I live in a city and I own a car, so parking is never far from my mind.

Will I get a space in front of the house? Is it worth driving downtown, or should I take the bus? Do I have to parallel park if I want to try that new Thai place? (If the answer to the latter is yes, we're ordering in.)

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.


Just a few months ago, if you'd have asked me about free parking, I wouldn't have had a strong opinion.

I'd probably shrug and say something to the effect of, "It's good, I guess."

And, on the surface, what's not to like? It's convenient. It's time-saving. It makes neighborhoods accessible and encourages travel.

Free parking is all of this and more. But, sadly, it's also not actually free.

GIF from "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."

My wife heard a report on the radio about the hidden costs of free parking and came home fired up. "You have to look into this," she said. So I did. And I couldn't believe what I found.

As it turns out, free parking costs drivers and non-drivers a substantial amount of money.

Listen close because I'm about to reveal some huge secrets, and I might change your mind about free parking while I'm at it. Here's what you need to know:

1. Land: They paved paradise and well ... it wasn't great.

In most U.S. cities, parking is the single biggest land use. Not parks. Not schools. Not small businesses. Nope, all that land is going to paved beds for sleeping cars.

In fact, nearly 200 square miles (or 14%) of incorporated land in Los Angeles County, California, is devoted to parking spaces. That's more than 18 million spaces or just over three for each automobile registered in the county. But Los Angeles isn't the only place where cars at rest have created a serious problem.

Overall, there are approximately eight parking spaces for each car in the U.S. according to a report published in 2010. That's wild! And while the number of local spaces per car depends on the community, many spaces actually go unused fairly often.

As more and more people move to cities (the United Nations estimates 66% of the world's population will live in urban areas by 2050), this is going to be a big problem because congestion, traffic, and space will be of the utmost importance.

So yeah, free parking is a terrible use of space and keeps communities from achieving the mixed-use buildings our urban future requires.

Photo by iStock.

2. Hate traffic? Free parking isn't helping.

When gas prices go up, people think twice about driving. They might start to carpool, consider taking the bus, or even ride their bikes. (Hats off to those brave commuters.)

But we don't treat parking like gasoline, which is kind of weird. Most destinations offer it for free, and when they don't, there's often street parking close by. This encourages drivers to circle their destinations, looking for free or reduced parking. An estimated 30% of cars driving in central business districts are actually looking for a place to park. It wastes time and gas and increases harmful emissions.

So, yeah, free parking is also messing with the environment. Still on the free parking train? Just wait.

3. Free parking is paid for by everyone, and people who don't drive essentially pay twice.

Many cities require new buildings to offer off-street parking. It gives these stores, restaurants, and businesses a larger footprint. And this leads to sprawl, which is a big challenge for anyone who doesn't drive or can't afford to drive. Don't believe me? Take a city bus across town.

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

Plus, the store or business has to foot the bill for the parking lot, and that fee is often passed on to their customers in higher priced goods or services. So when you buy your milk at the grocery store, you're paying for the privilege to park out front, even if you walked there.

Starting to hate free parking? Yep.

4.  If we're not thinking about parking, we're not thinking about the future.

As writer Emile Rusch of the Denver Post said, "The future of parking is no parking."

Hear me (and her) out: As populations move toward more urban centers, something else is moving with them — technology. Autonomous cars, an idea once relegated to a Jetsons-like pipe-dream, are making their way into our communities.  Luxury automaker Volvo recently announced it'll have autonomous cars on the road by 2021. And Uber is testing pilot models.

Uber is preparing for the autonomous vehicle revolution with pilot models of their self-driving cars. Photo by Angelo Merendino/AFP/Getty Images.

These self-driving cars will open up new opportunities for ride-sharing. Users could conceivably request a car; work, read, or relax on their commute; and have it drop them off at their destination. Just one shared autonomous vehicle could take as many as 11 cars off the road. It also frees up their parking spaces.

Photo by iStock.

Some cities are preparing for this not-so-distant future by building parking garages that can be converted to something else like retail or office space down the line. Others, well, aren't. Parking isn't even on their radar, and that's a big problem.

Soon, we could have empty parking spaces everywhere, costing us extra money and taking up valuable space in crowded urban areas. Building free parking lots just isn't a smart decision.

So what can we do? One solution is a concept you might be familiar with: surge pricing.

Smart parking meters and spaces charge drivers different prices based on demand. In this scenario, parking in a popular new shopping district would be more expensive than parking by an old strip mall. Street parking near a church might be four times more expensive Sunday mornings than Thursday nights. Demand pricing based on location or time of day forces drivers to think twice about how and when they travel to their destinations.

Photo by iStock.

Donald Shoup, Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA and one of the world's foremost parking experts is all about demand pricing. He suggests pricing parking spaces so that about 15% (or one or two spaces) are available on any given block. To keep business owners and residents happy, Shoup believes the revenue generated from the higher prices should stay in the neighborhood and go toward sidewalks, removing graffiti, and improving roads.

"Demand-based pricing is remarkable for how little planners need to know to do their job. They simply compare the actual parking occupancy with the desired parking occupancy and every few weeks they nudge prices up or down accordingly," Shoup said in an interview with Xerox. "Seeking the optimal occupancy becomes the new way to set prices, and it can replace intense, emotional, political choices with evidence-based decisions."

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Smart meters with demand pricing are already in use in San Francisco and Seattle, but taking them nationwide will be a costly endeavor.

Many other cities use smart meters for payment but haven't tapped into demand pricing.

Putting smart meters in place, changing zoning requirements, and building forward thinking cities around alternative forms of transit isn't easy or cheap.

But neither is progress. And come to think of it, neither is free parking.

Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Family

2 photos of a woman's bedroom reveal just how powerful depression can be.

"We need to be able to talk to each other about our feelings, even the bad ones."

This article originally appeared on September 7, 2016

Jonna Roslund is a 26-year-old from Sweden who lives with depression.

Photo via Jonna Roslund, used with permission.

Living with a mental illness affects many areas of a person's life, including one annoyance most of us can relate to: the dread of household chores.

Keep Reading Show less

Upworthy is sharing this letter from Myra Sack on the anniversary of the passing of her daughter Havi Lev Goldstein. Loss affects everyone differently and nothing can prepare us for the loss of a young child. But as this letter beautifully demonstrates, grief is not something to be ignored or denied. We hope the honest words and feelings shared below can help you or someone you know who is processing grief of their own. The original letter begins below:


Dear Beauty,

Time is crawling to January 20th, the one-year anniversary of the day you took your final breath on my chest in our bed. We had a dance party the night before. Your posse came over. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, closest friends, and your loving nanny Tia. We sat in the warm kitchen with music on and passed you from one set of arms to another. Everyone wanted one last dance with you. We didn’t mess around with only slow songs. You danced to Havana and Danza Kuduro, too. Somehow, you mustered the energy to sway and rock with each of us, despite not having had anything to eat or drink for six days. That night, January 19th, we laughed and cried and sang and danced. And we held each other. We let our snot and our tears rest on each other’s shoulders; we didn’t wipe any of them away. We ate ice cream after dinner, as we do every night. And on this night, we rubbed a little bit of fresh mint chocolate chip against your lips. Maybe you’d taste the sweetness.

Reggaeton and country music. Blueberry pancakes and ice cream. Deep, long sobs and outbursts of real, raw laughter. Conversations about what our relationships mean to each other and why we are on this earth.


Keep Reading Show less