For the uninitiated, there’s a magical moment every Chicago Winter where the ethics of what is entitled to individualist labour is argued out over social media threads across the internet. At the center of this discourse? Parking spot rights in a city made up entirely of street parking.
While Chicago’s public transit is one of the world’s most loved, there’s another story in Chicago’s transit culture, and that’s “Dibs.”
This isn’t the first article about Dibs, in fact, there are a ton of resources on it and its history:
The rules of Dibs are for the most part unwritten. A Thrillist article cites an old Tumblr pretty extensively to try to outline them, but the gist is pretty simple: I shoveled out this spot, I should get to park in it.
Dibs basically involves putting a piece of furniture in an otherwise public parking spot while you’re gone to work or to run errands. Losing the furniture would be a small cost in comparison to having to shovel the spot out again.
According to WBEZ and Curious City, the first reference to the cultural practices in media was an editorial in the Chicago Tribune back in 1967.
“Motorists in many parts of the city…are staking out their domains with folding chairs, carpenters horses and anything that may come to hand,” the editorial said.
The cultural phenomenon points to a truth about Chicago commuters: there are a lot of drivers. According to Illinois Secretary of State records, the number of registered cars in Illinois nearly doubled between 1949 and 1969 from 1.7 million to 3.3 million. It hasn’t moved much with the Census Bureau reporting 3,456,125 vehicles used for commuting in the Chicago metropolitan area now it makes up a significant portion of parking on the streets.
More data lays out that as of 2016 74% of Chicago households have a vehicle. This is surprisingly low compared to other cities, but knowing Chicago’s demographics, this is likely mostly working-class folks that rely on street parking.
All of this context means that who is ultimately right here is heavily debated every year after the first major snow. And this year is no different.
“The concept of dibs exists because people are assholes,” one comment reads. “The assholes are not the ones that claim spaces because they labored for them. The assholes are those who did no labor to have a parking spot.”
“When you park on the street, your [sic] parking in a public/community spot,” another comment reads. “You shoveling your car out? You did that for you to get out, because you had to leave, not so you can get back in whenever you feel like it.”
For the most part, that’s the whole debate. Others point out that for differently abled people and older folks something like dibs is necessary, and others still don’t care and will gladly snatch up the furniture for their living rooms.
Daniel Johanson (he/him) is a journalist and digital media specialist living in Chicago, Illinois. He serves as Editor-in-Chief at Scapi and in that capacity manages all things content, including writing and editing articles and producing digital content. His most recent work includes the docuseries Heart of a Nation: Tracking Socialism in the Midwest and co-hosting the podcast Scapi Radio. He spends his free time with cats.
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