Source: Garden Cafe.
I went to a garden party last weekend. Literally, a garden party. I had dinner on the patio of the vegetable garden of the Garden Cafe in East Dallas. What once was a rundown, dilapidated, decaying (you get the idea, right?) old shopping center is now a neighborhood gem serving breakfast, lunch and, by pre-arrangement, dinner, with meals of some of the freshest local produce around.
After the jump, what's wrong with this picture?
Irritatingly, the Garden Cafe's success is being handicapped by local zoning laws. Supposedly, the story goes, that garden patio would have been turned into a seating area more suited to year-round use, except for a City of Dallas regulation that would have required the restaurant to provide more parking. The Garden Cafe could have, I suppose, paved the vegetable garden, but instead wisely chose to leave their additional seating area a patio, suitable only for fair weather.
America's zoning laws regarding parking are ass-backward. Typically, they require builders to provide a minimum amount of parking, say one stall for each 200 or 300 square feet of building space. The idea seems natural. If the restaurant doesn't provide parking, cars spill out into the surrounding neighborhood, creating a nuisance. (That's right -- cars are a nuisance, but we keep on subsidizing them.) Paradoxically, overparking forces development to spread out, increasing demand for cars and killing the charm of the neighborhood the regulations were designed to preserve.
Those minimum parking zoning laws are a kind of tax on developers, subsidizing cars. Those streets that we don't want people parking on were also paid for with tax dollars, another subsidy for cars. You might think free marketers would be all for eliminating such hidden taxes and letting the free market decide how much parking is needed. You'd be wrong, although there are some signs that cities, even Dallas, are rethinking their position. They still have it upside down, however. Instead of just relaxing the requirement to provide, say, one parking space per 300 square feet of store instead of one space per 200 feet required now, they maybe ought to put a *maximum* on the amount of parking allowed. Force developers to create denser, more walkable developments. Maybe a generation or two of subsidizing walkability instead of cars might bring a welcome balance to our cities.