Does this look like a vibrant urban neighborhood?
A recent post at the Transbay Blog reminded me of one of the biggest sources of blight and misuses of land in the Bay Area: surface parking in Downtown Oakland. Of the 51 public Downtown lots, 24 are surface lots. Yet, surface parking accounts for less than 15% of parking in the area (private surface lots, such as AC Transit’s, are not accounted for here). The merits of parking garages are debatable (I think they are overdeveloped and a waste of money, but many retailers would beg to differ) and deserves a separate post, but I think everybody can agree that when assessing the economic potential of land in such a transit-rich and up-and-coming area (see projects such at the Uptown development), charging 50 cars $10 per day doesn’t exactly do much for anybody.
Douglass Parking is responsible for most of the blight, especially in its great wall of surface parking which surrounds the Gold Coast neighborhood , one of the highest-density areas in Oakland. Not only is this land underused, it serves as a significant barrier between the Gold Coast and the restaurants and shops on 17th and 19th streets, discouraging walking (especially at night) through the ghost-town of empty parking lots.
The point is, Downtown Oakland should not resemble a strip mall. Luckily, there are numerous infill projects in the pipline to make better use of this land and connect the Gold Coast and other affected areas with one another. But, there is still a lot of room for improvement. If I was working in the Oakland Planning Dept., this would be my number one priority to remake downtown into a truly urban environment with a unified set of neighborhoods.