Darrell Clarke: I Know Better Than Experts Because I've Been Around Longer


(Thinking about driving to the corner store to pick up 'The High Cost of Free Parking')

Council President Darrell Clarke is a guy who drives to the corner store for his every need, and he's apparently dead serious about passing a bill that would force his preferred lifestyle on more neighborhoods, while meaningfully increasing the cost of new and refurbished housing. 

As we've written previously, Clarke is pushing a bill that would double minimum parking requirements for housing in the city's densest zoning categories (CMX-4, CMX-5, and CMX-2 properties using green roof and fresh grocer bonuses), which tend to be concentrated in exactly the places that are best-served by transit, and where excess parking is the most inappropriate.

For decades, there's been an expert consensus in the Planning profession that minimum parking requirements, while politically appealing, are really bad policy for multiple reasons.

  • They increase the cost of housing, as well as goods and services if applied to commercial uses;
  • They are a regressive redistribution of resources from less wealthy non-drivers to wealthier car owners;
  • They reduce the overall amount of housing that is built, and make neighborhoods sprawl out
  • They act like a fertility drug for car ownership, increasing the number of vehicles at a rate of nearly 1:1

Planners increasingly prefer an approach of unbundling the cost of parking from the cost of housing and goods, so that it's possible for people to purchase only housing or only parking in whatever combination best suits people's needs.

Literally dozens of progressive cities all across the country have been either eliminating or reducing minimum parking requirements.

Philadelphia is on this list as a leader because of the changes we made in the 2012 zoning code. But Clarke wants to take us in the opposite direction of all these cities, and reverse our own progressive achievements from the recent past--even though he's on the record publicly pledging to make Philadelphia a climate leader in the wake of the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. 

Darrell Clarke is not a guy who cares about expert opinion, as he's made clear, and there's been no love lost over the years between Clarke and the Planning Commission.

Flaunting his ignorance of the topic in an interview with PlanPhilly this week, the Council President let loose with one of the most obnoxious tics in Philly politics: I know better because I've been here longer.

“In all honesty, I’ve been around longer than most people over there,” said Clarke, when asked if the Planning Commission helped write the bill. “I hope they’ll engage [by providing hearing testimony in the fall]. But they are also—I hate to use word ‘problem,’ but they are a part of the problem by not reining in some of this overbuilding in these communities.”

You don't need to have professional training to have well-formed opinions on city planning, but Clarke doesn't have a well-formed opinion. He's not even making an argument. He's saying that since he's lived here for longer than some people on the Planning Commission, his opinion automatically carries more weight.

Everybody's heard somebody say this at a local public meeting before ("I've lived here for 20 years...") but it just has no bearing on anything. As Sandy Johnston commented on Twitter, "talking about how long you've been around is a lazy crutch, like referring to having a degree. Let your knowledge [and] ideas stand on [their] own merits."

The reason the City pays professional planners is that this is an actual profession, there are some established evidence-based best practices, and if you want to flout the best practices, you should have some damn good evidence.

But Clarke doesn't care about evidence, proudly, and thinks he knows more than the Planning Commission because he's been located in Philadelphia longer. He hasn't bothered to address any of the criticisms that his bill would make housing more expensive, because he doesn't care, and he seems eager to railroad it through Council in the fall.

Council is off on vacation all summer, but you can still call your Councilmember and let them know where you stand. 

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