Are these dumb questions? Maybe, but you asked them and you’re here so who’s the dumb one now? Now that we have your attention and you’ve spent a few seconds thinking about it, it does seem kind of odd. We generally like it when things line up neatly and this seems like a case where things could line up neatly but they just… don’t. So is this just a case of “society is like that sometimes?” Honestly you could answer any question like that so let’s not think about it. Instead, why do we park in driveways?
Further Reading: What’s the Difference Between a Street, Road, and Avenue?
Driving and Parking
Perhaps it’s best to look into the etymology of the words “park” and “drive” first. We know that both words predate the first automobiles by a large margin. Remember the first automobiles emerged in the late 1800s. The Old English drifan (which would eventually become “drive”) dates back as far as the late 12th century. Back then it normally meant being compelled to do something–like when someone “drives you up the wall.” “Drive” did take its more transport-oriented meaning by the 1660s, where you could “drive” one in a carriage pulled by a horse.
As far as parks, the word dates back to the 12th or 13th century, where its Old French progenitor parc referred to an enclosed wood for hunting game. The Latin parricus meaning “enclosure” dates back to the 8th century. Parks being public areas of recreation likely emerged in the 1660s. “Park” could have referred to a place for storing military vehicles in 1812, and was generalized to other vehicles in the 1840s. The idea of a “park and ride” wouldn’t come about until the 1960s.
Evolution of the Parkway
Driving evolving to transportation is fairly straightforward–you’re still being compelled to a different state. It just happens to be a new location rather than an action. But how did parks come to mean two opposite things? When you say you’re going to “the park” you probably think of a public space with trees and grass. But you also park in parking lots–where it’s just concrete. As we covered, parks meant the former before they came to also mean the latter. Well in the 19th century, inner cities started referring to little strips of grass, flowers, or trees in the road as parks. This space was sometimes used to hold horse-drawn carriages for special occasions. You can see where this goes.
When cars became super popular, this space was eventually used to store cars. When cars needed to be stored all the time, the space dedicated to parks became dedicated to storing cars or becoming new spaces to drive through. When parks were turned into spaces to drive through, they were called “parkways” because language isn’t always creative. So when we were getting rid of parks to make new roads, we were literally driving through parkways.
The etymology of driveway is pretty boring. It’s always meant exactly what you know it to mean; a bit that connects private property to the road. It emerged in 1870 and was solidified to mean a private road that connects private property to a public road by 1884. Driveways have always referred to where you drive from the road to your home–it just so happens that some people also park in their driveway.
Speaking of driving, see if you know what side of the road people use here.