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Op-ed

Note to Baltimoreans: That parking spot you shoveled out isn't yours

The message was taped to the windshield of a pickup truck parked on a public street:

"This parking space did not magically shovel itself! Be considerate of your neighbors and other people in the neighborhood. DON'T steal parking spaces that people worked for several hours to clear."

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The parking space didn't magically pave itself, either — the taxpayers, presumably including the owner of the pickup truck, paid for that — but that point seems to have eluded the anonymous author of this angry missive.

And how can it take "several hours" to shovel the snow out of a parking space? What was the author using to remove the snow, a thimble?

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Every time it snows in Baltimore, I am reminded of the words of noted philosopher and humanitarian (and former Sun columnist) Kevin Cowherd: "God forbid we ever get a real emergency around these parts. We'll be eating our children before the sun goes down."

You know the drill. People get out their snow shovels and clear just enough snow to make room for two wheel tracks. Then, after pulling the car out into the street, they put their chairs down in the parking space, to protect the results of "hours" of backbreaking labor, and incidentally making it impossible for snowplows to get through. Then we have a thaw and a freeze, and everything turns into solid ice, with only half as many parking spaces there would be if people had concentrated on getting the snow out of the way instead of guarding "their" parking spaces.

A number of years ago, when I lived in Rodgers Forge, we had a deep snowfall. Hoping to lead by example, I cleared all the snow from the sidewalk and the street in front of my house, for a distance of half a block.

I am sure you have already guessed the punch line to all this: people came out and put down chairs in the spaces I had cleared.

The word civilized literally means "citified." People who wish to enjoy the conveniences of city life need to practice the virtues that make civilization possible, including respecting public space.

Parking spaces belong to all. Just as homeowners have a civic duty to clear the snow from the sidewalk, they have a civic duty to remove the snow from the parking spaces in front of their dwellings. Either do it yourself, or pay someone to do it for you. People who can't handle that responsibility shouldn't own a home. In neither case does that confer an individual ownership over a stretch of sidewalk — or a parking space.

Of course, when was the last time you ever heard that quaint little phrase "civic duty" even uttered aloud? Everyone seems to have seceded into his or her own little nation. The evidence is everywhere you might care to look in Baltimore — the pedestrians and motorists vying with each other to show who can demonstrate a more arrant disregard for human life, the self-styled "dog lovers" who think the city parks exist to serve as giant toilets for their hounds, and the small-minded folks staking their claim to parking spaces built and maintained on the taxpayers' dime.

Last winter, Boston's South End officially banned the odious practice of placing chairs and other space savers in public parking spaces. Citizens are encouraged to remove the offending territorial markers, or to call the city's Sanitation Department which will do it for them. Any space savers left out on trash days will be removed and carted off to the landfill. Perhaps there is hope for civilization after all.

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Or maybe not. The space-saving practice is also prohibited in Baltimore, but the last two mayors have deliberately chosen to ignore the ban. As Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in 2010: "Some things are tradition in Baltimore."

Patrick D. Hahn lives in a condo in Roland Park where he pays a lot of money to a property management association to remove the snow from in front of his home. He can be reached at patrickhahn@hotmail.com.


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