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Openness and Innovation

How can parking be the same, and yet so different, in every community?

Whether the community is a downtown or a university or a medical campus (or any number of other specialized environments), its fundamental parking elements are essentially the same. Yet the dynamics of special operational considerations, economics, politics, social factors, historical context, and even individual personalities combine to create an almost infinite variety of unique combinations that make every parking program a case study in uniqueness.

Sometimes the defining characteristic can be a lack of management when small communities are just evolving to the point where growing demand is creating the need for basic parking management. Other programs are characterized by a hardening of the arteries and a lack of vision or innovation. Still others are choked by a fragmented or dysfunctional organizational structure. On a more positive note, we also have an increasing number of examples of programs that have evolved into well-developed and sophisticated access management programs in which a broad range of parking, transportation alternatives, planning, and economic development strategies are effectively integrated to help support and advance a community’s larger strategic goals.

After many years of evaluating parking programs all over the country, I have learned a few simple, but important lessons.

One of these is to value your first visit to a new place–you will never get a second chance to experience a place for the first time. If you are sensitive to this experience and pay close attention, these initial impressions can be quite valuable.

A second related lesson is to appreciate the unique elements of a new place. It is easy to get jaded by long experience and think you have seen it all. But staying open to new approaches and accepting that there are always new methods, different tactics, and creative new applications of old concepts is critical to staying fresh, perceptive, and creative.

All this reminds me of two old quotes: The first is, “Nothing is stronger than habit.” (Ovid) and the second is, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” (Albert Einstein).

Here’s to keeping an open mind. Cheers.

About L. Dennis Burns, CAPP

L. Dennis Burns, CAPP, is senior practice builder and regional vice president with Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. He is a columnist and frequent contributor to The Parking Professional magazine. He serves on the IPI Advisory Council, the Professional Development Task Force, and the Parking Program/Accreditation Task Force.


  1. Mark Lyons says:

    I like this article. Keeping a fresh and open perspective to solving problems can be a big challenge when you factor in the peripheral players in an organization that don’t carry your skill set and level of understanding. The Einstein quote is great and its an ideology worth considering every time you evaluate any opportunity for improvement. Thanks for the “refresh” Dennis!

  2. Jim Anderson says:

    I enjoyed this post.
    Thoughtful, insightful and well written. I share the feelings about visiting a new place for the first time and the perceptions and realizations. Somewhat like meeting someone new and both making a first impression.
    Enjoy your life experiences, acquaintances and opportunities while keeping fresh and engaged.
    Nice post Dennis. I always enjoy your writings.

  3. Efrem Tennenbaum says:

    I’ve seen parking lots on gravel or lawns (without any striping/signing or fancy control devices) function better than parking lots that claim to be well designed. Communities are different because the culture, demographics, climate and politics there are different too. Promote more mass transit and other modes of travel (e.g. biking) in conjunction with reducing the required parking codes in urban areas, and you will see a drop in the demand for parking. In Zurich, Switzerland, people hardly bring their cars to the downtown area, as it is very difficult to find a spot (if at all). If you were lucky enough to find a spot, you would pay dearly for it. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Karen Berchtold says:

    These are some good insights. I agree with the insight that parking treatment is a key element in one’s initial perception of a community. Both parking function and design need to match the activity and character of the place. Good solutions can range from simple to very complex. Thanks for reminding us of the importance of this topic!

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