12/06/2010 04:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Chair-Free Chicago: New Plan Could End City's 'Dibs' Tradition

This weekend, Chicago saw its first big snow of the season. While scraping ice and snow off of one's car and sidewalk doesn't seem so bad at first, people tend to get grumpier about it as winter progresses. This is where dibs come into play.

Dibs has become a Chicago tradition of sorts--chairs, saw horses and children's basketball nets set up in the street tell other motorists "this spot is off limits." Those who spend the time digging their car out of a snow pile feel entitled to the spot forever, others say the practice is obnoxious and illegal.


A stuffed animal and a chair are among the items used to save parking spaces cleared of snow on Chicago's northwest side Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2001. AP

Though Mayor Daley dubbed "dibs" a tradition a few years back, the city has since vowed to throw away items left in vacant parking spaces. The Department of Streets and Sanitation, however, made it clear that clean roads and salt is a bigger priority. So, here we are again. Will another winter lead to more arguments about dibs and angry exchanges with neighbors?

Not if Kevin Lynch has his way.

As the Creative Director for Proximity Chicago, Lynch has launched Chair-Free Chicago as a way to help the city's dibs haters take matters into their own hands. Chair-Free Chicago allows Chicagoans to order or print well-designed signs to hang on their block, declaring the area a chair-free zone. Lynch discussed the project further via email with HuffPost Chicago.

When did you decide to start Chair Free Chicago?

During the last two winters, friends of ours have gone through the experience of having their streets turned into what looks like a yard sale, and having neighbors confront them for moving chairs out of streets. The people who were saving shoveled out spots were the same friendly neighbors who you'd say hello to on the sidewalk, who you might've shared a beer with at a block party last summer. But for some reason, once the snow falls, those same people become selfish and territorial.

We want this winter to be different.

Saving parking spots with a chair is an established system of being an a-hole to your neighbor. With Chair-Free Chicago, we're creating a system of being considerate to each other.

Some spot-saving defenders say that those opposed to the furniture in the streets are lazy and unwilling to shovel out their own spot. What would you say to these people?

It's only human for spot-saving to trigger a defense mechanism among those who are saving spots. Deep down, they know they're being selfish jerks, and that the rest of us are on to them. So accusing the rest of us of being lazy is perfectly understandable. Misguided and inaccurate, but perfectly understandable.

This weekend marked the first "big" snow of the season. Have any signs been posted that you are aware of?

There were a number of signs posted over the weekend, which can be viewed on the website [here.] There was also a report of the first sign being stolen from a tree. Either someone doesn't like the idea, or they like it so much, they wanted to declare their very own Chair-Free Zone.


One of the Chair-Free Zone signs posted over the weekend.

What kind of reactions has Chair Free Chicago received?

The initial reaction has been positive, with anecdotal responses ranging from
"That's a great idea" to "The aldermen's offices should carry these." Only a couple people have ordered signs so far, but signs can also be printed for free on the website, so there's no way of knowing how many signs are in use already.

Last year, city officials were more vocal about eliminating "dibs." Have you spoken with any city officials about this project?

If there's one thing we've learned from city officials, it's that they really love surprises. Can't get enough of them, really. So we didn't speak to them beforehand. And really, it's not about us making a statement - it's about giving people a forum and a system to make their own statement.

People can use the site's signs or fliers to communicate with neighbors
(here). Or use the website's form to contact their alderman directly (here).

Hopefully, Chair-Free Chicago will help keep the issue in the public's conscience even after the latest snow has melted.

Tell us a little about yourself, if you don't mind.

Proximity Chicago is a digitally-minded marketing agency. Our mission is simple: "Help companies make people's lives better." We think Chair-Free Chicago is a good example of this effort.

Learn more about Chair-Free Chicago here. Let us know what you think about dibs and this project in the comments.