Parking Squatters or a Chicago Tradition?

January 15, 2009

About Chicago

If you’re new to Chicago, you have probably been scratching your head a lot lately. You were driving down the street and you saw a lawn chair in a semi-shoveled-out parking space. Do you move the chair? What’s going on? Welcome to Chicago, the city where if you shovel out a public parking space, you keep it! I like to call it parking squatting. My best friend, a Chicago native, explains away this practice as simply a Chicago tradition.

Absurd! City Streets Are for All to Use

Parking Squatting - Click to Enlarge

Parking Squatting At Its Finest - Click to Enlarge

How does placing your scavenged orange construction cones, summer lawn furniture, picnic bench, or, even worse, something from the back of your utility closet, like a broom, a milk crate, or cement block, in your recently shoveled out parking space on a city street give you the right to put dibs on it? What form of parking ownership is that? Does it apply to the space immediately in front of your private residence or can you self-proclaim parking rights anywhere? And, most important, when is the official start of parking squatting season? Is it October through March? Because I don’t see people squatting in the summer months. Do you need a permit to toss your personal property into a parking space to reserve it? Can you leave a chair there all day while you go to work? So many questions… Maybe the city should publish a Parking Squatter’s Guide To Chicago with all the answers.

I am the first to recognize the amount of time and effort it took those individuals to release themselves from the grips of the heavy snow. It always seems to be made worse because the people are often digging with their ice scrapers, an over-sized soup ladle, or even their gloves. But does that give them a free pass? Not in my opinion.

Revenge Is Best Served Stealthily on a Cold Night!

Beware if you are brave enough to remove that yellow vinyl dinette chair/space holder and take the public parking space for yourself. Be warned of the strength of a neighborhood’s solidarity and one or more witnesses peering at you from behind the drapes. For when you return you may find your tires slashed, your paint job keyed, or, even worse, the dreaded icing up the car with a bucket of water. Was it the protective neighbor or the shoveler themselves? You’ll never know. But be sure they know you now and you might as well put a big scarlet PST on your coat, because you are now a Parking Space Thief!

And don’t even think you can outsmart them by removing their markers from that prized shoveled space and replace their things with your own. When the city publishes the Parking Squatter’s Guide To Chicago they will have a whole chapter on how putting your stuff into the space does not transform it into your new space! I speak from experience?they know the space they dug out and where it was. It does not confuse them and your plot will be foiled with dastardly results.

Even the mayor defended this peculiar practice in 2000 saying, “If someone spends all their time digging their car out, do not drive into that spot.” Official city policy, of course, is to remove the debris, but few police bother.

How do you think Chicago got its big shoulders? Shoveling out parking spots!

Please leave your thoughts below in the comments section!

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About Robert John Anderson

Robert's knowledge and expertise from 15+ years of experience have made his business tremendously successful. He eats, sleeps, and lives real estate, which has catapulted him into Chicago's 1% of Top Producers for the last 8 years with $320+ million in sales, earning Baird & Warner's prestigious Founder's Club distinction. His voracious appetite for the Chicago market, its neighborhoods and trends keeps his knowledge current and growing. He focuses on high-quality marketing and service along with working to think outside of the box for all his clients needs. Robert specializes in sellers, buyers, luxury homes, developments and relocation; he also has experience in land acquisition, commercial, and retail sales. You can reach Robert at 312-980-1580 and or visit him on Facebook, Zillow and LinkedIn.

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11 Responses to “Parking Squatters or a Chicago Tradition?”

  1. Lisa Gregg Says:

    I have to agree. Having moved here from Wyoming – I thought this was the most bizarre thing I had ever seen. We do get our fair share of snow in Wyoming & we didn’t need to squat. It’s definitely a Chicago ‘thing’, not sure if I’d call it tradition though. Do you think Daley started it?!

  2. Jamie Franz Says:

    That’s some funny stuff and I was thinking about this the other morning as I was dropping Kayli off for pre-school. What a joke, but great article.


  3. Ben Says:

    After shoveling out a few cars, I certainly understand the sentiment. I have never actually done it, but I think that is mostly because after shoveling, I am too tired and lazy to go grab junk to put in the spot.

  4. Dean Wicklund Says:

    I really hate this tradition. I believe it started in the winter of 78-79 when we had a ridiculous amount of snow and Mayor Bilandic was famously ousted from office because he couldn’t remove the snow. Guess what folks, if we all shovel out our cars we’ll all have a parking space anyway. Say no to dibs!

  5. Katie Anderson Says:

    I absolutely loved this article. I literally laughed out loud while reading it. I have shoveled out a few cars as well and have never tried to save the parking space. I have never been able to grasp the concept of trying to keep a public parking space. I am a firm believer in Karma. Those who key cars for taking that prized spot will pay in some other way down the road!

  6. Rodd Says:

    Being a Chicago native, this has happened to me a couple of times. Once already this winter, i left a stern note completely duct taped (all four sides) simply stating that I shoveled out this spot NOT THEM. And I always leave my name and address even my doorbell #.

  7. Lisa Gregg Says:

    Just got an email from my alderman, who also doesn’t support this tradition. This is what his email said:

    Dear Friends and Neighbors,

    The Department of Streets and Sanitation issued a statement yesterday reminding residents to remove any “space savers” that they have put out to secure parking spaces.

    There has not been any snow since Tuesday and except for the possibility of a couple of extremely light flurries late Friday and possibly Sunday, we aren’t likely to get any measurable snow for quite a few days.

    Given this break in the weather, we would like to ask residents to start removing any items that they have left in the street to save a parking space.

    To be clear, my office and the City of Chicago does not advocate or support residents saving the spaces that they dug out or placing private property in the public way. However, the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s primary goal after a storm is plowing and salting. At this point, these items are nothing more than obstructions in the public way and should be removed. Any items left in the public way will be removed.

    Best Wishes,
    Alderman Gene Schulter

  8. Chicago Prints Says:

    I say its fair game.

  9. g Says:

    It’s not a Chicago thing. They do it in Boston, Newark, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. And those are only the places I’ve lived and witnessed it. I’m sure that it happens elsewhere, too.

  10. Chicago Native Says:

    Obviously, Alderman Gene Schulter has a driveway or garage that he parks in. If you’re not out there breaking your back to shovel 500 lbs of snow, keep it shut. Let “parking squatter” rules be decided by neighborhood residents and by the people actually doing the work. Woe to the moron who moves my chairs and parks in my space. I promise that the snow I removed to get my car out will be replaced two fold to bury the car that steals my space.


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