We drove to a performance at the Arsht Center the other night and arrived late because we were stuck in a traffic jam of people coming to this show or to another event at the Arena nearby. Everyone was jockied into parking lots in a remarkable drill-team effort. Apparently, this happens every evening on the weekends. When we came out after the show, I couldn’t find the car. Although I remembered the view of the building from the place we had hurriedly parked, I took off walking in the wrong direction and finally realized I had led my family to the wrong parking lot. So, where the heck is the car?
The Arsht Center was built to give Miami a ‘world-class’ performing arts venue and to anchor revival of a run-down district on the wrong side of the highway. I remember the peep-show, XXX video shop across the street from the spanking new opera house. Now - nothing but parking lots. Where are the restaurants and nightclubs? Perhaps they are coming.
Many have criticized the developers for not building a large enough parking garage, just as they are criticizing the new ballpark for the same thing. So there’s the solution? – bigger garages – probably as big as the buildings they serve – a shadow building designed for the traffic jam before and after a performance. However, some planners say that market forces will take care of the problem. A calculation of land values and the fee one can charge for parking will induce an entrepreneur to invest. That’s what happened here. The land values and parking revenue for weekend events are not high enough to warrant more than a surface lot. So that’s what we have. The peep show couldn’t compete.
Back to my story: I felt lost and stupid, standing there trying to make sense of streets and pavement and chain link fences. Oh dear. I looked back toward the Arsht Center. It looked as it had when we arrived. Oh my. Now I’m really lost.
The Arsht Center designer, César Pelli wanted consistency on the outside to create a coherent object. Many buildings look the same on all sides, like Palladio’s Villa Rotonda and the Beineke Library and Louis Kahn’s library at Exeter. At least the Villa Rotonda has entrances on all sides. The others do not. So how are you supposed to find the door? When approaching, you have to look around you for orientation to remember which side is which. Then hold on to that geographic information in spite of the architecture.
But all I could see was parking lots. So I confessed my sorry situation to one of the attendants, who asked how much I had paid. Then, he pointed me in the right direction. How curious. The attendants all know each other's prices. They know which lots fill up first and which are favored by regular customers. So it’s a little business ecology based on parking real estate. I tried to imagine how a restaurant might fit into this niche, like an alien species in a mono-culture. At first, it would have to receive a huge pulse of people before and after the show, with no one in between, like a lunchtime rush. If other restaurants and late-night martini bars and such joined, then maybe the rush would be spread out and some people would arrive a few hours before the show or leave a few hours later, easing the traffic jam. With people on the streets, perhaps some might want to live nearby, or take the metro because the walk was less creepy. Perhaps that’s how an urban fabric might rise up out of the asphalt. The businesses might raise land values until it might be profitable to build a parking garage that would charge a hefty fee, thus encouraging people to arrive by metro, and so forth. That’s how market forces should work.
Eventually I found the car, and took my place in another 20-minute traffic jam, trying to pick up my family and get out of there. At that point, any thought stopping for a nice dessert downtown had long been banished. Let’s just go home. The city hasn’t happened yet.