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February 8, 2010

John Locke says: Honor parking-space lawn chairs!

Digging a parking place out of maybe 400 cubic feet of snow exerts a classic claim of property rights as described by John Locke. When somebody takes the trouble to create something useful out of a wilderness or a desert, Locke said, he obtains a natural right to use it for his own benefit to the exclusion of others.

I'm with Locke here. If you can't assume you'll be able to use the parking space you dug out, your incentive to create it would plunge. The city and neighborhoods would lose the labor of thousands of car owners who help recreate civilization each time the heavens dump white stuff all over the place. True, during the time the proprietor claims exclusive rights to the parking space by protecting it with a lawn chair, it's not doing much good for anybody else. But it does help society a little by furnishing "positive externalities," in the jargon. Cleared curbs make it easier to cross streets. Mail deliverers can get around more easily.

And in the long run, space-by-space citizen snow removal accomplishes what would be difficult for the city to do. Municipal plows can't clear curbs with all the cars parked there -- or even one or two per block. So by giving Baltimoreans temporary, exclusive use of the spaces they dig out -- allowing cars to move and commerce to resume -- civic good is accomplished. Honor those lawn chairs!!

Posted by Jay Hancock at 8:47 AM | | Comments (44)


I grew up in Buffalo, NY -- a town that has to deal with epic snowfalls a lot more than Baltimore does -- and nobody ever tried to claim their parking spaces the way they do here. It couldn't believe it the first time I saw it.

I'm not sure I buy the argument that people need an incentive to dig a spot out -- after all, most people aren't clearing out a virgin parking space, they're digging out their own buried car. Are you saying that people would forego work and just leave their car under a mound of snow until the thaw if they couldn't be guaranteed a spot when they return?

How about paying $70 to have them cleared, so those two spots have chairs (that I also paid for) right now. The guys with the snowblowers were awesome, made sure to get the snow into my yard, not the street.

Some cities actually allow saving your shoveled out parking space.
Boston Parking Regulations extract:
"Any 'spacesavers' left in on-street parking spaces that have been shoveled out must be removed 48 hours after a snow emergency has ended."

Except its illegal?

I have lived here my whole life (25 years) and that's how it goes. Please, you out of towners, if you don't like it LEAVE!!! I am so sick of you people coming into my city trying to change what has worked for YEARS! How would you like it if you dug your car out just to have some jerk come in from out of town and take your spot; now you literally have nowhere to park YOUR car (the car you spent hours digging out)!?

Several weeks ago the Chicago Tribune printed an article by "Judge Dibs." I think using it here would be beneficial. Just change the names of the city to protect the guilty.

@fedhill it might be illegal but no one enforces that law so social convention (saving the spot you shoveled out) rules

In Hamtramck Michigan (a separate city inside the borders of Detroit historically an immigrant area, especially Polish), where my dad's side of the family comes from, the lawn chairs are out all year round.

The logic being, this is my house, my only space... go park somewhere else buddy!

I had some joker parked in front of my townhouse (with street parking) since Thursday afternoon. Car did not move. It was annoying before the storm, but when I had to look at that thing all weekend long I wished I had the chairs out there in advance.

Your incentive to shovel out your car is to drive where ever you are driving to. Whoever takes your spot shoveled out a spot them self. Such narrow sighted, myopic, selfish behavior only exacerbates an already bad parking space shortage by effectively taking two spaces with one car, the one your furniture is "holding" plus where ever your car is now.

Talk about the tragedy of the commons.

No one owns the street. Turnover is what makes a society work not protectionism. With enough lawn chairs no one goes anywhere. Slavery and not permitting women to vote were once American "traditions" is it best that we moved on?

He who would abuse the sanctity of the lawn chair would suffer the sentence of the flat tires.

Lawnchairs in the street is ridiculous. Once someone put lawnchairs in front of my own house. I honored them for a couple days, but when I got home late one night, and there were no spots available except in front of my own house, I threw the chairs into a snowpile down the street. It was cathartic. In the morning, the lawnchair owner was vainly looking under my car for his chairs.

If everyone would dig out their cars, then there would be no need for the lawnchairs.

Exactly reader 203, but lets face it, you have lazy people who will not dig. We have a guy in our neighborhood who illegally parks the night before in someone's driveway. Then when people shovel out, he moves his car to their spot. He's 18, and he stole my father's parking spot, 75 years old. Its not right... I wish the worst on people like that.

Reader203 that's a slippery slope. In this town you never know the caliber of the individual you are dealing with. If you got a lawn chair out there you and your home are not far away. I am not a violent person but there are many who are.

Simply put this practice is illegal. If people don;t like it they should change the law. I have lived here for 30 years and the practice is ridiculous. I dug out my car sunday, then lost the spot. Then I parked elsewhere. Then today when I had to unload a snow blower in front of my house to help the whole street I used a spot that was occupied by said chairs. Then I got the wrath of the person who placed them there. Huge fight. I wasn't even planning on keeping the car there. Just for a few hours while I worked. Apparently 48 hours after the snow stopped he felt it was OK to lock up the spot all day with no car there. Its ridiculous and illegal. The police and the Mayor should enforce the laws on the books. The mayor does not have the right to say that the law will not be enforced [as she did] simply based on her whim.

Facebook Group "Just 'cuz you left a plastic chair where your snow-covered car used to be.."

This is tough. On the one hand, my wife and I spent hours digging our car out of the snow this weekend in a spot right in front of our apartment. However, on the other hand, that's not "our" spot, as we have residential permit parking like everyone else (well, not everyone...always some people who take those spots illegally). So, the best I can do is dig out so she can drive safely when she needs the car and let parking karma take care of the rest.

Personally, I wouldn't use the lawn chair and I'd throw a chair away if it was blocking a spot. Sorry. If you want a reserved spot, pay $150 a month for a garage spot. Otherwise, it's up for grabs and the police can tell you that on the way down to the station should you try to get violent about such a petty thing.

Although, comparing the lawn chair as parking marker to slavery or women's suffrage, is a bit strong. FWIW. Perspective people!

i thing 48 w chairs when there is a bad snow is a good compromise-adjustable by mayor if worse. what some seem to forget is the elderly, etc., who may not be able to dig. i've seen wonderful neighbors pitch in on my block-for a sidewalk path. wonderful. cars can be a nightmare.

It's true, you don't know who are dealing with but, on the other hand, neither do they.

I love this time of year when folks put out their lawn chairs. I get a good pick of the ones I want for my patio set. I'm looking for 4 more to put on my pier.

Facebook Group "Just 'cuz you left a plastic chair where your snow-covered car used to be.."

Have you naysayers actually SEEN the snow piled in the streets? The lawnchairs should absolutely be honored. For example: I live in Fells Point and spent almost 2 hours digging out. Lets look at this logically. If I dig out a spot and return an hour or so later with my essentials and someone has taken my marker and spot then where am I to park? No really WHERE? The streets have been plowed just enough to allow one lane of traffic on the side streets where I live. Am I to block the road while I spend another 2 hours shoveling out an illegal spot that has a 10 foot mound of plowed snow in it,or take someone else's marker? 48 hrs is absolutely a reasonable time for a spot to be held during snow emergencies only. Anyone saying otherwise is just not being realistic.

I'm not sure the Locke argument works. We're not talking about the wilderness. This property is government property, and not government property in the sense that some country placed a flag on the beach and claimed everything. We're talking about government property that has been improved (i.e. paved, maintained, etc...) by the government.

Now, if someone wants to make the property argument, perhaps the city should rent spaces to people. In other words, no free street parking. Obviously there would be problems with this, such as it would reduce parking spaces, enforcement, etc... It would, however, create a true property right to a parking spot that would be recognized by the law, not by a lawn chair.

A driveway takes forever to clear, but at least people don't park in their neighbors' driveways. Not just tires would be punctured. What's irking in the burbs is when people pile snow from their sidewalks or driveways on the streets. Snow really brings out the best and worst in people.

I believe in being a good neighbor, and I believe that the city streets are public property.

The absolute and utter selfishness of people blocking parking spaces--in some parts of the city, on snow emergency route roads and thus also blocking the easy progress of snow plows--appalls me, as does the audacity and insane self-entitlement of the people who seem to think it's okay.

I'll shovel my car out tomorrow and if I drive away and some needy person takes the spot while I'm gone, Good! I'm glad not only my labor was helpful to myself but someone else. I know the pain of trying to find a parking space, and I don't want anyone else to have to feel that pain. And I would never claim city public property as "mine."

Also, Rawling-Blake has certainly lost my vote next November for her siding with the selfish and short-sighted, rather than with the law and the good of the public as a whole. If she has so little common sense over an issue like this, I shudder to think about how her lack of sense will affect her other decisions.

Locke - You're a dolt.

Locke's actual argument doesn't cover lawn chairs. For one thing, he's talking about claiming things in the state of nature, in which there is no system of private property. Here, of course, there is. For another, his argument turns on the inferred purposes of God in creating us. These do not obviously extend to lawn chairs.

That said: I spent about three hours digging my car out on Monday. Tuesday I had to go to an appointment. I got back, and discovered someone in the spot I dug out. I drove round the block, but couldn't bring myself to park in someone else's spot. On the other hand, where else was I going to put my car? Luckily, when I drove past "my" (?) spot again, someone flagged me down -- she had parked there, but was just digging out her Mom, and volunteered to move her car. My faith in human nature was restored. ;)

I truly don't know what I would have done otherwise. In my neighborhood, there is *nowhere* to park other than spaces people have dug out.

Give me a break Stephanie...your argument is ridiculous. I have lived here my whole life also and the fact that something stupid has been going on the whole time does make it right. So how long do you get the claimed spot for...until the snow kind of melts away? Until it is completely gone? Until July? Don't leave the spot if you don't want to lose's public street parking, not your driveway. Jesus Christ.
I can't believe this is even a topic.

I think there are three kinds of people in this argument:

A) People who will not buy a shovel, then drive around in the snowstorm compacting the snow so that no one can dig it out, then look for a person leaving to go to work and they park in that spot. Then they take their dog for a walk and let is crap in someone else's sidewalk because they are too damn lazy to shovel their own yard...and they won't pick up the crap either. Then, when they finally go back to their car, they throw all the snow into the middle of the street that everyone else has cleaned expecting someone else to clean up their mess.

B) The person who digs out their own spot, refuses to mark it, then allows above mentioned jerk to steal their space, drives umpteen miles around looking for parking before finding a plowed public lot six miles from home, and all the while they are hiking home they think, "I am so glad I was able to give my three hours of labor digging out so that a lazy idiot could take my hard-earned labor away from me, and then he could take his dog for a walk to my sidewalk since he would not shovel his own, and out of appreciation for my work and generosity would encourage his dog to have a massive crap in my sidewalk and walk away so I could be thankful to have a chance to get all that stuff out of my walkway that he used.

C) Then there is the person who works hard to clear the car path, clears the sidewalks, clears the streets, shovels the elderly neighbors out, and when he comes back from taking a doctor to the hospital for the night shift and finds someone from the A group claiming the parking spot that he worked for, just decides that he will find another spot and will dump all that excess snow, no matter what the cost in time and labor, on to the thief's car so that they finally have to dig out. The problem is always that the group A thief solution is to throw the snow into the street, even if it creates a traffic hazard, because they can't be bothered with moving it totally out of the way. After all, it might interfere with a place for Rover to poop.

Part of living in the city is not owning a parking space. It's life. Period. If you want a designated parking space you should move to a house with a driveway. I make it a point to park in "claimed" spaces just to be a jerk. What's more, if I like your lawn chair, I'm taking it. Know why? Because legally, once it's left in the street, it belongs to me - or anybody else who wants it.

It's amazing how full this city is with selfish people whining about what's theirs.

For storms like this one when it takes two hours to dig out your spot and another 2 hours to join w/ your neighbors and dig out your street b/c you know the plow isn't coming lawn chairs should be honored. For smaller storms where you can dig out in 10 minutes they are ridiculous. But if you move them at the very least you shouldn't expect to have air in your tires when you get back.

Kevin- If 3 guys catch you letting the air out of their tires don't be surprised if you go home with no teeth. In this world there is always some one bigger stronger and meaner. It will not be me. I am not a fighter. I have mixed views about vigilante justice, but you have to accept that it may come at a price.Think about that while your rationalizing the merits on being your own justice system. If you the crap kicked out of you would you think that was unfair?

It is interesting that those who don't believe in reserving spaces make comments that are more playful. They fall on the side of pranks or practical jokes, such as shoveling snow onto the chairs. Those who do reserve spaces make comments that are angrier. They talk about either vandalism or violence.

I, too, grew up in Buffalo, NY where it's been known to snow 2 ft. in a hour. It's a part of life's NOT your property! Jim and Patrick, I cannot say it any better; buy a house WITH A DRIVEWAY if you want your own space! It shows how completely lazy and selfish people can be. I dug my car out (I'm a 115 llb. female) SO CAN YOU!

Do u think my neighbors would be upset if I rearrange the chairs into a conversation pit?

I haven't seen anything worse in this snowstorm than these people claiming public property as their own. I pay for my area parking permit and the chair/garbage can/2x4 people are not reimbursing me for my lost value. If there's no incentive to dig out your car, then don't! Leave it until the snow melts.

I won't park in one of these "reserved" spots, since someone must be very unstable to think this is acceptable. But I have been taking pictures of cars and spots that are "reserved" and will exact my revenge in due time.

Public parking-space stealers - you may mark your space, but that also marks YOUR car. Don't think you are the only ones who can wield the threat of retribution.

I have seen two instances on my block where someone shoveled there car out and obeyed the law and didn't put a chair down. The next a-hole that came in parked there and now has claimed the spot as there own and has been leaving chairs out for the whole week.
I will not be leaving a chair out tomorrow and when I come home from work I will be taking any spot I can get regardless of weather theres a chair in it.
Spot holders are illegal and I think the above is the reason why. Everyone needs to get over themselves and obey the law. if not i will be removing chairs tomorrow.
The best thing for all of us in baltimore is to remove all the spot holders. Whenever you see a spot holder remove it nicely and put it on the sidewalk.

I can tell you all this much, for whoever is marking spots on South Ann street in Fells Point, your chairs will be mine by the end of the night. In fact, scratch that.. If you live anywhere even near me, I'm taking your chairs. They will go great on my back deck for my parties this spring.

This idea of marking public parking spots for yourself is not only selfish, but causes more parking issues for the neighborhood itself than we already have. Its public parking, just because you spent 2 hours digging it out doesn't mean its yours, its the neighborhoods. Sorry, want to keep crying about it? Go find a spot and walk back to your home like any other decent person would.

And when I take your chair you left in the street, feel free to "take the air out of my tires"... Its a short ambulance ride to a top level trauma center downtown.

I couldn't agree more. The thing that amazes me most are how many people think it is ok to reserve spots when it is wrong on so many different levels. If a spot is that important to you don't leave it. I shoveled two immaculate spots out, but I don't see how that gives me the right to pile my junk in fornt of another person's house to reserve those spots the entire day. On top of that it only adds to the problem. Let's say you have 10 spots and 20 people looking for parking. Normally this still works out because people are parking at different times and there is constant turn over, but not when you have someone hogging a spot they aren't using for long periods of times. This disrespectful behavior only compounds the parking problem.

The fact that the mayor has decided not to enforce the ban on reserving spots is disappointing. In fact, by explicitly stating that she won't enforce the ban she has essentially endorsed this behavior adding to the chaos in the aftermath of these storms. It demonstrates a lack of good judgement and makes me wonder what other poor and more important decisions this City is in for.

I drove around and stole all your Baltimorians lawn chairs. I took them and smashed them and then also put them in random spots blocks away. I did this for a few blocks. I did not even need a parking spot. Im doing this to teach you a lesson. Leave a lawn chair out in the street (public property) and its abandoned property that im laying claim to. You idiots need to learn that it isnt your spot. We all pay taxes and we all own an equal share in teh street spots. You dug out the snow? Big deal, i could care less. Maybe you shouldnt live in an area that doesnt have YOUR OWN parking spot. Why not leave your shit out in the road all year? It would make your ugly city look even nicer!

Wait, you morons want to let the air out of my tires when i'm parked in your space? That's real bright - THEN I'M STUCK THERE. Not moving. For a long time.

People shoveled out their cars so they could get somewhere. That does not mean they now own the spot they shoveled. F-ing ridiculous. People say, "oh, this is custom." Obnoxious.

And please, enough with the property theories. You don't make the street your own through the "law of accession" just b/c you shoveled some snow.

Even in a world where you can't save the spot you dug out, the incentive is still their to dig out your car. The primary motivation of digging out one's car is not to create a parking space, but to regain the use of your vehicle.

More importantly, however, your Lockean logic supports the conclusion opposite to the one you arrived. The person digging out the space didn't create civilization. Civilization was created when the city decided to pave the street and make the parking space in the first place. The snowstorm doesn't relinquish the city's property rights, and as the owner of those property rights, the city can determine the rules under which the parking space will operate. The rules they have selected is that you are not allowed to save your parking space.

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About Jay Hancock
Jay Hancock has been a financial columnist for The Baltimore Sun since 2001. He has also been The Baltimore Sun's diplomatic correspondent in Washington and its chief economics writer. Before moving to Baltimore in 1994 he worked for The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk and The Daily Press of Newport News.

His columns appear Tuesdays and Sundays.

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