Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Parking Dibs

     Every city has its customs and quirks. These might include cuisine, music, or pastimes. Chicago is certainly no different. We have Chicago deep dish pizza, Chicago Blues, and Chicago 16 inch softball. One of the more unique customs in this city happens at this time of year after significant snow falls. It is called Parking Dibs and it is a phenomena that happens in the city proper, mostly on side streets.
     With the proliferation of autos, with most households having one or two, parking is not always easy to find on city streets. Certainly other cities have this issue; certainly New York and Boston in my experience. When is snows it gets worse. The city of Chicago is slow or plain old remiss when it comes to plowing the side streets. With cars parked on both sides, the one way streets get narrower with the snow. The big city plows cannot even get down these streets with all the cars parked there. So, the roads remain icy, snowy, slushy, and, hence, not easy to navigate. If a smaller private plow comes down the street, there is nowhere to put the snow except to bury the parked cars even more. It can be quite a mess.
     So, Joe Average Citizen comes out of his house the morning after a big snow and, whether his work is closed or open, he has to dig out his car. Depending on the amount of snow, this can be a sizable job to clean off the car and remove the snow all around it so it can maneuver out of the tight parallel parking. It can take twenty, thirty, or up to forty-five minutes to clear the spot. When the job is done there is a great sense of satisfaction and ownership for the parking spot just cleared. Yes, ownership. Many people think that, even though it is an open and public parking space, they have some ownership and feel some entitlement to that spot. Think of it as the parking spot equivalent of squatting or homesteading wrapped together.
     Yet, when one drives away from “their” just cleared parking spot, no one else knows or cares who cleared it let alone know that the person who cleared it feels like they own that spot. A passing neighbor or visitor is just happy to find a parking spot and even happier that is it clean; so they would, naturally, take it.
     The Chicago solution for this is called Parking Dibs. The guy that cleaned and cleared the spot puts something there to hold the spot while they are gone. What do they put there? Any household thing that is big enough to put their to indicate the squatters right to the spot. People use lawn chairs from resin to aluminum, old ironing boards, small stools, garbage cans, small tables, and almost anything that is handy. Some people even have invested in parking cones for this purpose. So, after a big snow like today, when you drive around the city you see lots of Dibs Parking with a wide array of household junk holding the spot.
      Of course, it is completely illegal to do this. But, the police don’t bother trying to enforce things. Maybe they think that it is a reasonably self-managed and benign thing. But more so, I am guessing that they don’t bother enforcing the law because they do not know who to ticket. Without a revenue stream involved, the city lets this one go.
      For the most part, there is an honor system involved which makes this Parking Dibs system work. People generally do not disturb the makeshift barriers. They probably just shrug it off and move one. When parking is really tight and the driver is really frustrated, he or she may move the barriers while quoting how they believe the law reads and take the parking spot. Most of the time the homestead owner of the spot curses the new squatter and moves on. But, there are cases of keyed cars, broken windows, and certainly shouting matches.
      This morning there was a great spot right in front of the house on N. Spaulding that is the offices for the School of Business and Nonprofit Management. Could I be that lucky? Nope. In the photo you can see the resin chairs reserving the spot for whoever cleaned the place. Across the street you can see a couple cars that need to be dug out.
      What did I do? It was a primo parking space, but I shrugged it off and moved to a school parking lot… and decided to blog about it.

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Here are some other articles with other photos on the subject:

  1. First The Snow, Now The Crazy Battle Over ‘Dibs’.  This link features a great photo of someone using a stop sign, post and all, that, I am guessing a plow dislodged, to hold their parking spot.  Thanks to Carol Koloian for this one.
  2. Dibs on parking spaces after snow is the Chicago Way. This Chicago Tribune article features a photo of someone using an ironing board to hoard a spot.


  1. From FB:

    Sonya Avakian They stole the idea from Hamtramck.
    20 hrs · Unlike · 2

    Paula Arzoian Parking dibs...that used to annoy the heck out of me when I was in Boston. And if you move the chairs and take the space they'd ruin your car
    19 hrs · Like · 2

    David Aram Gavoor I can't believe the absurdity of this! Somehow thinking you "own" a PUBLIC parking spot? I have no recollection of this when I lived in Lincoln Park.
    16 hrs · Unlike · 3

    Diane Mardoian-Kennedy You were smart to move on. You could have come back and had your tires slashed. Happened to me one summer in Chicago because I parked in front of someone else's house.
    5 hrs · Like

  2. As you know, this is a problem for us at our City Nest! As always, the items used in the Dibs spot-saving amuse me, too. My favorites to date: a fully extended chaise lounge, garden statuary and a porta potty walker. (I’m guessing that owner is using indoor facilities in the meantime.)