OPINION: New parking ordinance will improve Anchorage

downtown, downtown anchorage, parking, parking lot, parking lots

As a 29-year-old born and raised in Anchorage but who has left and won’t return due to its inaccessibility and dangerous urban design, I find that the Assembly’s new parking ordinance is an incredible step in the right direction. As Anchorage’s economy suffers, car-centric urban design and habits exacerbate the issue. Through alarming population loss, it is important to ask ourselves what we could do to make the city a better place for its inhabitants. Parking is a spatial issue — as some people migrate to the Mat-Su with the perception that Anchorage has “no space left,” it should force the municipality to rethink how it uses its space. If the whole city is designed around one mode of transport, how can that be a prosperous city if not everybody has access to this one mode? When the municipality had a lack of school bus drivers, nobody asked why our children must be driven to school to begin with. Our reliance on car-centric design is hindering our city.

Nobody is asking the citizens of Anchorage to give up their cars or their personal freedom. What is being asked is that if our city’s built design is the most economically viable and the safest for residents. If we want to encourage population growth, we ought to encourage the building of a city that people love living in. There is a reason why young professionals are repopulating the dense downtown cores in our nation: because they offer a healthy and convenient life. If Anchorage wants to attract talent and growth, it must rely on more than simply the natural beauty of Alaska. As younger generations are getting a taste of car-free living, that is where they are choosing to go. Seattle and Portland have an urban and healthy attractiveness that Anchorage ought to emulate, while keeping our unique identity.

There is a housing crisis with young Alaskans unable to afford a home, yet swaths of the city sit empty as parking lots — have you looked at Midtown and downtown on Google Maps’ satellite view? If businesses can build parking to fit their needs, that space can be used for more economically advantageous reasons, such as outdoor eating, more shops, housing, etc. Why shouldn’t Fred Meyer be allowed to develop its excessive parking spaces that sit empty into apartments or into other productive uses? Additionally, for a state that takes so much pride in personal freedom, why were businesses being dictated to on how much parking they must have? Personal freedom is the choice to drive and own a car, just as it is the choice not to. Business owners have a right to choose how to use their space. The word “freedom” is always used to defend car usage, but fails to mention the subsidies provided to cars and their infrastructure. The construction and especially the maintenance of roads, highways, traffic lights, signage, and parking lots are not free and is heavily subsidized. We cannot afford to plow all of our roads, because we have too many roads — the land attached to those roads is not a sufficient enough tax base to sustain the city we have built.

There is often the argument that snowy cities cannot survive without cars. But there are many prosperous cities throughout Scandinavia and Japan that manage to thrive without excessive parking mandates. Minneapolis has removed parking minimums and it has been making great strides to be a healthier city with a growing population. Anchorage should give itself some more credit; it has what it takes to be a world-class city, and thankfully, it is taking the first step by putting its people and economy first.

Geoffrey Keegan was born and raised in Anchorage. He lives in Paris, France, where he is pursuing a degree in geography and land management.

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