Private Management of the Commons: Parking Spots and Chicago Snow

Michael Giberson

No doubt that since Elinor Ostrom won a Nobel Prize last year for, among other things, her work on decentralized approaches to common pool resource issues, a small legion of social science graduate students are looking for new cases of non-governmental management of common pool resources.

Here is an example supplied by Fred McChesney: on-street parking spaces dug out from the snow in Chicago.

Alex Taborrak notes the Washington Post reports that in Boston the city has codified a similar practice: if you dig yourself a parking spot in the snow, a lawn chair or trash can will render the space yours for up to two days.

Perhaps a comparison to reclaimed-from-the-snow parking space management practices in the Washington, D.C., area would be possible.  Given the amount of snow that has fallen in the capital area, you probably have a few weeks to collect the necessary comparative data.

ADDED: Pittsburgh offers another variant of  law and practice:

“Chairs and barriers of any type holding parking spaces on city streets are considered abandoned property and will be removed and discarded,” Pittsburgh Police spokeswoman Diane Richard told Channel 4 Action News in an e-mail.

See also the discussion by Pitt Law professor Mike Madison. HT for both links to Freakonomics.

So Chicago has an informal practice guided by custom and tolerated by the city; Boston has the practice codified into city ordinance; Pittsburgh has an informal practice which is actively opposed by the city; and Washington DC doesn’t get serious snow often enough to have a well developed custom.  Lots of angles to study.

What about Minneapolis and Milwaukee?  What about Seattle or Denver?  Any more reports?

STILL MORE: Via Market Design, where Al Roth dubs the practice “anti-social,” a Boston Globe story on claiming parking spots before the snow begins to fall, “Claiming a spot before shoveling? That’s not Southie.”

6 thoughts on “Private Management of the Commons: Parking Spots and Chicago Snow

  1. No such practice exists in Minnesota – partially due to snow plowing rules that render sides of roads or entire roads no-parking zones until the city plows them out. Secondarily however, the idea of claiming something for future use and preventing others from using it while you aren’t is selfish. Something that people who need to rely on others to survive through long, cold winters don’t tolerate. As Garrison Keillor has suggested, Northern climates teach us that we can’t do it all on our own and there will be times when we have to rely on others for survival. This has created an openness to a more liberal version of the social contract in areas that experience serious winter hardship.

  2. Yeah, the Old Scout relying on others for survival – heh. I’ll take my Southern winters along with the summers of traveling in my air-conditioned car from my AC house to my AC work, shopping in my AC WallyWorld … until the Green Police take away my AC from my sweaty grip.

    Snowstorm and an earthquake in one week – does it make you wonder if God is a little angry with Chicago? 😉

  3. Denver’s like DC- we don’t get enough snow to have any customs. Plus, it’s a city of immigrants, which does not help the establishment of local customs. What snow we do get usually melts quickly.

  4. In Wilmington, DE, the chair thing is a custom recognized by city government and most neighborhoods. I have not placed a lawn chair in the spot I dug out because it is used by businesses during the day, and claiming the spot during business hours would further disrupt the efficient allocation of parking spots.

    A heavy show changes the shape and character of the commons. A resident who spends two hours digging out a parking spot invests considerable effort in creating an asset. This temporary private claim on that spot means it is no longer considered part of the commons, at least until the snow melts.

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