There’s Not Enough Parking! Knoxville Celebrates Park(ing) Day

Parking Day, Courtesy of Oren Yarbrough

It’s a constant refrain in cities around the world: There just isn’t enough parking. What it generally means is one of two things or a combination of the two: “I don’t know where to find parking,” and “I want to park beside the place I plan to go.” Granted, parking beside the place you want to go may not happen. But is there enough parking? How much is enough? What impact does parking have.

Let’s look at it from several directions. Did you know that inside the city limits of Knoxville, we devote 5,000 acres to parking? That doesn’t include car lots. It doesn’t include the other space we devote to cars, AKA roads. It doesn’t include space lost to right-of-ways or to car repair shops and it doesn’t include the rest of Knox County.

How much is 5,000 acres? Consider the two graphics below. One has a 5,000 acre circle and the other illustrates it another way. Our small city has the parking equivalent of six Central Parks. Oren Yarbrough puts it another way, “It is enough to encompass all of UT Campus, Downtown, North Knox, and the South Riverfront combined.”

Graphic Showing the Portion of Knoxville that Is Taken by Parking, If It was All Collected, Courtesy of Oren Yarbrough

Knoxville Parking Equals Six Central Parks, From Pecha Kucha Presentation by Alli Montgomery and Justin Hare

So, cars are a reality, what are you gonna do, right? They are just part of the city. But how does it alter the city? How does making destination spots for cars impact our space usage? Consider the next two graphics. In the first, you see West Town Mall and its parking lot superimposed on downtown. They are roughly equivalent.

Are we pleased with that? In the second, stunning graphic, look at the three charts and follow what the advent of the car has given us. Black represents buildings, red and pink represents parking and the blue/green represents new construction. Even with downtown’s recent, “boom,” Knoxville is still no where near the dense city it once was, thanks to cars.

Downtown With West Town Mall and Parking Overlay,From Pecha Kucha Presentation by Alli Montgomery and Justin Hare

Downtown Knoxville Building Density and Parking, From Pecha Kucha Presentation by Alli Montgomery and Justin Hare

So, we have an enormous amount of space given over to storing large steel objects every day. And when the parking lots are empty, what is left? A desert of asphalt. A hot, hard surface not hospitable to human habitation, nor friendly to the environment. A wasteland. Most people never think about all this. They just rail against the, “lack of parking.” But then there were a few people who decided it should be underscored.

Knoxville Parking Day 2017, Photos Provided by Oren Yarbrough, Pecha Kucha Presentation by Alli Montgomery and Justin Hare, and Rala

In 2005, in San Francisco, Park(ing) Day was born to bring attention to these simple facts. Three guys, inspired by a similar idea implemented in New York City, took over a parking space in San Francisco, for two hours. Here’s what they did and what happened:

So one day in late September, the group found a parking space in a particularly gray part of downtown San Francisco, and converted it into a mini park. On what had once been concrete, they rolled out living grass, put up a bench, and placed a potted tree. Then they retreated across the street to observe the results, hoping their urban intervention was not an arrestable offense. Within minutes, a man sat down on the bench, took off his shoes, and began to eat lunch. Another person joined soon after, and the two began having a conversation. That’s when Bela and his collaborators knew they were on to something: “We created an opportunity for social interaction that wasn’t there before.”

That was the birth of Park(ing) Day and just a few years later, it has become an international event celebrated on the third Friday in September. It is currently celebrated on six continents, in 30 countries and in 183 cities. There has been a more-or-less informal celebration of the day in Knoxville for the last several years. UT architecture students took over a few spaces downtown. Rala went rogue and did it on their own.

Knoxville Parking Day 2017, Photos Provided by Oren Yarbrough, Pecha Kucha Presentation by Alli Montgomery and Justin Hare, and Rala

Knoxville Parking Day 2017, Photos Provided by Oren Yarbrough, Pecha Kucha Presentation by Alli Montgomery and Justin Hare, and Rala

This year, expect Park(ing) Day to explode on downtown streets. You can see the map below of expected parking spots given over to creative parklets. Presenting sponsors Shannon Foster-Boline Group and Realty Executives Associates came on board. ACS Documents added support and the East Tennessee Community Design Center, the East Tennessee Division of AIA and ASLA of Tennessee have organized it. The city has been a willing partner and the number of spaces has exploded.

Nashville Parking Day, Photos Provided by Oren Yarbrough, Pecha Kucha Presentation by Alli Montgomery and Justin Hare, and Rala

Nashville Parking Day, Photos Provided by Oren Yarbrough, Pecha Kucha Presentation by Alli Montgomery and Justin Hare, and Rala

Parking Day, Dallas, Courtesy of Oren Yarbrough

The Nashville Civic Design Center (coordinators for Nashville Park(ing) Day have also lended support to Knoxville’s efforts. In addition to the fun of experiencing all the creativity on the streets, the groups will also have a friendly competition. The ETCDC will give out three Park(ing) Day Awards at their annual gala: The Meter “Made” Award (the best overall), People’s Choice Award (voting both live and on Facebook) and the Sustainability Award.

It all happens in parking spaces around downtown tomorrow (Friday) from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Blink and it will be gone. I know many people have to work and this makes it impossible to witness the event. Hopefully, next year, the hours can be expanded into the evening so more people can join in the fun. I hope to bring you a look next week. It’s a fun spin on a serious topic.


  1. Shannon kelley says

    There isn’t enough parking. My last two trips downtown, I paid $8 for about an hour and a half and then $7 for less than an hour (approximately 10 minutes). If we were so overrun with excess parking downtown, prices would be lower.

    If you eliminate close parking, what happens to physically disabled people or people with medical conditions that make it painful to walk big distances? Let them eat cake?

    Also, in an area where there’s an abundance of festivals and the like, you need excess parking capacity to deal with the surge of vehicles. You kill off the parking, you’ll kill off the events.

    Just my two cents 😉

    • There is absolutely an abundance of parking. Most people who say that only try one garage. And nobody wants to “take away” parking. Just the surface lots. They’re a waste of space. As for people who are physically disabled and/or can’t walk far, we have a free trolley. However, I’m not sure about the handicap accessibility because I haven’t paid that much attention. Alan, do you know whether they are or not? I know the buses are.

    • That’s hilarious. “OMG, I HAD TO PAY MONEY TO PARK DOWNTOWN!” Sorry, but have you tried parking in any other city in the world? But seriously, you overpaid for a spot where ample cheap parking is available. You could have went to any of the city-owned lots and paid far less than what you claimed to have paid. Of course, you may have had to walk more than 2 minutes, so clearly that was a hardship impossible to overcome (/s).

      • Dave.

        Ugly sarcastic response. Also, I paid what I said I paid. I didn’t mind the walking, now that I’m healthy again, and I wouldn’t have minded more of it.


        Nice response. When I’m on the Henley side of Market Square, I don’t really know where to go. Thanks for the information.

        I’d be interested in seeing data from parking during events. I hear the anecdotal evidence all the time.

    • You obviously used private parking lots which often charge exorbitant fees. If you had used one of the City of Knoxville’s garages or lots, you would have paid about $2.00 or less for each of the trips you described. Here is a list of City of Knoxville-owned parking options so you can learn about them — click on the name of each one for more details about hourly rates during the business day. And of course, they’re free on weekends and at night.

  2. Interesting that this is on the same VP Pence will be downtown and so much parking is being taken away from many of us who work downtown so that Pence can visit the Plaza Tower Bldg. and let’s no forget the blocks that will closed along with all the prohibited pedestrian traffic.

  3. Beautiful article. Thanks. Pontevedra in Spain just banned all cars downtown in order to create a wonderful place for human interaction. Why can’t we do that here? We don’t even have to build anything. Just remove the parking and WE will come. It’s been done many times in many places with great success. A small starting point would be Gay Street between Mast General Store and the East Tennessee History Museum. What would this cost? A handful of parallel parking spaces. What would be the benefit? A huge expansion of the space for real interaction among residents and visitors to Knoxville. Don’t wait. Do it now!

    • completely agree. the best times of the year are when Gay St is limited to pedestrian traffic–i.e., no vehicles. So much nicer.

    • I noticed no difference in downtown traffic when the main part of Gay Street was closed for crosswalk construction for several weeks over the summer.

      In terms of cost/benefit ratio, I can’t think of single thing that would be better for the city than making Gay St. pedestrian only. At least on the weekends!

      • I work downtown on a daily basis. The closure of Gay Street was felt pretty strongly. There’s no reason to close Knoxville’s most famous thoroughfare.

    • Actually, they banned cars in certain areas of the city (not all of downtown) and limited parking–

  4. Less parking, more Uber.

  5. PARK(ing) Day Knox Team says

    Just to clarify, the event will be happening on Gay Street between Union Ave and the 100 Block. The street WILL NOT be closed to vehicular traffic for the PARK(ing) Day Event.

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