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The Reason Why Old Town Pasadena Is Thriving While Westwood Isn't

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Old Town Pasadena comes out victorious in a battle between them and Westwood Village (Photo by Ken Lund via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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In the '80s, Westwood Village was a destination hotspot that was as popular as Old Town Pasadena is now. Old Town on the other hand had a reputation for being Pasadena's skid row.

The reason? It's all about parking, says Donald Shoup, a recently-retired UCLA professor of urban planning. The author of the influential 2005 book "The High Cost of Free Parking," explained his theory to KPCC.

"In 1980, anyone who predicted that Old Pasadena would soon become hip and Westwood would fade would have been judged insane," according to an article Shoup co-wrote with Douglas Kolozsvari, a former associate planner at the San Mateo County Transit District.

Their argument is that free or super cheap parking isn't a good thing for any city, because drivers will end up circling around looking for spots, clogging up the streets, and causing accidents with pedestrians or cyclists.

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"What underpricing can do, however, and what it does do, is create a parking shortage that keeps potential customers away," according to Shoup and Kolozsvari. "If it takes only five minutes to drive somewhere else, why spend fifteen cruising for parking?"

It all started in 1993 when Westwood Village store owners banded together to drop the price of curb parking in hopes of getting more customers. However, that same year, Old Town Pasadena ended up installing parking meters, and charging what Shoup and Kolozsvari said was the "unusually high rate of $1 an hour." They figured that customers who didn't want to pay the meter fee would ditch the spot and make room for people who were willing to pay, and more likely be willing to spend more money at the stores and restaurants. The district then used the revenue from the meters to beautify and clean up the city, planting trees and adding streetlamps. Basically, it made the village safer and more desirable to visit.

And Westwood Village? Well, let's just say they didn't come out victorious.