I’ve always thought of surface parking lots as dead spaces. They interrupt the streetscape, create a hostile environment for pedestrians and serve only to reinforce the hegemony of the automobile. That’s all true, but I’ve slowly come to realize that, like other urban spaces, parking lots have lives of their own — social and economic lives far more complex than their appearance would indicate.
While the parking lots in many cities are corporately-owned and completely automated—you take a ticket, drive in through an automatic gate, park your car and leave—this isn’t the case in downtown Montreal. Here, most lots are run as independent businesses and staffed full-time by parking attendants who make it their business to cram as many cars into their lot as possible. This adds an unpredictable human element to a space that is often decried for being inhuman; instead of feeding your money to a machine, you hand it to a guy whose job is to make use of his limited patch of asphalt in the most imaginative way possible.
Each of these lots has its own daily rhythm. In the area around Crescent Street, lots that are improbably full during working hours take a brief respite in the evening, followed on the weekends by another rush, this time of luxury cars. Near my apartment, on Park Avenue, the only parking lot on the entire street is similarly filled with BMWs, Mercedes and even the occasional Ferrari as it provides a valet service for the nearby Greek restaurants-cum-nightclubs.
Still, it’s hard to reconcile any of this with the physical impact of parking lots on the urban landscape. For pedestrians, they are inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst. They can almost always be better used for something else and, after three decades of letting them proliferate, the city of Montreal has come to realize this and it has prevented new parking lots from opening in the downtown area. Many have been closed.
Tags: Montreal, Parking Lots