Monday, June 15, 2009

I Don't Know What This Means, But I Don't Like It

I was listening to NPR in the car on the way home a couple of days ago, and in the local newsbreak between national segments, the news reader told us that someone in Boston's Back Bay had just bought the city's most expensive parking space. It's down by the Boston Common, outdoors and uncovered in the alley behind Commonwealth Avenue. The sale price was $300,000.

A whole bunch of things ran through my mind when I heard this. Although it was called Boston's most expensive parking space, I would hope that it might be the most expensive parking space in America, perhaps in the world -- it would be disturbing to think of one that cost even more. And I was trying to imagine the kind of car one would have to own to justify that cost; the Back Bay is lousy with assorted masculine-compensation cars, Ferrari and Bentley and Maserati, but if you were really worried about your car, you wouldn't leave it exposed in a public alley. On the other hand, I can't imagine parking my Civic in a $300,000 parking space.

I thought about my emotional reaction to paying that much money for a convenience, investing the equivalent of five or six experienced high school teachers' salaries for a parking spot. I also thought about the price of condos down in that neighborhood: if someone owns a five million dollar apartment (not unusual there), then this parking space accounts for six percent of their overall housing costs. A suburban garage is far worse in terms of proportion, and its associated house and driving patterns might be worse overall in terms of environmental impact. Maybe this is what the green solution looks like...

And I thought that this is a person or family for whom the price of gasoline is no barrier to behavior. If they were driving a Hummer H2 and gas were $8.39 a gallon, it would still represent a trivial expense in their lives.

So I don't know what a $300,000 parking space means. I feel like it's this week's Sign of the Apocalypse, but for reasons that are more complex than I first thought.

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