When Paving Paradise Means Putting Up A Parking Lot, It’s Not Easy

performer Joni Mitchell on stage with guitar
Joni Mitchell 1983 photo by Pino D'Amico is licensed under CC BY 2.0 Deed
Joanie Mitchel's protest song, "Big Yellow Taxi" was about tacky modern culture. It featured a parking lot as the ultimate destruction of the quality of modern life.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot . . .”

Joanie Mitchell’s famous words featured ‘paradise’ destroyed by car culture. Times have changed, and parking lots have earned a reprise as specialized parking that can rescue individuals and families from homelessness.

Parking lots? Where else might you find the space to shelter the unhoused who are clinging to a home in the guise of a vehicle that they still manage to own?

Sure, the wide open, sparsely occupied American Southwest might produce enormous living spaces to shelter a vehicle with a family hoping to save the most valuable item they own, clunky, rusty and old that it might be. But wide open desert spaces provide no jobs or essential services such as schools, food stores, and so on. It is civilization — towns and cities — that offer these necessities of life.

And those towns and cities have been wrestling with how to support the almost-unhoused, who park their vehicles on residential streets. There, they indulge in necessary yet entirely unacceptable practices, such as turning storm sewers, which are for flood runoff, into sanitary sewers for human waste.

And so Bellevue, Washington has opened a parking area with essential supports for some of the people who are living in their vehicles. Bellevue is a year late in opening this facility. The problems it has had to face in the process makes worthwhile reading for any city that is facing a similar need.

Read more in The Urbanist: Bellevue’s Safe Lot for Unhoused to Open After Long Delay