When Is a Chair Not a Chair?
February 26, 2010 - Phyllis Sigal
When is a chair not a chair? asks a Pittsburgh Web site.
The answer? When it's a parking chair.
What a phenomenon. You see them sporadically in Wheeling — my neighbor across the street places one out whenever there is snow. Another neighbor down the street uses one to save his spot from Woodsdale Elementary School parents and teachers.
But in Pittsburgh – they are everywhere. We spotted dozens last weekend when visiting my daughter.
The snow was crazy there ... still piles and piles in the streets. The side streets were ridiculous. But even Fifth Avenue was blocked in places by deep banks of snow. If you hadn't dug out a space, you were out of luck if you needed to park. In fact, we had to park in the Regent Square neighborhood, and my husband just backed our car into a snow bank until it fit in the spot.
Apparently, the practice of using parking chairs dates back to at least the 1950s, and maybe even earlier, says Wikipedia.
According to Wikipedia, "The practice is common throughout areas of the United States susceptible to large amounts of snow and where curbside parking on residential streets is the norm, especially in the Northeast. The items used have sometimes been referred to as 'Pittsburgh Parking Chair' due to their use in the city of Pittsburgh. ... While such ad hoc parking restrictions have no legal standing in the City of Pittsburgh, common and long standing community tradition supports their use. As the 'parking chair' is part of the culture of the city, local police generally turn a blind eye to these impromptu markers, which under legal jurisdiction, technically qualify as 'abandoned furniture.'"
Some cities, such as Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, have banned the practice.
In Boston, "Parking space savers must be removed no more than 48 hours after a snow emergency is lifted. The City's Department of Public Works will remove space savers left out beyond this period," according to the city's official Web site.
Last Saturday, the day I was in Pittsburgh, I could've gone to the Pittsburgh Children's Museum to watch 10 artists paint parking chairs.
There's even a facebook group that you can join ... The Pittsburgh Parking Chair group. You can join 2,547 others and check out photos, etc. In fact, I noticed that two of my facebook friends are listed among those 2,547.
And people don't just use chairs to reserve their spots. Some use parking cones; bar stools; ladders; even brooms and sliding boards. Check out the link to Pop City's slide show with its amusing captions.
I can see the pros and cons of the parking chair.
My daughter, Amanda, is not fond of the parking chair. Her street is lined with many apartment buildings. Therefore, there may be two to three spots in front of a building that houses 15 apartments. First-come, first-served seems more fair to her. She didn't move her car off her street for days when the big snow came earlier this month. When she finally did get it dug out of its pile, she was afraid if she'd leave, she'd never be able to find a spot to park again!
In my neighborhood, each homeowner feels a certain ownership of the curbside parking in front of his or her home. Fair enough. Neighbors mostly respect that. Sometimes visitors do not, but they have to park somewhere. And then they go.
But if you spend hours clearing the space in front of your house, it's just plain rude for someone else to whip his or her car into "your" spot. I understand that bit of territoriality.
So whether parking chairs are legal or not, common courtesy and respect should come into play here.
Respect. Courtesy. Two very important words to "chair-ish" in our vocabulary.