Parking Lots: An Investigation of Public Space in the Contemporary American City

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Mayer, Madelaine Rose
Dagenhart, Richard
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The surface parking lot was a key element in the destruction of traditional public space. It fragmented the fabric of traditional cities, prompting the sprawl of twentieth century cities and suburbs. The automobile permitted the average individual, for the first time in history, to move through public space insulated in a private shell, shielded from strangers and protected from undesirables. Consequently, the role of the sidewalk dwindled. The automobile and the parking lot dominated the pedestrian and the sidewalk, whose diminished vitality further encouraged widespread automobile use. As a result, the parking lot became one of the defining features of the American city. In the United States parking lots are expected to be utilitarian, prevalent and free. Even as traditional public spaces disappeared, there was little demand for new public spaces, particularly not in the parking lot. Through investigations of parking history and public space, this thesis argues that parking lots, by virtue of their visual and physical accessibility, are contemporary public space. Although they are singular in their use, in contrast to the multifaceted street, parking lots are the settings for modern public life. This thesis further asserts that the simple landscape of the utilitarian parking lot can be transformed into complex public space, thereby enlivening the public realm.
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