Real Talk: How Much Power Does the City Really Have to Do Away With the Downtown Parking Glut?

There’s been a lot of griping from this and other sites about how the overabundance of surface parking lots in downtown Minneapolis is destroying the character and potential of what should be our city’s densest neighborhoods. This blog has paid a lot of attention to the Downtown East corridor in particular (between the Metrodome and the business corridor—see here and here and here if you’re new around these parts).

There have been indignant calls for someone to do something about all of these parking lots, because, well, just look at them! They’ve been called blemishes, scars, deserts, seas. Writers have scoured their thesauruses and dug deep into their collective Bag of Metaphors trying to figure out different ways of saying the same thing: Something Is Wrong Here. And usually, in our desperation, we appeal to the only “someone” we believe has the resources and the power to do something about the problem: “the City,” with a capital C.

But here’s the complicating factor at work that usually ends up going unacknowledged in these pleas: When all of these parking lots are privately owned by people who can, by law, do with the land what they please (with a few restrictions of course), what tools does the city actually have at its disposal to alter the way this land is used?