The Washington Post carried an interesting religion story Friday on an issue that directly effects my life as a member of a church that meets in the congested heart of the nation's capital. Gentrification, parking and religious discrimination are all factors in this story and I found it interesting how the article handled each. Here's what we're dealing with:
The District plans to issue tickets to illegally parked cars outside a cluster of downtown churches beginning in May as it undertakes a citywide review of a long-standing practice that police and traffic officials have largely ignored.
The city's Department of Transportation may also let congregations apply for permits that would allow their members to double-park during services -- a proposal that is provoking criticism.
This week, the agency caused confusion with an announcement indicating that the District would ticket double-parked cars outside congregations across the city.
A reader of ours, Chris Blackstone, left us some very intelligent comments regarding this story, stating that the parking issue is becoming more and more of an issue as wealthy white residents move into predominantly older D.C. neighborhoods with large established churches. This is known as the most significant social trend in Washington right now as the city revitalizes itself and neighborhoods like Logan Circle, Chinatown and Dupont Circle become attractive places for developers to build $500,000-plus condos.
Blackstone believes this story is driven by these new residents who don't appreciate double-parked cars and blocked driveways on Sunday mornings or evenings. Older residents who have lived in the neighborhoods for years find the church part of the scene and don't mind the crowded parking. Sticking mostly to what officials told him, Post reporter Paul Schwartzman misses this factor, but it's tough to blame him because the story landed on page six of the metro section. The newspaper's editors apparently didn't see this story as much of a priority.
Getting into the meat of the story, Schwartzman found a local resident, Todd Lovinger, who leads the battle against double-parkers and opposes the idea of churches' applying for special permits that would allow their members to double-park during church time:
"They're trying to make it appear that they're doing something, but they're allowing an exemption that nullifies what they're doing," Lovinger said. "It's a giant loophole."
Lovinger called the proposal "unconstitutional" because "it exhibits a bias to one religion, namely the Christian churches that assemble on Sunday. Jewish congregations have the same problems on Friday and Saturdays, but the District is not addressing that."
Rice said the transportation agency is "happy to work with" any religious institution and community enduring a similar parking crunch. And he countered the complaint that parking permits amounted to a loophole, saying applicants would have to testify before the agency's Public Space Commission, which would decide on issuing exemptions.
That's a nice back-and-forth there between the Transportation Department's Bill Rice and Lovinger, but did Schwartzman consider finding out the number of synagogues in Washington, as Blackstone pointed out? Or mosques? It would be interesting to know, for one, and could also nullify that argument, despite the agency's promise to work with all religious institutions.
Parking near churches on Sundays in Washington is certainly an issue. Parking at my church, which meets in Chinatown, is always a hassle unless one arrives at least 30 minutes before the 5 p.m. service. Parking in Dupont Circle (where my girlfriend lives) is always difficult on Sunday night when an area church has its service.
So from both perspectives, as a congregant seeking a parking spot and a person battling churchgoers for parking spots, it affects my life. While I appreciate this one article on the matter, a more thorough look at the various aspects would be nice.