For several years my late husband, Ray, and I lived in studio apartment that was just a bit larger than 200 square feet. It had a real, if teeny, bathroom, and there was a kitchenette in one corner. Things were tightly crammed in, but we managed. For a couple years after that, we lived in a place a bit more than twice as big, which was a less cramped—but still tiny enough that it was an uncomfortable chore to have more than one or two friends visit.
Truth be told, we weren’t really living in such a tiny place. We only got by thanks to a rented storage unit down the road where most of my gigantic collection of books sat in boxes. We also kept seasonal clothes there, swapping out part of our wardrobe a couple times a year.
When we moved to a larger, two-bedroom apartment, it was like moving into a castle. There was so much room! Even after we bought a dozen big bookcases and unpacked all my books. Now, 17 years later, I’m in the same place and I suspect some folks who have visited our place would refer to it as a small apartment.
Shortly after we moved into this place, another couple moved into a small studio in the same complex. It’s a little bit bigger than the studio (in another neighborhood) we had lived in. Whereas we had had a storage place down the road, their spill over was vehicles. When they first moved in they had three vehicles: a classic Volkswagon Beetle, a big panel van with a rack of conduit and stuff on top, and a small pickup (a beat-up red Toyota, as I recall). And they parked all three on the street because their unit didn’t have an off-street parking space.
This was a problem for us as our unit also didn’t have an off-street parking space, and we owned one car. Not one car each, one between us. Which I sometimes feel guilty about as I don’t drive very often. But it’s still fewer cars than people. Not to mention the difficulty friends had finding parking when they come to visit.
A few months later, the couple with three vehicles already acquired a new truck. Not just any truck, this was on of those pickups with four doors, so it’s much longer than the van. They didn’t trade-in any of the vehicles they already had on the new truck. So they were two people, living in the city, with four vehicles.
The one time I engaged in conversation about the vehicles, I tried to ease into it by talking about the classic VW, since I knew a few people who drove hybrids that had been built in old VW chassis. I didn’t say what I had been thinking: why are you guys taking up all the parking space on the street? I just asked whether the VW was all original equipment, or if it was some kine of re-furb.
In answer, I got a bit of a lecture about how environmentally friendly driving a small car like the VW to work every day was, and how keeping the old van running for the contracting business the hubby did was more responsible than buying a new van every few years, and while the VW was perfect for her to get back and forth to work and such, her husband was just too big to fit comfortably in it, so they of course had to have a vehicle they could both fit in for running errands and such. (I learned later than another neighbor had recently bluntly confronted them about the number of vehicles they owned.)
I understood all of that. But first, that had nothing to do with them deciding to buy a gas-guzzling behemoth in addition to the others, especially when they were parking all of their vehicles on public property. I would probably have still been annoyed at the giant truck often being in my way, even if they had gotten rid of the older pickup, but this was a big step beyond.
She also talked about how cheaper it was for them to rent an apartment in the city close to where she worked than where they had lived before, where there had been more parking. I stopped myself from suggesting that the point of living close to work is usually to eliminate the need for a dedicated commuting vehicle (I live much further from my work than she did at the time, and I take the bus and walk, for instance).
The kicker was they had stopped driving the smaller truck. When someone reported it abandoned and it was ticketed, they moved it to a different spot on the street and put a For Sale sign in the window. And then, they bought a motor cycle. Not a little, economical scooter, a ginormous, rattle windows in houses a mile away motorcycle.
By that point, a bunch of neighbors were tired of the whole mess. Multiple people started calling to report the pickup that never moved. Since the newer truck tended to get left in the same spot for many days at a time, a few people called that in, too. After getting several abandoned vehicle tickets, they finally took the small truck somewhere to sell it, and began making plans to move to “a friendlier neighborhood.”
They had it backwards. The rest of us weren’t the unfriendly neighbors.
Yes, parking on the street in our neighborhood is open to the public. And our particular block has a number of small apartment buildings with inadequate off-street parking. If the households living in every individual “living unit” on the street had only one car each, there would have to be some cars parked on the street all the time. This was a decision made by builders, and sanctioned by the city when it granted building permits. There was an assumption that either some people wouldn’t have cars, or that some of us would park on the street.
It is getting easier and easier to get by without a car in the city. And I know, being a car owner myself, I am living somewhat in a glass house if I complain about this couple.
But the point I’m meandering to is that a lot of choices that we make about how we live have consequences on other people’s lives. Yes, they had a legal right to buy what cars they wanted. But parking that many on the public right of way isn’t really fair use. Parking isn’t the only impact that people have an a neighborhood, by any means.
So I have misgivings about some of the practices some owners in several neighborhoods are undertaking, finding loopholes in the current regulations to subdivide existing apartments into smaller and smaller units in the name of “affordable housing.” Yes, if someone wants to live in a place that size, they may do so, but the mere presence of many more people in a given neighborhood is going to infringe on the lives of other people in that same neighborhood.
Asking to have my misgivings addressed isn’t being a bad neighbor. It isn’t being classist. It isn’t being a “not in my backyard.” It’s one citizen saying, “You haven’t answered all my questions, yet.”