Sacrificing People for Parking
This past summer I noticed a disturbing trend in the local news. The economy is booming and the Bay Area is experiencing a great deal of new construction, but for many people this situation has brought only hardships, displacement, and homelessness.
The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that the Mission Rock homeless shelter was closed and demolished. This shelter was the City's largest, providing housing and other services for more than 500 people. The shelter was torn down so that a parking lot could be constructed for the new Giants ballpark. The City only made token attempts to relocate the shelter, but even without finding an alternative location for the shelter's residence, plans to demolish it were never changed.
In Millbrae, BART is constructing parking garages for Peninsula residents who will be using the new BART extension to commute to the City. These sites originally held the Aviator Avenue and Garden Lane apartment complexes. It's difficult to imagine that a small town like Millbrae could gain more from parking garages than it lost when these apartments, their tenants, and their contributions to the community vanished.
Home Depot is building a new store in East Palo Alto, and in order to provide a parking lot for its customers the residents of a nearby apartment complex were evicted and the apartments were demolished. The residents of these apartments were mostly Hispanic immigrants, many with limited English, who worked in blue collar and service industry jobs. Finding an affordable apartment in the current housing market is already difficult, and locating a rental unit for a family with children is almost impossible.
Many of these families have probably been forced out of the Bay Area, or perhaps have joined the increasingly large ranks of the local homeless population.
The pattern is clear: We have a booming economy but a limited amount of space. Civic leaders, transportation planners, and businesses desperately cling to the outdated notion that they need large numbers of parking spaces in order to make a profit. But the segments of our society that are sacrificing their shelters, rental units, and affordable housing are the homeless, immigrants, and working-class poor. It would be comforting if we could offer these victims of our automobile dependency some justification for their losses, but in the end all we have accomplished is to make our communities less livable for all of us in order to be better suited for our cars. The next time we look for an example of a social injustice, economic victimization, or environmental racism we need only ask who involuntarily sacrificed their homes for the new parking lots.
Thomas S. Harriman
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