No place to park: the epistemology of parking

Before we get into the next chapter in the land use code on parking, let’s talk philosophy.

In the ancient world philosophers and prophets would use everyday things to make their big points about life. Jesus, for example, used the mustard seed parable because presumably his audience was a group of farmers who understood what the mustard plant was all about. It was a shrub. Comparing the Kingdom of God to a shrub would have created some dissonance, what we might call a “teachable moment.”

If people knew the plant well, when Jesus compared it to the Kingdom of God there would have been some confusion and maybe even some anger. Jesus’ use of these controversial images and stories goes part way in explaining why he ended up on a cross.

In any event, if Jesus was doing his thing in Seattle today I have very little doubt that he would tell a parable using parking. I don’t know what it would be. But I am sure it would start with something like “the Kingdom of God is like trying to find a parking spot downtown when there’s a Mariners game . . . ” I am pretty sure that Jesus would get your attention with this opener. And probably would piss some people off.

As philosophy evolved (according to one story), from ancient to modern, we moved from contemplating ultimate reality to something truly bizarre: trying to know how we know things. This uniquely Western obsession, epistemology, is foundational to the way you think. People like us, generally speaking, face every single life question in the following way.

Why are you eating a donut?
Because I like donuts?
Why?
I like the taste.
What’s taste?
It’s that sensation that I get on my tongue when I eat a donut.
How do you know that’s what it is?
I don’t, I just like them. Stop bothering me or I’m going to make you drink hemlock.

The modern American mind has two final resting places to choose from when it comes to settling on how we know what we know. One is the “it feels good, that’s why” place. The other is the “I read about a study in the New York Times, that’s why” place. Each day as you walk through life your brain is sorting into these two piles we’ll call “fact” and the other one “feelings.”

Interestingly we can, upon reflection, easily surprise ourselves by where we land on a topic. Sometimes we can explain, using facts, to our own and other’s satisfaction why we have an opinion about something. Other times we’ll find ourselves flummoxed, running into a dead end of “it just feels right.”

That’s why Jesus would talk about parking. Because the “fact” and “feeling” centers in your brain will start to explode. And that’s where any good prophet or philosopher wants to be, right there in that part of your brain that struggles with sorting out “facts” and “feelings.”

I’ve written about parking before, and my own sordid history with it. When it comes to land use, parking is a real hassle. Land is scarce. Why are we using it to store cars? Obviously there is a demand for parking because we have lots of cars. No cars, no car storage problem. Simply put, a parking spot is a waste of space that should be used more profitably and sustainably than it is as parking. But where do we put cars in the meanwhile?

Put that in your “fact” pile. Now, how do you feel? It might depend on your particular situation. Or it might depend on whether you just spent 20 minutes circling the block looking for a place to park. Your “fact” versus “feeling” conflict might also depend on whether you had to park a half block from where you live because someone from Bellevue is parked in front of your house hanging out at your neighborhood bar around the corner.

What’s the right answer? Facts point to eliminating parking minimums in the land use code, charging for parking in the right-of-way based on supply and demand, and turning much existing car storage into housing and other uses that center on walking, transit, and business rather than cars. Feelings, however, give anyone considering taking those steps a bit of existential nausea. Where will the cars go? What will happen? Who wins and who loses? What if I can’t find a place to park? What if I don’t get re-elected?

These, my friend, are, I would propose, questions not tending to edification.

The Buddha might say that worrying about what happens after we do the right thing about parking is a little bit like a warrior gravely wounded by an arrow refusing help until he knows more about who shot the arrow.

It is as if, Mâlunkyâputta, a man had been wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and companions, his relatives and kinsfolk, were to procure for him a physician or surgeon; and the sick man were to say, ‘I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the man who wounded me belonged to the warrior caste, or to the Brahman caste, or to the agricultural caste, or to the menial caste.’

Or again he were to say, ‘I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt the name of the man who wounded me, and to what clan he belongs.’

Or again he were to say, ‘I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the man who wounded me was tall, or short, or of the middle height.’

Or again he were to say, ‘I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the man who wounded me was black, or dusky, or of a yellow skin.’

Or again he were to say, ‘I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the man who wounded me was from this or that village, or town, or city.’

Or again he were to say, ‘I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the bow which wounded me was a câpa, or a kodannda.’

Or again he were to say, ‘I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the bow-string which wounded me was made from swallow-wort, or bamboo, or sinew, or maruva, or from milk-weed.’

Or again he were to say, ‘I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the shaft which wounded me was a kaccha or a ropima.’

Or again he were to say, ‘I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the shaft which wounded me was feathered from the wings of a vulture

Or again he were to say, “I will not start seriously addressing climate change, dependence on fossil fuels, the impacts of runoff from impervious surfaces, until I have figured out where I am going to park.” 

  Thus spake The Blessed One; and, delighted, the venerable Mâlunkyâputta applauded the speech of The Blessed One.

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One Response to No place to park: the epistemology of parking

  1. Pingback: Chapter 23.54 Quantity and Design Standards for Access and Off-Street Parking | Seattle's Land Use Code

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