Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The fix is in with the double-parking churchgoers, as a mayoral spokesman recently made clear in a trial balloon intended to soften the blow of legislation that legalizes double parking for the few.

The spokesman uttered the magic words: Maybe the law that bans double parking needs to be changed. And maybe it does. Maybe this vexing issue needs to be addressed on a church-by-church basis. Or maybe a more malleable double-parking code for everyone is the solution, no matter the inconvenience it imposes on residents whose vehicles become trapped because of the conceit.

This has come to be an incredibly complex political issue, almost comically so, if only because double parking is a universal no-no for obvious reasons. It used to be about as plain as running a stop sign. But now there are traces of other elements in the double-parking, churchgoing row, notably class, race, displacement and gentrification, the latter being the scourge of all urban redevelopment.

Those who gentrify a previously hardscrabble neighborhood are often young, often pale and often committed to the religion of diversity. They bring their elbow grease and green thumbs and, inexorably, the neighborhood begins to adopt their cultural sensitivities.

The drug dealers doing business on the end of the street are inevitably shooed to a different part of the city. The same with the street walkers. The same with the homeless loitering on benches in the neighborhood park.

The community activism of the newcomers changes the look and feel of the neighborhood. Then Starbucks shows up. Predictably, the price of real estate in the neighborhood begins to rise, which in turn leads to higher property assess-ments. It is not unusual for longtime residents in a neighbor-hood to have property tax bills that would have been a hefty mortgage bill not too long ago.

The old-timers eventually move out as the neighborhood develops a more upscale reputation. In their place come the empty nesters, the new wealthy and the urban hipsters forever on the prowl for a place that reflects their sophistication.

All these dynamics are an underlying part of the double-parking debate. Many of the churchgoers are displaced residents of the neighborhoods. They took the equity from the sales of their homes and re-settled in the suburbs. The last connection to their beloved old neighborhood is the church.

A task force formed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams in April to resolve the double-parking, churchgoing problem is grappling with the nuances of the issue instead of the illegality of it. They feel the pain of the churchgoers instead of the residents who just might want to have access to their vehicles on Sunday mornings.

“Does the law make sense when you have churches scattered throughout neighborhoods that once or twice a week need many places to park?” the spokesman said. “Does it make sense to have the same parking rules in effect for churches?” Well, yes and yes. It does make sense. And here is what does not make sense: It makes no sense to ignore the pleas of taxpaying residents who would like to have access to their vehicles on a 24/7 basis, with no exceptions.

And one other thing: Although it is fashionable in some circles to speak condescendingly of those who gentrify a neighborhood, the alternative is not exactly all that romantic. High-crime areas are not really cool places to live. Bars on the windows of homes and storefronts are not attractive features.

Consider cities to be living organisms destined to change, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. The well-intentioned who resist the change merely delay the inevitable. If a church can be sustained only by former Washingtonians of a certain age, rest assured, that is a church with no future.

This is some of the obtuse sentiment intruding on the double-parking tempest.

Otherwise, double parking is double parking.

A clear no-no, except in this city.

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