The Provo-Student Alliance has recently received a fair amount of attention and press for its efforts to involve students in local activities. While it’s genuinely exciting to see another organization getting students more involved, this particular group is wrong about the very idea it was founded to protect: student parking.
Like many college towns, Provo has serious parking problems. The streets are filled with student cars, which I know frustrates permanent residents. Related to (or possibly stemming out of) this conflict, Provo city has recently pushed a plan to require permits for students to park immediately south of campus.
The goals of the students fighting for the right to park near campus are understandable, but also painfully near-sighted. For one, simply maintaining the status quo will merely postpone inevitable conflict; students will continue to park in increasing numbers on the streets, while residents get angry and city leaders eye student pocket books. This isn’t going to change, especially since BYU slowly increases its enrollment over time. More importantly however, the Student-Provo Alliance is arguing in favor of an activity that is environmentally destructive and practically unnecessary. Driving pollutes, and student cars are typically among the oldest and dirtiest on the road. Accordingly, advocacy of student parking implies advocacy of student driving and, subsequently, of student polluting as well. Though I doubt that many in the Provo-Student Alliance think of the issue in these terms, their agenda will cause lasting and harmful collateral damage to the environment by fighting the curtailment of a destructive activity. Ultimately then, when considered in terms of environmental impact, the students are on the wrong side of the debate when they argue that their own convenience trumps greater responsibility to the environment.
While I suspect that the motivation behind the permit proposal was ill-conceived and largely an exercise in resentment directed against students, the ultimate result of the idea—fewer cars on the streets—is a desirable one. If students are required to buy parking permits, fewer of them will be willing or able to park (though I’d like to see the plan altered to not blatantly favor rich students over poor ones). In the short-term this will create frustration, late nights looking for parking, missed classes, and a multitude of other hardships for students. Basically, it’ll be rough. However, as current students begin to graduate and move on (and take their cars with them), the lack of parking will become simply one of many other considerations new students have to think about. With no place to store cars, fewer students will be able to bring them in the first place. More people will have to walk, bike, or use public transportation. The city will have to adapt planning and zoning practices to a populace that can only travel a few miles, as opposed to one that drives everywhere. With time (at least five or six years, though maybe as much as a generation), the hardships immediately following the permit plan will recede, having become merely growing pains during a time of change.
If the Provo-Student Alliance really wants to help students, it might pause to consider what will be most beneficial to students in five, ten, or fifty years. Unfortunately, driving isn’t that thing. In addition to the many wonderful things that this organization is now doing (things like voter registration drives), it should shift its focus toward reducing students’ need for driving. For example, the Alliance could petition the city for mixed residential and commercial zoning that would allow students to work and play closer to where they live. For it’s part, Provo city could explain their proposals in better terms that demonstrate a benefit to students as well as residents (in the end, the problem with this most recent plan wasn’t so much the idea itself as it was the fact that its branding left it reeking of prejudice). If that happens it’s likely that both long-term residents and students alike will assume greater responsibility for their shared community and our environment.