Park Circa: Can an iPhone App Facilitate More Compact Living?

By Jordan Salinger
April 18, 2011
A new app helps drivers find parking -- and could even make us less dependent on car-based development.
A new app lets SF residents rent out their private parking spots. Photo by Flickr user ehoyer

According to the SFMTA, 30 percent of traffic in San Francisco is simply drivers looking for parking. That’s not just a huge waste of time — it’s also a carbon-emissions nightmare. But new digital tools are helping city dwellers engage with the automobile in smarter and more efficient ways. Last week San Francisco launched extended hours on some SFPark smart parking meters, which aim to use real-time data to reduce the difficulty of finding public parking spaces. And earlier this year, two entrepreneurs launched Park Circa, a smart phone app that makes better use of another urban resource: privately owned parking spots.

Park Circa establishes relationships between car drivers and parking-spot owners, allowing SF residents to charge a minimal fee to park in their driveway or other private space whenever they’re not occupying it. Drivers use the app to select the neighborhood they intend to visit, look at the available spots and make a reservation for a specific space.

Chadwick Meyer, Park Circa's co-founder and CEO, says the most significant challenge facing those looking for parking is not a lack of space but the inability to communicate and coordinate about existing spaces. Armed with the right set of applications on a smart phone, we can eliminate these barriers. “We now have a way to communicate with strangers on a mass scale,” he says. As new technology disseminates information that was previously locked away, virtual communication can shape our physical environment — a fascinating innovation for approaching the challenges of the city.

What would the long-term effects of a successful parking-communications network look like? Meyer admits the most perplexing question he faced in developing the app was whether easier parking would cause people to drive more, essentially ersasing the app's traffic-reduction benefits. But Park Circa stands to have a larger impact as part of the “sharing economy” pioneered by car sharing and co-working. Sharing our limited urban resources isn't just cheap and convenient — it can also help the city retain a more compact urban form. If the Park Circa network succeeds, drivers wouldn’t have to depend as heavily on pay-parking lots and garages, and that could shrink the amount of real estate now devoted to parking. In theory, those parking lots would make ideal targets for future infill development and more effective land use in our cities.