Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Save My Space in Chicago

This post is related to the previous post about how Montreal deals with snow. Since that post I have found two significant (though not surprising) differences between the two cities. First, the average snowfall in Chicago is 3 feet, while it is 7.5 feet in Montreal. Second, the average January high temperature in Chicago is 32F (0C). In Montreal it is 21F (-6C). So there is more snow here and less chance for it to melt away. This is probably a very good reason for the different methods of dealing with the snow. For comparison, in the past when they plowed snow to the side instead of carting it away here in Montreal, it piled up over 10 feet high. In Chicago, you would need an exceptional year of snow to make five feet high. Most years it only gets up to three.

There is one aspect of winter in Chicago that it seems very few people elsewhere know about. The increase in street furniture after a snowfall. In the residential neighborhoods, people clean away the snow around their car. They may even pull the car out and clear up the remaining snow. This is done because unlike here in Montreal, the city does not cart away the snow. It is there to stay. The goal is to have a space that can be easily pulled into and out of. When the car is not there, the spot is saved by a piece of furniture or two usually with a string between them to define the space. It is usually an old kitchen chair or unused outdoor furniture. This is what I grew up doing with my family. Here is a picture courtesy of the Chicagoist.

And for the most part this is respected. Otherwise you may not have air in your tires when you return. It is quite bizarre to drive down the street at midday and see a street lined with furniture, but it works. You cleaned it out, it should be there when you return from work. It is different in the more congested areas like Lakeview or Lincoln Park (similar to the Plateau) because of the density, lack of parking spaces, and lack of expendable furniture. Here in Montreal, the city cleans the streets so you only have to tough it out two or three days until they come through.


Blork said...

They do that in Boston too! I tell people that and they don't believe me. That would so never work here in Montreal. Seriously, when I tell a Montrealer about that system, it's like telling them "you just make a wish and your spot is magically kept open for you." It's that unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

I must confess to recurring fantasies after each significant snowfall, of wanting to go knock down the plastic lawn furniture cum border fence. I don't know why I find the street squatting so offensive. Fortunately, I have a private driveway. And further fortune for my block is the fact that our street has priority snow plowing. Bus routes and main streets get plowed as the snow falls, and as the fates would have it, a bus route just happens to end 1 block east of my house. And although the bus doesn't come down my block, the snow plows do because the need to turn around so that they can plow the opposite side of the street. This golden benefit results in decidedly few furniture stake-outs on our block.

Unknown said...

I didn't know they did it in Boston also. It's interesting because it really is considered a tradition.

One year, my wife and I saw that someone left a bent wood Eames chair out to save their place. We were pretty sure they didn't know what it was, but didn't think to go up and try to buy it off them.

Interestingly, there are a few articles written about it (like the Montreal snow removal), but no pictures of the actual furniture.

Blork said...

Frank, I was visiting a friend in Boston a few years ago, in winter, and he showed me that way of keeping a space. Chairs all up and down the street. I'd never heard of it before or since, until you mention they do it in Chicago too.

Might have been just his neighbourhood. (Chicago ex-pats in Boston?)

becca said...

Another reason this method of space-keeping wouldn't work in Montreal is that furniture left outside is considered to be up for grabs, and will be grabbed, no matter how crappy it is.

Anonymous said...

I will admit I was one of those who spent nearly half a day claening out a spot in front of ourhouse and posted a old chair or saw horse to reserve the spot. My feelings were, if if I spent so much time and energy clearing the spot in the Windy City then , especially in front of my home, then I deserved to have the spot. Especially in 1979 when we had 43 inches over two weekends and the snow never melted that winter. It was also before 4 wheel drive vehicles and SUVs so a normal rear wheel car would get stuck easily. I know of one person who moved after that winter. We have not had that much snow in recent years plus now I have a AWD vehicles so it does not matter as much anymore to me.

Anonymous said...

Most streets have alternate parking hours in Montreal. So you have to move your car around at least once a day. Good luck leaving something behind and finding it intact upon your return.

And as far as the deflated tires go... Well, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to spot who deflated them seeing as he'll be using the same chair and recycling box in his next parking spot. Oh, another indicator is... he'll be the car with the flat tires the next morning.

Anonymous said...


The alternating parking on streets in only for the non winter months. You can park your car on one side of the street all winter and won't have to move it unless snow removal requires it.