How curb territoriality is settled in the animal world—I mean—the city

July 26, 2013

Finding a parking spot is difficult in any city. With alternate-side parking, too many cars, and the innate need for territory, being a car-owning newcomer to a city can feel like being a kitten in a jungle.

And in some cities, it’s getting worse: available parking is shrinking, law enforcement is cracking down, and population density is increasing. With Washington D.C. hoping to eliminate minimum parking requirements for areas in transit zones, there has been increased discussion about the longtime problem of curb territoriality. Namely, the staking of an on-street parking spot in which legally, anyone can park. This generally happens on a residential street on which parking spaces are limited. This makes a newcomer or tourist feel very unwelcome, especially if a particularly aggressive resident decides to take action.

NYC at night

The only time New York City isn’t congested is at night and on holidays. Sometimes, not even then (photo by Darren Johnson).

Why finding city parking is harder than ever

Parking requirements have long been irksome to cities and those investors hoping to build. Building a parking garage often cost more than it’s worth; it encourages driving cars into the city, and can aesthetically take away from business. As Grist blogger Alyse Nelson said, “developers must contend with building heights, setbacks for buildings, and parking regulations—all of which make it harder to develop affordable housing projects.”

Many urban areas are going green and trying to discourage car ownership. Cities have launched bike-share programs (the latest being in New York City and Chicago) and car-shares such as car2go in Washington D.C. New buildings are doing away with parking all together—a planned Miami loft condo won’t have a parking garage, but will have an auto-share hub, bicycle parking, and a station for the upcoming bike-share program.  However, what does this mean for those urbanites who still want to own cars?

Many car-owners feel that cities are giving them the short end of the stick.

In areas in Brooklyn and Queens with outdated curb cuts, residents say that the population growth has made finding a parking spot extremely difficult due to the population increase and the fact that everyone seems to own a car.

curb territoriality NYC

In residential areas like this one, many feel that the parking spots belong to them alone (photo by Elvert Barnes).

Locals react by “stealing” parking spots

Some NYC residents will go so far to secure a good parking space that they will paint the curb a different color and hope law enforcement doesn’t notice. New York City has decided to combat this by raising the fines for curbside vandalism.

But residents will resort to other tactics as well. When Grist executive Necia Dallas moved into a house in Portland, OR, she found a detailed, hand-drawn map indicating the curb spots where she and her neighbors were allowed to park.

But somewhat polite maps or notes, expensive illegal signs, or in-person instructions are nothing—if someone has parked someone else’s “spot,” some residents will leave a rude message on the windshield or go as far as smashing a window, boxing the car in, packing the car with snow and freezing it in place (actually though), or pushing the offending car into a driveway so it could be ticketed and towed away.

No parking any time

Sometimes residents will put up fake no parking signs to deter strangers (view this sign here).

Combating curb territoriality in your neighborhood

Having a sense of community is extremely important. We don’t have to resort to measures like smashing cars to get parking expectations across. Instead, try using social media—make a Facebook page for the street, where everyone can discuss issues calmly and diplomatically. Instead of greeting a new neighbor with a parking map, greet them in person, invite them to join the Google+ or the Facebook page, and let them know about the street politics. It’ll make them feel welcome to the community and more willing to comply with the wishes of the neighbors.

Curb parking can sometimes remind you of animals fighting over a watering hole. If you own a car, parking is definitely something to consider when pondering a move into an urban area. Or you could just do away with the car altogether and embrace the green movement. Think about it.


Category: No Parking