Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Tale of Two Coopers; or, P*rk*ng L*ts Suck!

Left unchecked, parking lots are like syphillis to architecture and commerce.

Need proof?

Overton Square.

Here's a Google eye view of Overton Square's parking lots (marked in red):

Aerial view, Overton Square
Note especially the massive block-square surface on the bottom. Since the founding of Overton Square in the early 1970's, the buildings in this block have been demolished, the trees and vegetation removed, and swallowed by a viral parking lot. The only petroleum-free signs of life are a couple of trees on the west corners.

With that much parking, Overton Square should be about the most convenient place in Midtown to shop. And by conventional wisdom, convenient should be attractive to customers. Yet, look at this picture taken around 7 p.m. last Saturday night:

Overton's Square

On a nice sunny Saturday evening, the lot is barely a third full. And look at these pictures:

I think at least half of Overton Square is empty. As that parking lot and others in the district have expanded, the vitality of the place has shrunk. Others have noticed the area's decline as well.

Need a counter-proof?


Cooper-Young is practically the twin of Overton Square: they share a common street, architectural style and demographic. But take a look at Cooper Young's parking distribution:

Aerial view, Cooper-Young
Cooper-Young has no massive parking lots. And the small lots it does have are few. Conventional wisdom says: they need more parking! Yet Cooper-Young is not only well rented with lots of new businesses, it has an energy that Overton Square probably hasn't had in 30 years, when it started demolishing everything it could get its hands on.

C-Y's energy isn't due just to great businesses (which Overton Square also has plenty of) but a visual and physical texture that creates, reinforces and retains the energy, rather than destroying it with long stretches of nothing. It has a texture not overgrown with invasive parking lots.

For Overton Square to get back its energy, it has to demolish those parking lots and start paving them with trees and beautiful buildings.


Blogger fearlessvk said...

Great post - I just moved to Memphis from a pedestrian-friendly city (San Francisco) and all the space used for parking around here just seems dysfunctional and driven by a misunderstanding of urban spaces. When I finally visited Cooper-Young, it was a breath of fresh air. I hope that it can continue to grow, and that other parts of Memphis can follow its example....

9:15 PM  
Anonymous justice naczycz said...

I agree partially with what you are saying, but in a city where many of your customers do come from east memphis, you do need adequate parking. i work at tsunami restaurant and people flood our parking lot and then don't come in and eat leaving our customers to have to park extremely far away sometimes. it is a constant problem even during the weekdays. i agree though that the overton park parking lot is much much bigger than necessary, but maybe what they could do instead of getting rid of the parking lot is use the extra space that it has to plant trees and even put up a little exhibit of art or history throughout the parking lot. the parking on the side of square foods is not really used, but i that is because the building that housed square foods is empty. overton park has more than just problems with its sprawling parking lots, it also has very shortsighted and uninspired management picking out businesses that do not use the space or location very well at all. cooper young needs some new alternative parking as they are opening yet more restauarants (a big mistake i think but they seem determined) where the junk shop and courier used to be. these buildings share tsunami's south parking lot and this will no doubt lead to even more parking congestion. in an area that has had serious trouble with robberies at gunpoint on the side streets, this is going to present a serious problem for businesses and customers. it is a serious problem that demands creative thinking to make more parking options or at least safer parking options without damaging the feel of the neighborhood. thanks for you blog. it is extremely interesting!

12:16 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

fearlessvk, welcome to Memphis and thanks for the comment. Cooper-Young is a great area and neighborhood -- a beautiful Halloween neighborhood. By the way, I enjoy your blog's honest perspective on Memphis.

Justice, thanks for your comments also. I should have clarified what I mean by parking lots -- surface parking lots. I definitely not against parking, but just dead set against artlessly bulldozing buildings and mature trees and replacing them with graded asphalt-covered dirt and (if you're lucky!) bartlett pears, in the name of adequacy. I appreciate your emphasis on creativity in trying to figure problems like these out. Anything less than creative (and you can't get much less than creative than you can with a parking lot) would be a step down for Cooper-Young, as it has been for Overton Square.

Believe it or not considering my post, I believe that Overton Square can do the right thing and build and manage out of its slump. In fact, I would hope that they would mimic the success of the old library site and do residential infill in their block hole. I fear, given the block hole's dimensions, that whoever owns it might be angling for a big box retailer with a bigass box parking lot to go with it.

9:44 PM  
Anonymous molly said...

from a (former) resident's point of view:

I sold my home in cooper-young in may 2006, after living there for 15 years. in the two years prior, I had grown accustomed to being unable to park in front of my own home (or anywhere near) on thursday, friday, and saturday nights.

I loved cooper-young, my neighbors, and my house. but the traffic situation had become truly unbearable. an evening sitting on my porch could be filled by counting the number of cars that ran the stop sign in front of my house, often at full speed.

and of course the crime situation was just as aggravating.

there absolutely has to be some parking planning done in cooper-young. the neighborhood growth (which I am all in favor of in general)just has not been well managed.

5:22 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

Molly, thanks for reading and thanks for your comment. Perhaps the merchants and the neighborhood should work on a plan that tries to solve the problems you and Justice commented on. I believe that the feel of the neighborhood is the Golden Goose and additional surface parking lots would only kill it. New asphalt, however, will not fix the crime and public order problems (not that you think it would).

On the other hand, if the crime situation improved, people might feel comfortable parking at the First Congo's hefty-sized "legacy" parking lot.

Sorry you had to leave the neighborhood.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Stacey Greenberg said...

i live on court ave behind the studio on the square. i bought my house six years ago when carl schledwitz (sp?) had a big master plan for the area. not much has happened in the six years that i have been in overton square as we all know. i have been alarmed by the number of businesses that have closed. i hope the new redevelopment corp can actually do something. buy fyi--i do not have a drive way and must put cones out in front of my house on weekends to save my spot because parking can get pretty crazy. i have seen people park on the landscapinga nd not think twice about it.

10:53 AM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

Stacey, I didn't know anything about the redevelopment group you mentioned (eventually they'll be at so thanks for mentioning that. Have you participated in this group?

I wonder, as people fill the streets behind Studio on the Square, is this because the mega parking lot (across Madison) is full, or are they parking in the nearest spot they can find to the Studio? Do you think they're parking on your street for something else besides SoS?

It's my argument that the large parking lots of Overton Square actually, and counter-intuitively, produce the business failures that we've seen there. First by providing a drive-up experience (much like a convenience store) for patrons, there is little or no patron spillover for new and side businesses of walk by and browse traffic. Secondly, by diminishing the energy of the place through the flattened, asphalt desert, it makes it less interesting people-wise and therefore less compelling for casual visitors. Right now, you go to Overton Square for a specific purpose and then get out.

And because it's produced a drive-up mentality, when the parking lot closest to the attraction is full, folks will try to find the nearest space to that -- in front of your house. I wonder if a) the giganto parking lot is full and b) if there's much on-street parking on Madison on the nights they're parking on the landscaping. Maybe I'll check it out tomorrow night.

If you hear about any meetings of the redevelopment group, please let us know.

thanks for reading (and congratulations on the Roller Derby article!)

10:56 PM  
Blogger bobby said...

Sad to see that Overton Square is in such a shape. Lived in Midtown back in the 70's and the Square was the place to be. We'd all walk to the square and party at Soloman Alfreds - TGI Fridays - Silky Sullivans and go to concerts at a club next to Fridays I believe called Lafeyette's where Billy Joel played when he first stated and Henry Gross if anyone remembers. What happened Memphis?

7:00 PM  
Anonymous Sam said...

"i work at tsunami restaurant and people flood our parking lot and then don't come in and eat leaving our customers to have to park extremely far away sometimes. it is a constant problem even during the weekdays."

So you have to walk a few blocks from your car...??? Is that really so bad?

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Sam said...

"Lived in Midtown back in the 70's and the Square was the place to be.
What happened Memphis?"

YOU moved out...

2:15 PM  

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