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Published March 10 2014

Forum editorial: Don’t get stalled by parking

Fargo commissioners and planners would do well to heed the caution of Commissioner Mike Williams, who is concerned by what appears to be too much emphasis on parking lots near the proposed new City Hall. Preliminary plans for the building’s footprint and design got an OK last week, along with a spread of parking lots in, as Williams put it, “the epicenter of our civic quad.”

There’s no argument about the need for parking capacity of some kind in the redesigned downtown civic complex. Parking must be considered, but so must other design amenities that will make the spaces near the new City Hall pedestrian-friendly and as green as possible. Diminishment of that aspect of the new civic area undermines planning concepts that are in play from Broadway to the civic plaza to the Red River. In that forward-thinking scenario, accommodating the automobile at all costs would be a mistake.

Parking is a perennial problem in downtown Fargo. It’s been that way for years and will continue to be an issue as downtown development expands. It’s a good problem to have. More and more people live, work and play downtown. They keep coming because downtown is more of a destination than it’s been in over a generation. It follows that parking space will be stressed, even if (when) the city constructs multi-level parking ramps. Parking space must be addressed, but it should not be the overriding obsession of urban planners and policy makers.

Furthermore, find another mid-sized regional city that does not have parking issues downtown, and it is likely its downtown is dead or dying. Any city that has seen a downtown renaissance, as Fargo has, struggles with parking because people have returned in droves to vibrant and historic central districts. It’s an opportunity to cobble together creative solutions – ramps, underground garages, raised structures with parking beneath – that might be expensive, but in the long run are smart investments.

Fargo can do it better, do it right. The City Commission should not endorse a vista from a new City Hall plaza that features just another sea of parked cars. Commissioner Williams’ caution is justified.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.