The 5 Stages of Grief (That There Isn’t More Parking)

“Nobody goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.” –Yogi Berra

If you have lived in Rochester long enough, you may remember downtown buildings as the businesses that used to occupy them (e.g. Dayton’s, Wong’s, Henry Wellington’s).  And you may remember a time when it was very convenient to drive downtown and park right in front of one of these businesses.   Whether for a night out on the town or a long day at work, in the not too distant past, it used to be very easy and convenient to park downtown.

Nothing gold can stay, I am afraid.

The inevitable creep of increased demand translates into decreased convenience.  Thus many have sworn off “going downtown.”  You may be among the Rochesterites who have spurned the 5 minute walk from parking garage to destination entirely–or God forbid, the 15 minute park and ride shuttle!

It is a reality.  A painful one.  Nowhere is this more prevalent than within the walls of Mayo Clinic, where a virtual “countdown clock” has become ingrained in the culture to know when, in fact, you will have the privilege of a downtown parking spot.

The sheer joy exuding from Ben Thomas as he exclaims waiting, “13 years for THIS” resonated with the thousands of social media viewers.  Euphoria for one individual, but for the rest of us: grief.

Lots of us in Rochester are in the midst of some sort of grieving process.  It isn’t pretty and it feels like it may never end.  However, there is a light at the end of that tunnel.  The following is your guide to understanding where you are in the grieving process and what lies in store for your mental health.


DENIAL – What we really need, is more parking spots.

The stage that many of our public officials seem to be locked into.  The same attitude that perceives Rochester, a sleepy small town that has repeatedly topped Money Magazine’s list of best places to live.  The same attitude that feels the only way to alleviate the wait time for a parking spot as an employee of Mayo Clinic is to add more parking.  Look at the flip side: if tomorrow Mayo Clinic eliminated 100% employee parking, do you think people would stay at home and tell their boss, “sorry, I can’t be expected to get to work if there is no place to park”?  Likely not.  You would figure it out. You would not be happy about it, and maybe you would start sending your resume out to other employers.  But I bet plenty of people need a job more than they need a parking spot.


The denial struggle is real.  But there will NEVER be enough parking for Mayo Clinic employees.  If pizza was free, would there ever be enough pizza?


ANGER – Screw you for saying I can’t have more parking!

Here it comes, the anger.  The frustration.  The personal attacks on my character. Anger is a natural stage in the grieving process.  We must string up our elected officials for not solving this problem for me.  We must write strongly worded letters to the editor.  This stage is all about blaming external forces for the predicament you are in, and it helps to alleviate the pain.

Fortunately, we already have a forum for this: the Internet. And it has no chill.  It doesn’t take a viewing of The Ballad of Billy John to know that the rhetoric within the Facebook and YouTube comments are about as useful to public discourse as a wedgie.  Autobots spewing hate speech without regard or recourse is entertaining, but not constructive.   That is why I won’t be reading any Internet comments on this piece.  If you have something to chat about, let’s sit down and have a cup of coffee.  Like human beings.

Whatever, what do I know.  I don’t have a “physician lead” on this project so already it is suspect.


BARGAINING – I would give anything for a parking spot.

Listen to those words, say them out loud.  Anything?  Really?!

That bargaining is the result of a last ditch effort to try and make some sense of the loss.  A Hail Mary pass to resolve the problem.  The bargaining process is rooted in guilt.  Guilt of not making a better choice when there was time.  Some resort to advocating (or lobbying) the local politicians to solve this problem on your behalf.  That choice is in their hands now, and they may provide you the salvation you desire.

But I think more often it is rooted in your own guilt for putting yourself in a compromised situation.  No other option than to drive…or bargain.


DEPRESSION – Forget it, I am never going downtown again.

Don’t want to carpool?  Not interested in looking up the bus schedule?  It’s cool, the Jimmy Johns delivery guy can wade through the 5 minute rush hour and you won’t have to leave the comforts of home.   This self-perpetuating cycle will make you feel worse about the lack of parking and only reinforce your hermetic lifestyle.

There really is no point in going out.  Well except for the sunshine, and the fresh air, or maybe the elusive double rainbow.  But other than that, outside is overrated.

At this point you are out of options.  I hate to say it, but it may have to come to this stage.  You have to hit bottom before you can transition into the final stage and get on with life.


ACCEPTANCE – Going downtown is not the same anymore.

I am talking about accepting reality.  It is a painful reality, but it is what it is.  I understand the outrage about their lack of convenient parking options.  I completely understand, you are grieving.  And lashing out is often the reaction to that pain of loss.

But there isn’t enough parking.  There will never be enough parking.

Here me out: there will never be enough parking.

What isn’t unique to Rochester, is that there is actually far more parking than there are people.  In America, the estimate is roughly 800 million parking spaces (for a population slightly over 300 million in our country, and far fewer drivers than that).  We don’t have a supply problem.  This is a demand problem.

There is supply and demand, and therefore it acts like a market.  There is a cost for the good (in this case parking).  If the supply is low, and the demand is extremely high, then how can it possibly be free to park for an hour?  Someone is eating that cost, transferring it into a subsidy.  That could be in the form of increased taxes, increased rent, or decreased productivity.  But adding more parking spaces doesn’t change the demand equation because the demand far outpaces the supply.  Demand will always outpace supply when it comes to parking.

As an example of how to create neutrality in that market, the DMC Development plan showed this graphic that demonstrated how many more parking stalls it would take to satisfy the demand.  We, as a community, are making a conscious decision NOT to construct that future.


The sad part is that for the vast majority, there is no alternative.  Decades of infrastructure built around supporting car travel has left little in the way of transit oriented development patterns.  That is the sad part.  We have a virtually non-existent transit system and this disproportionately affects the elderly and the poor.  We have created more and more housing, further and further from the employment centers thus requiring our workforce to own (and maintain) a car.

More collective effort needs to be spent in establishing a robust transportation system, while at the same time we decrease the prioritization of the single occupancy parking trip to downtown.  Accept reality on reality’s terms.  We can never give up the automobile, but it may take a different position in our list of transit options.  As the Med City Beat editor Sean Baker so succinctly explained, “Does this mean drivers will stop parking downtown altogether? No, of course not. But it means Rochester is going to have to develop new and more efficient ways of transporting patients, residents and workers.”

Some are accepting of this new set of constraints.  After all, downtown can never compete against the suburban amenity package.  It should never try to.  It is precisely because of this antithetical positioning relative to the suburb that downtowns are sought after environments for the younger generation (among other demographics).  Those of us who have accepted this reality understand that one of the compromises in order to have a thriving, vibrant, and attractive downtown, is to once and for all give up the expectation of free and convenient parking.

Adam Ferrari

About Adam Ferrari

Adam Ferrari is an Architect living and working in Rochester, MN. He is a passionate advocate for quality design of the built environment and promotes the power of design as a tool to help individuals, organizations, and neighborhoods develop a shared vision of a sustainable future. Adam has a breadth of experience with architecture, urban planning, community engagement, community development, affordable housing development, urban design, economic development, and process design. His firm, 9.SQUARE Community Design, is an outgrowth of his years of work performed in Rochester's neighborhoods, with colleges and universities, as a volunteer with the Minnesota Design Team, and his years with the Rochester Area Foundation. 9.SQUARE was recently recognized as a recipient of the Mayor's Medal of Honor for Industry and has been driving force behind adaptive reuse of historic buildings in downtown Rochester, Minnesota.