Here in Pittsburgh, we generally take a pretty easy-going approach to empty chairs, at least when they occupy parking spaces. So much so, in fact, that the customary practice of "reserving" an empty parking space with a lawn chair (or equivalent piece of worn furniture, etc.) has now been formalized in the code of one nearby municipality. Social norms are become law.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the council of the town of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania (known, among other things, as the birthplace of Perry Como) voted recently to permit residents to place chairs in the street to claim sidewalk viewing spots along its Fourth of July parade route.
In a 6-3 vote, the council agreed to let residents place chairs along the route beginning at 6 a.m., 48 hours prior to the parade date. Third Ward Councilmen Tim Bilsky, Joseph Graff Sr. and Paul Sharkady opposed the plan.
The compromise replaces the rule passed in July that no chairs would be allowed along Pike Street before 6 a.m. on July 4.
For years, Canonsburg residents have decorated lawn chairs and placed them in their favorite spots along the 1.5-mile route, some a few weeks before the Independence Day celebration. The curbside reservations help save a spot for residents when the community is flooded with thousands of visitors for the parade, which is second in size only to Philadelphia's.
But this year, several council members said residents went too far, by not only putting out chairs two weeks early but also by tying and even locking them to trees, telephone poles, signs and each other. The masses of chairs presented a safety hazard and ultimately a liability issue, some council members said.
Much has been written about the welfare effects of parking chair customs. Parking chairs are often associated with snow removal, in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, and on account of that, even more has been written about parking chairs as Lockean property theory in action. (See, for example, this paper by Susan Silbey.)
It is always interesting to observe the emergence and refinement of governance mechanisms for shared resources, and that's what I think the parking chair phenomenon represents. In Canonsburg, are municipal authorities capitulating to and channelling citizen resistance to public law? Is this simply a formal expression of community- and citizen-driven justice? Something else?
Or is it just a bunch of empty chairs, many of them likely manufactured outside the U.S., anchoring a celebration of American independence?