Parking is Getting Smarter

Mike Langberg, a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, dropped by a conference on "smart parking" recently. What he found was mind-boggling. Among the big ideas: You'll be able to use the Internet to reserve a parking meter before leaving home. Even if you forget to make a reservation, a navigation screen in your dashboard will direct you to a vacant spot.
by | May 2006

Mike Langberg, a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, dropped by a conference on "smart parking" recently. What he found was mind-boggling. Among the big ideas: You'll be able to use the Internet to reserve a parking meter before leaving home. Even if you forget to make a reservation, a navigation screen in your dashboard will direct you to a vacant spot. Don't have a navigation system? There'll be big electronic boards telling you which parking decks have vacancies. Many meters will accept credit cards and some will allow you to pay with your cell phone. You'll park in a spot, dial a number posted on the meter, and a distant computer will start charging you. When you leave, sensors in the pavement will notice and stop the charges. The meter will also notice if you park and don't call. Expect a traffic warden to be there with a citation. All of this opens the door to something libertarians love: variable pricing. When parking gets tight in one part of town, prices at the meters will rise. "Well-heeled venture capitalists running late for a power lunch at Il Fornaio in downtown Palo Alto would probably be glad to pay $50 an hour at a parking meter on University Avenue," Langberg noted. "The rest of us might have to do a lot more walking."

URBAN CHURCHES MAKE A COMEBACK

Downtown churches are growing again. Take Miami, where Gesu Catholic Church (founded 1896), Trinity Episcopal (1896) and First United Methodist (1897), were in slow decline from the 1960s on. These churches aren't back to 1960s levels of attendance, but they are growing for the first time in decades. But this is just the beginning, church members say. The uptick has been widespread, but total numbers are still modest. Church officials are convinced more are coming because so much housing is being built downtown. More than 5,300 units have been built in downtown Miami in recent years and an additional 17,000 have been approved. There's another side to the downtown renewal story for churches. Their land is suddenly worth a fortune. That's why First United Methodist Church of Seattle is selling its beautiful 1907 building to a developer who plans a high-rise office tower. First United Methodist will relocate to nearby Belltown, where it will get more space and an underground parking garage. The senior pastor told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer the church will be in a better position to grow the congregation and help the homeless.

WHERE DID ALL THE BOOKS GO?

Libraries were once a grim but necessary gathering place for high school students writing term papers, but most students today can find more information online than at the best-stocked central library. Given this, why do we need public libraries? The answer seems to be for meetings. Take St. Louis, where thousands of groups use libraries for meetings and lectures. Meeting rooms are cheap or free, some come with audio-visual equipment and, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out recently, most people know where the local library is located. St. Louis County libraries host about 6,000 meetings a year, the city libraries about 4,200. Politicians also like libraries. In Georgia, suburban lawmakers are larding the state budget with appropriations for libraries in their towns. As one told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, "In certain districts, libraries are like community centers and civic centers used to be. When we do legislative town hall meetings, for the most part, we do them at libraries." Ironically, while spending on library buildings is up in Georgia, per- capita spending on books and maintenance is way down.

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