The bike arch at Memphis’s Overton Park, north of the Cooper-Young Historic District. Photo via Memphis Cyclist.
Michael Andersen, PlacesForBikes staff writer
Thousands of neighborhoods around the United States were built before cars, and have been working ever since. That’s why it’s a little odd that so many cities have made it illegal to build more like them.
Fortunately, Memphis is one U.S. city that isn’t always so blind to its history or to its present, in which one in five one-person households in Memphis doesn’t own a car.
When cities require every new home and shop to have on-site auto parking, they somehow ignore the fact that 100-year-old buildings in almost every U.S. city and town continue to offer homes, jobs and commercial activity without any on-site parking. That’s thanks in part to the fact that, despite a century of hype, most Americans continue to regularly go places without cars, and many Americans don’t own cars for at least part of their adult life.
As reported Saturday by an editorial in the Memphis Daily News, the Shelby County Board of Adjustment last week approved two new buildings with 25 studio apartments in Midtown’s Cooper-Young Historic District. This wouldn’t have made the news except for one thing: to save space (and therefore cut costs) the building will only have 21 car parking spaces.
Older, sidewalk-facing buildings are one reason the Cooper-Young Historic District is a nice place to stay in the first place.
In the area immediately east of Cooper-Young, 20 percent of one-person households (and 17 percent of all renter households) don’t own cars, according to Census estimates. At some point in their lives, a lot of those people probably have or will. But unless they currently own cars, it’s only common sense that they shouldn’t have to pay for parking they don’t use. And unless some new apartment buildings are built without parking for every single resident (as old ones were), Memphians without cars will be stuck paying for empty spaces.
According to the Daily News, part of the argument for allowing the new buildings was that “Midtown Memphis — and Cooper-Young in particular — has established itself as a bicycle community where many residents rely on bikes as a primary source of transportation.”
Cooper Street, which the buildings would face, got conventional bike lanes in 2012 by removing some parking spaces. They connect eastbound to the bike lanes on Southern Avenue, but don’t yet have a good network link to westward neighborhoods, let alone the truly low-stress biking options that protected bike lanes and neighborhood bikeways could offer.
The Daily News editorial notes that by continuing to improve its biking network, Memphis can make more projects like this one viable. That’s what it’d take to gradually correct the sprawl that makes cars feel like a necessity for so many trips through Memphis.
And if it can prevent neighborhoods like the Cooper-Young Historic District from setting aside more and more space for car parking, it’ll also be keeping them truer to their original — one might say their historic ? roots.
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