By Colby Cosh
A few weeks ago, Edmonton’s council voted to remove all minimum parking requirements from real-estate developments in the city, which becomes the first in Canada to do this. Builders will, once the relevant bylaws are squared away, be free to use their own judgment in allocating parking to housing units and offices. If they choose, they can have none of it.
This was possible partly because Edmonton’s old parking requirements were absurdly grandiose. (Among its other distinctions, the city, thanks to its flagship shopping mall, is home to the world’s largest parking lot.) But it is also a triumph, in a most unexpected place, for a little band of intellectual guerrillas sometimes called the Shoupistas. They are the followers of Donald Shoup, an 81-year-old UCLA economist and urban planner who is considered the Sir Isaac Newton of parking.
Parking — boring topic, ain’t it? Shoup latched onto it as a young-ish man because he was a follower of Henry George (1839-1897), the intriguing “single tax” economic theorist of the 19th century. George favoured a tax on the unimproved value of land parcels as a way of socializing pure rent (the value earned from occupying a mere location) and encouraging development. It is a concept that many economists still like, although it is potentially difficult to apply at scale. The widely used concept of tax increment financing is one example of Georgism in practice.
Shoup started out trying to fit parking spaces into the Georgist picture, but the boring topic was so underexamined that he found himself having to build a general theory of parking. He quantified the relationship between parking and traffic, finding that people “cruising” for parking spots were more destructive than anyone had imagined, and he inspired waves of research into the hidden…