Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Woe Betide Those Who Disregard Property Norms

I spend a great deal of time writing about behavior with regard to property that is legal, but socially unacceptable.  But the denizens of South Boston live it.  When someone there engages in the legal but socially unaccepable behavior of parking in a public spot she didn't shovel out, her neighbors enforce property norms with screwdrivers and the occasional plunger:

By dawn on Tuesday, the space savers were out in abundance on East Seventh Street in South Boston. Someone had staked out a neatly shoveled parking spot with a potted plant, its dead fronds trembling in the wind. Someone else had reserved a space with a hot-pink beach chair.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, the epicenter of the parking wars that erupt here after a snowstorm, the narrow streets were lined with bar stools and coolers, end tables and shopping carts, all meant as warnings: This shoveled-out space is mine until the snow melts. Occupy it at your own risk.

. . . .

When snow puts parking spots at a premium, as the blizzard that just left 18 inches of snow here did, snatching someone’s marked space can lead to hurled insults, slashed tires or worse — in 2005, a man was arrested after smashing a car window with a plunger during an argument over a freshly shoveled spot.

“A lot of people around here carry screwdrivers in their trunk,” said Kim Rader, 35, who had just started digging out her Mazda and predicted it would be a two-hour job.

Note, too, the normative strategy of informally marking property in which one has invested one's labor, as a means of communicating a claim rightful possession.  Whaler Ghen would undoubtedly be proud of his Massachusetts descendants.  Let's just hope they leave the bomb-lances at home.

Picture from the New York Times article linked above.

Mark A. Edwards

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I wonder about calling the aforementioned example an instance of property possession as such (at least in non-metaphorical terms), rather than, as it says in the article, an issue concerning the occupation of space, a subtle but perhaps important distinction. After all, I hope to reserve the space in front of our condo for our VW van but I don't imagine possessing that portion of the public street, and when the van is in the shop, I don't care if someone else is occupying the space, at least until the mechanic is finished with it! In thinking of this in terms of contested "space" or place rather than property possession it's perhaps ANALOGOUS to the exercise of expressive liberties in public spaces (Timothy Zick) or to the (contingent, temporary) privatization of public space. The enforcement of informal social norms of one kind or another is no less salient for all that.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Dec 29, 2010 5:50:35 AM

Boston, Shmoston.

The honor of my hometown must be defended. Nobody, and I mean nobody, takes snow chairs and shoveling more seriously than the folks of Pittsburgh. Yinzer justice is swift and unforgiving:

Here's a gallery of Pittsburgh Snow Chairs:

We even have T-shirts, for crips sake:

@Patrick - Your point is well taken, but I think people really do think of these shoveled spots as their property (at least until the snow melts). In my former days as a street tough, I remember someone moved the snowchairs from "our" spot and "stole" our space. The feeling of outrage was intense. They messed with out stuff, so we let the air out of their tires.

Posted by: Steve Clowney | Dec 29, 2010 8:06:22 AM

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