Standing atop a parking garage in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee today, I had the privilege of joining a discussion with locals about the proposed re-vitalization of Chattanooga’s central business district.

The group was brainstorming ideas of how to draw more people to downtown Chattanooga. The potential remedies? Unique local shopping, a corporate magnet like Target or Whole Foods, a theater district, a museum. Beneath these solutions, however, lies a make-or-break practicality: parking. In a society that on the whole depends on the automobile as its sole means of transportation, could the convenience or inconvenience of parking influence one’s decision to travel downtown?

I’d say yes, it does– and I say this primarily because of my extensive suburban exposure. I’ve never lived in a location I could consider to be “downtown,” and live in a city (Austin, Texas) that does not have, in my opinion, a convenient or adequate mass transit system. Traveling downtown for me is complicated. Parking spots are usually hard to come by, unless I choose to park in a garage, which can cost over $10. Nearly every street is lined with parking meters, and I (like most people my age) rarely carry enough change to afford over half an hour at a meter. While I’m willing to make this work and pay the price to be downtown, I’m fairly confident a portion of the suburban dwellers being lured to downtown by whatever means may not believe these inconveniences are worth the effort.

That’s why I believe parking– affordable, convenient parking– is a priority in urban redevelopment. It’s important to ensure visitors from all walks of life will be comfortable with a convenient parking solution that won’t “scare them away” from downtown.