Postcard from Pittsburgh
By Arrus Farmer
BADEN-BADEN, Germany - “Yes, we’re going to have to go right to ludicrous speed”
It’s 717 kilometers from Berlin to Baden-Baden, quite the stretch by European standards where culture and language can change from village to village. But the trip is impressive, beautiful countryside, an incredible piece of infrastructure, and a driving culture where the user understands that the right lane is a passing lane. Here driving is a joy, people take pride in their automobiles, and they drive really, really fast. For a person who is unaccustomed to riding at speed of 130 mph+ it can be stressful, especially in those curves that probably should have a speed limit, or a warning sign, or something for the love of god…
Lucky for me, there were a few interesting planning applications along the way which helped to preserve my mental health and overall emotional stability. No matter how interesting though, these distractions could do little to save the door handle which will from now on bare the imprint of my five sweaty fingers.
Like Polka Dots of Civilization
The casino building itself is exquisitely designed and ornamented, such that it resembles a small palace or large mansion of its day. A strict dress code of smoking jackets for men and evening wear for women is equally nostalgic. The interior of the casino is reminiscent to the gambling scenes of James Bond films: 007 could approach the bar at any moment, make eye contact with the stunning vixen across the bar, and gesture to the bartender: “Vodka martini, shaken not stirred.” But there is some other force at work here that makes this scene belong to another time and place: there are no cars.
It’s the Parking stupid
Although the streets bustle with passers by, window shoppers and café goers there seems to be little auto traffic here. The roadways seem secondary to sidewalks and there are far more people than cars about. Around the casino are all of the peripheral uses one would expect, numerous hotels, restaurants, high-end retail. What one may not expect after having visited Vegas or Atlantic City is that folks here walk from their hotels to restaurants, gaming houses, shops and parks. The casino is just another destination in a well planned urban system of public and private spaces.
This pedestrian-friendly environment is made possible in large part due to an extensive network of underground parking garages. There are few surface lots to be found here. Hotels, restaurants, and even public spaces like parks and the successful pedestrian shopping district all stand on top of multiple levels of auto garages.
More than 2,000 spaces are managed by a quasi-municipal parking authority which collects user-fees through numerous automated ticket booths, maintains existing lots and provides parking garage planning, construction, and management services to private developers. Additionally, the parking authority administers a bike rental system with depots located at each of their lots throughout the city. Reasonable hourly and daily rates are made available and paid through the same automated system as the parking fares. Through the provision of these services the Baden-Baden Parking Authority finances maintenance and expansion of their product.
When parking is done right it facilitates design with a different emphasis: a pedestrian emphasis. Fewer cars on the roads mean more room for sidewalks, street-side cafes, playgrounds, and other amenities. Removing the developer’s burden of building parking palettes and seas of surface lots makes it possible for public and private spaces to flow seamlessly and the value of public edges to be captured. (Think of the hotels on Rittenhouse Square. Where would they be if there were 500 spaces separating their front door from the park?) Subterranean parking allows for multiple entrances and exits to public and private space, allowing large uses to be integrated into the city’s fabric. The casino and its supporting hotels and restaurants fit seamlessly into the city’s existing street grid allowing guests and passersby equal access to the private and public amenities offered. The costs of implementing similar systems in the States are often thought to be prohibitive, a visit to Baden-Baden however reveals the invaluable benefits of an effective comprehensive parking plan.
Arrus Farmer is a Robert Bosch Fellow based in Berlin, Germany working in the planning and administration of large scale public-private developments. He holds both a Masters of City Planning and a Masters of Government Administration from the University of Pennsylvania which were completed earlier this year. Farmer has worked with Praxis on a number of civic engagement projects including the Civic Vision for the Central Delaware Riverfront.