Talking with cheeky founders of Michigan Needs More Parking

Founded almost exactly a year ago to address a lack of parking places in Michigan’s downtowns and suburbs, Michigan Needs More Parking represents citizens who believe in a basic premise: there should always be a place for the wheels of the people of the state that put the world on wheels.
Last month, I sat down with Chene Park, president and principal, a.k.a. "the Mind," and Minock Park, chairman and principal, a.k.a. the "Muscle," of Michigan Needs More Parking for an in depth Q&A.

So… parking. Why does the world need Michigan Needs More Parking now?

You’ve answered your own question: the need is obvious. Our state’s economy will never improve until we comprehensively address the issue of parking. 

This summer, the parking debate raged when the owner of an obsolete landmark in downtown Detroit said he wanted to turn it into a parking deck for his other property, the Penobscot Building. He said, contrary to a recent data driven survery, downtown Detroit needs more parking. Or is he just trying to trick us? After all, he is a Canadian.

We’re in no position to determine whether you’re being tricked, and we bear no animus towards our friends across the river. Their parking shortfalls are profound, and their cities (like Toronto) deserve our pity. 

More importantly, we dispute Data Driven Detroit’s map and entire premise. It is a simple equation. Detroit -- and Michigan’s -- unemployment crisis will only be addressed when we close the parking gap. More parking equals more jobs. Does Data Driven Detroit think we have too many jobs?   

Every time I drive by the Hudson's site on Woodward, I think to myself, "Just look at all that beautiful light and air. And 1,000 parking spaces to boot!" What do you consider to be Detroit's biggest parking victories? 

Wow. Great question.
Obviously, Hudson’s has to lead the list. Lots of cities have flagship department stores. But is Macy’s in Chicago really that different from Macy’s in Manhattan? However, not many cities have parking facilities that can rival Detroit’s Premier Underground Garage. While we believe all parking should be free, $10 (maximum daily rate!) is much cheaper than parking would be in a city like New York or Chicago.

After Hudson’s, you’d have to look to the Michigan Building, which was returned to its originally intended parking purpose in 1976 after decades of misuse as a movie theater. National audiences said this parking deck was one of the most popular elements of Eminem’s hit 8 Mile motion picture. 

Another victory worthy of note is not a parking lot per se. But its existence is the result of what can happen when you lead with parking. We'd like to point out a quaint spot between two behemoth Blue Cross Blue Shield parking structures downtown on East Congress. They proudly mark the site of the house where Frederick Douglass met with John Brown before Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. It’s perhaps fitting that an area once home to a great fight for liberty and justice is now a breath of fresh air between two of Detroit’s greatest monuments to our shared freedom of individual transportation.

Ok, I want you guys to shake off the shackles of the past and shift your sights to the future. How can Detroit get more creative and visionary. What are Detroit's top three untapped parking opportunities?

To name only three parking opportunities when there are as many as exist today in Detroit would be almost criminal. But here are some of our favorite ideas: 

First, there’s been a lot of talk recently about how best to maintain Belle Isle. We think that one oft-overlooked solution is to allow for its development as America’s largest urban surface parking lot. Why not?
Next, many people have talked about building an elevated parking deck over the Detroit RiverWalk, to provide shade for joggers and to enhance parking access to the Detroit River. This would no doubt be a key step towards revitalizing the Motor City’s riverfront. We envision a multi-level structure, stretching from MacArthur Bridge at Belle Isle to the New International Trade Crossing at Fort Wayne. Can you see it?

And what about the booming development in the Corktown area, with mainstays like Slow’s and the Astro Coffee Bar. You can’t help but wonder about the enormous potential of "flipping the script" with the old Michigan Central Station. Corktown’s great eyesore could easily become America’s most beloved symbol of transit liberty. Manuel "Matty" Moroun would be well-advised to enhance his public image by turning this iconic building into the city’s grandest parking jewel.

Finally, we think by expanding parking access throughout Detroit, the city can become a magnet for "outsource to Detroit" parking overflow from other cities. Places like Ann Arbor, Ferndale, and even parking-plagued cities farther afield like Toronto and Chicago would benefit. In a world where finding a space can take literally days, Detroit’s parking surplus could become one of the city’s greatest assets. 

Let's broaden our horizon. Surely there are other places in Michigan equally worthy of parking for parking's sake. Which part of Michigan is most parking deprived? Who is missing out the most from this natural resource and why?

Mackinac Island is our natural pick. Everyone who knows Mackinac has fond memories of fudge, horse-drawn carriages, and bike rides on the Island. It’s one of Michigan’s great tourism destinations. But imagine, if you even can, the boundless potential of Mackinac as a tourist destination if you had the ability to drive your whole family in an RV onto the scenic isle. Modern tourists expect a bridge, tunnel or causeway, connected to a series of surface lots and parking decks. The way it is now is just plain wrong. 

You have suggested there should be an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to defend the right of parking for every man woman and child. You are especially concerned about the rights of the "unparked," those who cannot park for themselves. Please explain your views on this matter and what everyday citizens can do to help the cause.   

We’re in the process of forming a ballot question committee to amend the Michigan constitution to establish mandatory parking minimums on Michigan ballots in 2014. We’ve seen politicians ignore the need for robust infrastructure-- blithely sitting on their hands as our parking lots crumble, businesses flee, and jobs perish -- for far too long. 

We can’t wait for the politicians to act; it’s time to let the people decide. Parking now or poverty later. It’s really that simple.

You’ll see paid signature collectors across Michigan in the weeks to come. Please sign our petitions to get this important measure on the ballot in 2014. 

And remember: we’re never more than one generation away from the end of parking freedom in America.

Thank you for taking time to talk to us about such an important cause. On behalf of Model D, I salute the efforts of Michigan Needs More Parking. 

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about the most important issue facing our state today: parking. We look forward to Model D’s continued reporting on this vital subject.

Francis Grunow knows how to get the tough interviews. It is rumored that he has one with the Nain Rouge archived under lock and key. Readers, your comments on this story are most welcome. 

Photos by Marvin Shaouni
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.