Website and Kissing Contests Make Parking “Forgettable”

Chapel Hill, NC, deals with the usual parking hassles that plague a bustling downtown. But the college town has taken an unusual approach to addressing parking.

With a $400,000 investment in new parking meters, a parking program for restaurant staff, a slick new website and app, and a social media campaign that includes people posting photos of themselves kissing, Chapel Hill aims to “change the narrative” about parking downtown, says Meg McGurk, the town’s community safety planner.

“We had the realization that we needed to do a better job of educating the community about parking,” McGurk says. “We know that parking is an economic development tool, and it should be treated as such.”

If visitors begin to associate a downtown with parking hassles and hefty tickets, they might decide to go somewhere else, so managing perceptions can be an important task. “You want parking to be completely forgettable,” McGurk says. “You want people to remember the great meal they had, the great show they saw at a concert venue or an art gallery.”

A centerpiece of the program is the town’s website, which maps the 1,000 or so spots available downtown. The site was recently redesigned so that it looks like something from a high-end marketing firm rather than a mid-sized city.

The city also launched a kissing contest known as “Lots to Love” — as in parking lots. Visitors post Instagram photos of themselves kissing their dates, their kids, or their dogs. Once a month, the subject of a winning photo gets a $50 gift card for downtown businesses.

More on Chapel Hill’s parking program appears in the October issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Learn more about Downtown Idea Exchange.

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