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Street Talk

Pity the poor parking meter, maybe no downtown device is more despised. It is just a machine, like a cooking timer on a steel pole. Water Valley at one time had parking meters on Main Street. I’m not sure exactly when they went up or when they came down, but you can still see the locations. Look for the pipes cut semi-flush with the sidewalks. I’ve seen these parking meter stand pipe holes creatively re-purposed to hold flag poles.  

 Now one would think the first parking meters might have started in a congested grid east coast city where parking is a premium. Not so, the first meters were designed and made and used in Oklahoma, first installed in Oklahoma City in 1935.  So, blame the Okies. Having lived in Oklahoma for some years, I can say Okies have had their fair share of good ideas and bad ones, just like anyone else. 

I’ll give the original parking meter guys from Oklahoma State University (yes, two engineering professors designed those first meters) good marks for style. If you look at early images of those original parking meters, they are clearly designed in an “Art Deco” style. The term Art Deco comes from the French term “Arts Decoratifs.”

 Art Deco was a stylistic movement that espoused luxury, glamour, and exuberance combined with a strong belief in social and technological progress. Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that parking meters could do that.

 Art Deco as a visual art and design movement influenced the design of buildings, furniture, jewelry, automobiles, trains, ocean liners, and more mundane things like toasters and vacuum cleaner and yes, parking meters. You don’t think of Art Deco as being in Oklahoma, but it was in the 1930s. Oklahoma had money via oil, both OKC and Tulsa were booming places. Big money and big optimism.

Just last week I heard three tales of woe by Yalobushians who had parking meter experiences. They were all cited with parking violations in Oxford. All of them got a nice note on their car saying that they owed the City of Oxford ten dollars. All told me they had “fed” the meters, but went overtime and got cited. And all were not happy either. I mean ten bucks is ten bucks and that will still buy a sandwich, maybe. It is a little bit of money, but it brings a pessimism.

 The theory behind parking meters is they are used to regulate parking and traffic enforcement and not add to a city’s revenue. Merchants, realizing the value of parking spots near their businesses, liked the idea of preventing one car from parking the whole day in one spot. On the other hand, if parking meters and their associated parking tickets make customers mad, like the three stories I heard last week, meters are not doing their businesses any good.

If people would be mindful in their parking habits, relative to the value of those spots to local businesses, it would be much simpler. Meters are a poor solution for a courtesy problem, for the longer term effect of meters is to drive people off figuratively and literally, one citation at a time. I’m glad the meters in the Valley are long gone.

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