The New York Times

January 3, 2005

Boston Mayor Wants Vehicles, Not Cans, in Parking Spaces


BOSTON, Jan. 2 (AP) - There is an unwritten code of urban etiquette on Boston's narrow and often snowy streets: you shovel a parking space, and it's yours.

But now the city is cracking down on this folk rule and warning residents that it will no longer tolerate the garbage cans, the chairs, the boxes and the Christmas trees that people use to reserve the parking spaces they sweated to clear.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is giving residents 48 hours after a snow emergency ends to remove their placeholders. After that, sanitation workers are supposed to haul them away.

The reaction in residential neighborhoods has been frosty.

Frances Rizzo, 67, stood on a snowy sidewalk in South Boston on Wednesday and waited for the sanitation workers. The neighborhood tradition works, she said, and she was ready to replace her 72-year-old neighbor's traffic cone with a bag of garbage to reserve the parking spot.

"I think it's ridiculous," Ms. Rizzo said of the city's crackdown. The mayor, she added, has "got a driveway, what does he care?"

It is the second straight year that the mayor has taken on the practice. Mr. Menino calls it an issue of safety and civility, citing disputes that have erupted into violence and property damage, like tire slashing.

But residents say their informal rules work just fine and are vital in preserving peace during tough New England winters.

"If you don't do it, you don't park; you have to go along with it, even if you don't agree with it," said Deanna Cusack, 52, of South Boston, who acknowledged that some people abused the practice by claiming spaces long after the snow had receded.

The practice is not unique to Boston. Various crowded suburbs have similar rules, as do packed cities like Philadelphia and Chicago. But it is rare for a city to try to break the tradition, given the vigor with which residents defend it.

In Boston, sanitation workers moved a trash barrel from a spot belonging to City Councilman James Kelly, a vocal opponent of Mr. Menino's policy. Within minutes, a neighbor had dragged it back.

Residents speak with disdain about the commuters headed for the bus stop who want to take parking spots without working for them.

Tom Farnkoff, 64, blames the problem on the young professionals who have migrated to gentrified South Boston's new condominiums and apartments.

"They come home, they won't do anything and they want the spots," Mr. Farnkoff said. "They don't give anything to the community at all."

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