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What’s missing from this picture?

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On vacation last month, I ran across a scene that seemed amazing to this Evanstonian. In downtown Holland, Mich., there are no parking meters.

Downtown parking is available to shoppers at no charge. There's no limit to how long a shopper can park.

And the business district, at least on the day my wife and I were there, appeared to be booming. Attractive shops, lots of customers, and very few retail vacancies. And there are also parking decks and lots scattered around the downtown area.

On a Friday afternoon, most on-street parking was full, but it wasn't very hard to find an open space.

So how does this college town of 33,000 people do it?

It seems that some years ago the city created a Downtown Development Authority that imposes a tax on downtown property owners to provide parking. 

It also encourages employees of downtown businesses to park in the lots, rather than on the street — and nags them about it with "Customers First!" cards placed on offenders' windshields.

The town also charge a relatively modest fee — would you believe $120 a year? — to downtown residents for overnight parking in the lots.

The fee is so low that for students at Hope College it's cheaper to park downtown than on campus.

With Evanston on the verge of spending big money to replace its aging parking meters, it may be time to look at more radical solutions, like Holland's, to the downtown parking question.

Update 11:45 a.m.: Holland's city budget documents say the Downtown Development Authority tax raised $187,000 in FY2010-11 and $178,000 in FY2011-12. Unclear whether they managed to fund construction of their parking decks from that fund.

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