Bill Fulton | @BillFultonvta | September 29, 2015
You may have noticed a lot of publicity in the last couple of weeks about a new study from the Kinder Institute saying there’s plenty of parking in Rice Village.
I’m a little surprised that we didn’t get more play in the National Enquirer or on television tabloid programs because I assumed in the public’s mind “plenty of parking in Rice Village” would be about as believable as “alien spaceships land atop Williams Tower.”
But to my surprise, everybody seems to believe us. The problem, as we showed with rigorous research in our study, isn’t that Rice Village lacks enough parking. In fact, at any given time, there are about 1,000 empty parking spaces within walking distance of Rice Village’s most popular businesses.
The problem, as our study showed, is that the parking is poorly managed. Drivers all but shoot at each other for free spaces right in front of the businesses and restaurants they want to patronize. But lots and garages a block or two away are unavailable to the public, expensive to park in or unknown to the average driver.
I think it’s fair to say as well that even in a business district that ought to be very pedestrian-friendly, walking a block or two in Rice Village is not a very pleasant experience because of the condition of the sidewalks and crosswalks.
The Rice Village parking question is being forced at the moment because the City of Houston is considering installing parking meters, but our report also suggests that there are other tools available. A management district, for example, could help manage parking better, direct funds toward better pedestrian infrastructure and even help businesses increase their sales.
We’re not sure what happens next in Rice Village. We’re working with property owners (including Rice), merchants and nearby residents to see what the next steps might be. But the Rice Village study highlights two important points about how the Kinder Institute is helping Houston with the transition to a much more urban place.
First, the study highlights the transition of Rice Village from a neighborhood shopping district – a place people drive to in their cars to run errands – into a true urban mixed-use district, where people stay a long time, engage in many activities and often live just a short walk away from their daily errands.
And second, the study highlights the need for rigorous and objective research in order to help manage that transition. For decades, people have been fighting about parking in Rice Village and everybody assumed that somebody should spend a lot of money to build a parking garage. Our Rice Village study showed the problem has not a “hard” solution (more structures) but a “soft” solution (better management), which might require more coalition-building but will cost a lot less money – and actually solve the problem.
This is the business the Kinder Institute is in: finding problems associated with the urban transition, conducting research to show what’s really going on and what’s needed and working with the stakeholders to find a solution.
That’s part of the reason we joined the recently created MetroLab Network, a network of research partnerships between cities and universities. And it’s part of the reason why we created the National Education Research-Practice Partnership Network, the equivalent organization for research partnerships between school districts and universities.
The Rice Village study is just one small example of how the Kinder Institute is making a difference by illuminating the transition to a more urban Houston and helping to build a better city in the process.