In Peggy Clifford’s neighborhood, out back of the state capitol in Olympia, Wash., a black market thrives. Early each year during the state’s legislative session, lobbyists go there -- just a hop, skip, and a jump from the capitol dome -- to buy what they crave: parking spaces. Clifford says, “This is a neighborhood, not a parking lot.”
Tell that to regular capitol visitors. The neighborhood may be nationally registered as historic and staunchly defended by Clifford and other concerned citizens, but it also has driveways and backyards, and to some residents, the offer of hard currency for use of that real estate is persuasive. They park their cars at the curb, protected by their resident-only permits, and rent out their private spaces to professional capitol-goers. A lot of money changes hands.
Later each year, in August and September, similar informal markets pop up around two of the Northwest’s biggest fairs: the Puyallup in Washington and the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver, B.C. Neighbors stand curbside, like sign twirlers or squeegee men, hawking space on their property to the drivers streaming by. In Puyallup, the practice goes back for decades; local authorities long ago threw up their hands. They legalized and regulated it. In Vancouver, where not only homeowners but also local schools and churches sell spots, city leaders did the same. They wrote exacting standards, then began publishing helpful tips for would-be parking operators.
It’s the same thing on game days at Oregon State University and the University of Washington (pictured above and below), and during the Seafair hydroplane races in Seattle. Homeowners in resident-only parking districts shuttle their autos to the curb at dawn and rent their off-street spaces to visitors. Other sporting events spark the same phenomenon. When Seattle’s Stacy Noland lived near the arena then used by the Seattle Supersonics, he made enough money letting basketball fans park in his garage to pay for his own season tickets. “Meanwhile, I parked my rig on the street,” Stacy says.