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Where’s everyone going to park?

February 27, 2012

One of the benefits of China’s newly-empowered consumer class is its mobility, and specifically, its ability to purchase cars for personal use. That notion is such a given in America that we scarcely even think of it, but in China, it wasn’t very long ago that a car was the possession of only a government flunky, or a super-rich/well-connected/politically powerful individual.

Now, anyone may buy a car – as long as he or she is prepared to deal with the exceptionally high import taxes, artificially high gas costs, and, most potentially prohibitive of all, a complete lack of sufficient space in which to park such cars, at least in the cities.

For the time being, things can go along largely as they have in the past, but what’s happened with increasing frequency is that once-clear sidewalks and promenades have been redeployed as parking lots, often with private attendants managing traffic and collecting fees.

It’s a huge boon to be able to jump in a vehicle and drive in any direction one wants to, but the implications for pedestrians are forbidding – take a look at a formerly-ordinary portion of a normal sidewalk – multiply this effect by thousands throughout the city, and the implications will come into focus:

 

This is one immediate example, but look on the right side of the picture, across the street, and you can see another batch of parked cars occupying what used to be the sidewalk. Once every block in the city takes on this nature, what’s left?

But let the reader be assured that we at Americhinaca will not indulge some lamentation of China’s descent into a purported social and environmental purgatory; we couldn’t be happier with the emergence of China’s middle class, and it’s a success story of amazing proportions – but as always, there are costs, and it’s difficult to avoid wondering where this lack of parking space is going to lead as more and more Chinese acquire vehicles of their very own. 

Will there be more mega-sky rises, this time around for cars? Or massive underground parking complexes? In cities like Dalian, where the bed rock isn’t quite as solid as would be desirable for such projects, there’s nowhere to build but up – or out: could cities in the sea be the next futuristic project? Don’t put it past them: Mencken said that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public; an updated version might tell us that no one has gone broke overestimating the industriousness of the Chinese public.

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