By Angie Eikenberry and Dale Rabideau
The Apr 11 Omaha World Herald editorial, Downtown jobs critical for momentum, raises some good questions. Citing a 2013 Brookings Institution report, the editorial notes that “Of 58 midsize metros, we ranked 46th in percentage of jobs in the inner core,” which is near our ranking of 41st largest city in the nation and better than our ranking as 59th largest metropolitan statistical area. Definitely room for improvement but no need to ring the alarm bells.
OWH mentions continued momentum as a primary goal to continue the renaissance downtown. The original Renaissance came about by new thinking, new attitudes, and new directions of investments. If Omaha really wants a renaissance, it will require continuing to question old ways and to seek new ideas and best practices for a better tomorrow.
We can start by questioning the out-dated and mistaken assumption that more parking means more jobs. A recent University of Connecticut study found that as cities increase parking availability, the number of jobs and people actually decrease in the downtown area. More parking does not equal more jobs.
Rather, what is required for job growth, according to the same Brookings report cited above, is “denser forms of development…that allow for more effective connections between people and jobs, as do comprehensive development plans that explicitly link up jobs, housing, and transportation.” People in a great city move and interact differently than people in a suburb. Increased chances for interaction come about in a diversity of places to meet; and through walking, mass transit, bicycling, and other human-active modes that provide more efficient and valuable options for the use of space and sustainability — compared to single occupancy vehicles.
Further, should the community build and pay for more parking when a recent study found that even on peak weekdays only 56% of the total parking supply in downtown Omaha is utilized?
A suburban parking mindset will keep Omaha from becoming a great city with a great city’s attributes — in distinction to a big town with suburban attributes. The leaders of ConAgra are leaving, not because of lack of parking, but to attract and retain talent; research continually shows that young professionals and others want more walkability and better transportation options in the places they work and live.
It is up to us and city leaders to articulate a vision and engage those with different views. Letting last century’s car-centered views drive the future towards short term gains shows a lack of vision. Our city doesn’t need to approve every land development and building proposal, especially if their requirements are at odds with a more sustainable vision. We can create an actual renaissance in thinking and action by building a people-centered, rather than car-centered, place to live, work, and play.
Note: This is a longer version of a letter sent into the OWH Public Pulse (the OWH was not accepting Op-Eds on this topic). You can send in your own letter here.