fewer and less efficient basic services. The same strategy of leadership affects private business and nonprofit institutions as well. Just go to the Brown University job site and look at the titles of the jobs available.
Parking meters are just one of many camels’ noses under the tent. Pretty soon, the city will want to meter not just local shopping districts but every parking space along every residential street curb. Don’t look now but this has already been done! Instead of simply reversing its decades’ long ban on residential overnight parking, the city recently started forcing homeowners to buy permits if they want to park overnight in front of their own houses.
This set of interlocking city problems, addressed with an abiding stupidity, reminds me of the movie Idiocracy, in which the Pentagon sends a couple operatives into the future. They find that DNA of Americans has become stupider and stupider, to the point where citizens, themselves all stupid, have internalized the inconveniences of a society run according to a regime of official stupdity. Among the many hilarious touches by the director of scenery, buildings often collapse and those still standing are held up by duck tape. Sometimes I think we are already there.
This post goes under my Urban Planning category but also Architecture, because in the past half century we have massively traded down, accepting ugly buildings designed to need replacement in three or four decades for buildings of a certain dependable degree of beauty that are designed to last a century or more. A rationale for this was officially adopted decades ago, even though it is idiotic, barely even plausible under the slightest examination. We see this in the buildings proposed for the Route 195 corridor – not only ugly (see illustration below) but increasingly financed by taxpayers.
Maybe Thayer Street’s revolt against parking meters will be a revolution’s shot heard round the world.