I overheard a conversation earlier in the month by someone who felt frustrated with Easter mass because so many people go and there's not enough parking spaces, so she had to get there extra early for a choice space. A lot of urbanists write about their distaste for laws requiring minimum parking spaces, often arguing that stores, apartment buildings and restaurants have more spaces than they need and would build fewer if the law didn't require them to. Churches are one institution that get a lot less attention.

I went to a Catholic school from Kindergarten through 8th grade. The school was part of a parish that also had a sizable church. It also had a huge surface parking lot (probably 50-60% of the parish's land was set aside for this parking lot).

During recess, the teachers would take the kids outside and we would run around in the parking lot . There were balls and such, so you could play touch football or kickball or foursquare. But there was no playground and no ball field. The public school down the street, on the other hand, had both of these, even though they had about the same amount of total land. I outlined both on this satellite map.

(click to zoom-in)

It never struck me until just recently that my school probably didn't get a proper ballfield or a playground because there was no space - that huge parking lot was deemed as more important use of land.

Why? Probably because Sunday churchgoers argued that they needed a place to park, or else they wouldn't be able to attend services. I suspect, in any case, that many of these churchgoers lived within walking distance of church, but chose to drive because it was so easy (and yes, I'm accounting for the disabled or elderly here). Plus, what about funerals and other occasional events that require ample parking?

If that parking lot didn't exist, motoring churchgoers would have had to park on residential sidestreets, which would have probably upset the neighbors, who might eventually have lobbied the city government to ban all church parking. So in order to appease the right people, the church simply provided as many parking spaces as they could squeeze onto their parcel of land.

Who paid for that parking? The kids did, it seems. 5 days a week, they didn't get to enjoy proper play area so that for 1 day a week there would be sufficient room for church-attending motorists. The kids, of course, had no say in this. Most of them (myself included) never even realized what was going on.

It's just another example of the tradeoffs that have to be made when people demand that something of value be provided unconditionally for "free".


    On April 23, 2012 Anonymous said...

    Seems that the carpark could have been repurposed relatively easily - a few trees and some ballgame linemarkings for during the week, and used as parking on the Sunday.

    Or, the residents near the church could just manage having some cars parked in their street once a week - 'their' street is also a public street, after all...

    On April 25, 2012 Anonymous said...

    When I was growing up with called it the schoolyard, and let church-goers park there on Sunday. I don't know what the writer thinks is a "proper playground." We played in the schoolyard (like "Me and Julio"), played stickball in the street in front of our houses, and played in our backyards. All of these were considered "proper playgrounds."