After spending the last few months in Mountain View, CA, it is nice to be back home in Atlanta. I feel more at home here, where government and society are a little more dysfunctional. I’m not accustomed to the organization and general niceness of northern California. Blue skies and green grass get monotonous after a while. I prefer Atlanta, where the smog is a different color everyday, no two consecutive blocks are paved with sidewalks, and pedestrians are kept in their rightful place at the bottom of the socioeconomic/transportation ladder (right behind fire hydrants and telephone poles). No seriously, it’s good to be back home.
There are a lot of good things to be said about Mountain View, CA (and Silicon Valley in general). Despite the fact that the entire South Bay area is a haven for traffic and cars, they still manage to make walking a respected and easy way to get around. How did they do it? By managing their parking. Remember this picture of arguably Atlanta’s most walkable neighborhood, Midtown?
The red squares show land that is 100% dedicated to car storage (a.k.a parking). Dedicating this much land to parking not only lengthens the distance that people must walk between locations, but it also makes the walk less pleasant. This is because vast parking lots do not provide shade and force pedestrians to always be on guard for cars entering and leaving the parking lots.
Shown below is a similar shot of downtown Mountain View, CA.
What’s important to notice is here is that while the parking is still present, it has been strategically placed. The main street of downtown Mountain View, Castro Street, is completely devoid of parking lots and decks. Instead, the parking is placed behind the many businesses that line Castro Street. By moving the parking off of the main commercial street, shops are allowed to build closer to one another making walking much easier along this street. With this type of setup, people will park once and visit many destinations before returning to their cars. This is unlike much of Silicon Valley (and Atlanta for that matter) where people will literally drive across the street because all the parking forces buildings to be no closer than 1000 yards apart. The park-and-walk setup of Mountain View is a great compromise between those who love to drive and those who love to walk. You can drive right up to the back of your destination and park very close to the door, but the front door and the main street belongs to pedestrians. Below are few shots around Mountain View.
It’s amazing how simply arranging the location of parking lots in a thoughtful way can create pockets of walkability in an otherwise hostile environment. Probably the best example of this model in Atlanta is Tech Square, where the two main parking decks are located one block from 5th street, allowing the street to be dominated by pedestrians without fear of being mauled by cars. (See the Google Street image below.) I hope to see more of this type of development in my town.
Mountain View as a cool place with much of what I look for in a city or town, but for some reason, when I talk about what I look for in a city (walkability, bike friendliness, compact design), I am often accused of being a socialist pinko. Why are any of these things socialist? Is it ironic that a place that closely matches with what I want lies at the heart of Silicon Valley, the home of Facebook, Google, and the world’s richest company, Apple? I thought that biking, walking, and transit were anti-capitalist business killers. I guess I’ll never figure it out.