What We Fight About When We Fight About Parking

The urban economist Donald Shoup collects reports of violence that erupts over parking spaces. To him, disputes between drivers are signs of a bigger problem.

Laura Bliss
May 22, 2019  [ read original ]

… Consider this gruesome headline from New York City: “Brooklyn dad shot dead on Father’s Day was killed because of a months-old fight about a parking spot.” Or this lede: “A man and a woman from South Los Angeles have been arrested for stabbing a woman to death in front of her children over a parking space at a swap meet.”

A quick Google search of parking spot violence will turn up an alarming quantity of such incidents. Sociologists and criminologists theorize as to why violence can erupt from such seemingly inconsequential concerns.

… Curbside horror stories are often dispatched from poorer neighborhoods, but that may just reflect the nature of sensational crime reporting; the affluent are just as guilty of getting upset over a lost spot or a dinged door. (Case in point: celebrity parking assailant Alec Baldwin.) “Everyone is capable of violence,” Butts said. “This is not just about cities, or poor people, or congested neighborhoods. It’s a general human thing.”

… Shoup is less interested in the psychology of road rage; to him, the parking spots themselves are the indirect culprits, and proper metering is the obvious solution. Butts, however, fears that that raising the price of parking could risk punishing lower-income curb users. To end parking violence once and for all, cities must address road violence, too. That means creating transportation networks that allow fewer people to own cars to begin with.

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Laura Bliss is CityLab’s west coast bureau chief, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.