“God is not creating new terra firma”

logan circleThe 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.

church parkingGetting 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.

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  • Michael

    It’s an interesting story, Daniel. It is also interesting to see how the author side-stepped the ever present issue of race, which is also underlying the story. The churches where the biggest conflicts mentioned in the story are all African American churches, full of congregants who no longer live in the neighborhood and many who don’t even live in the District. The new neighbors, as you pointed out, are predominately white.

  • paddyo’

    Aaa, just carpool or, where possible, take Metro or the bus. Or set up satellite parking arrangements and carpool that way. This is much ado about nothing. Double-parking is double-parking, whatever day of the week.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    I also thought this story was interesting and wanted to bring out another point that was not mentioned in the story.

    For five years I lived near a very popular church on Capitol Hill that had parking issues. In fact, the church actually began raising a city block of historic buildings in order to provide more parking. Needless to say, that annoyed the neighbours more than you can possibly know.

    Anyway, I’m all for people moving around and parking wherever they want — but what REALLY annoyed me was how all the cars that went to this church had VIRGINIA TAGS.

    Dozens and dozens of Virginia-tagged cars would infiltrate the neighbourhood so that they could go to their Washington DC church.

    Now it’s completely irrational and sinful that I would be annoyed by this but I know I wasn’t the only neighbour who would mumble about suburban Virginians trying to coopt our neighbourhood.

    I wish that rivalry between the (superior) city-dwellers and (inferior) suburban yuppies was mentioned in the piece.

  • http://www.crappychristian.com Marie

    The Shaw neighborhood where this is happening tends to have a church for every 2 or three blocks. Where I live (in Shaw) there is a church across the street from me, another church on the next block and a mosque one block down. The mosque has a decent enclosed parking lot, and the churches have small parking lots. There seems to be no doubleparking when a church has a small parking lot.
    The DC vs Non-DC church people is a problem and not just with parking. A Maryland relative of mine attends a DC church that is fighting the liquor license of a business many locals, like myself, are supporting. When argueing with the church about this, parking, and vacant property the church owns someone does point out that a lot of parishioners don’t even live in the area. And I know several parishioners who have never lived in the area.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Hm. I don’t know if Jewish congregations actually do have the same problem. Depending on which branch of Judaism it is, they might be forbidden from driving on the Sabbath anyway.

  • Chris


    There was actually an article in the Post about that very topic maybe a year ago. A big focus of the article was how expensive the housing was around the temple and how it was increasingly difficult for the congregation to follow the strict orthodox practice of not driving on the Sabbath, yet still attend.

  • Michael

    The large reform and conservative temples in DC are also in relatively less-dense residential neighborhoods than the churches discussed in the article. I’ve seen police conducting traffic near the temples during the high holy days, but haven’t noticed problems of double-parking.

  • Matt

    I don’t think it is a suburb vs. city problem. I think it has more to do with the expectations of people who move into a neighborhood.

    For 10 years I attended http://www.pbcc.org in a wealthy silicon valley suburb. Three totally packed sunday morning services: 6,500 adults and about 800 kids coming and going from 7:45 am until 1 pm every sunday drove the neighbors nuts. They expected a quiet, peaceful (I think of it as sterile, non-productive, and selfish – but that is just my opinion) suburban life. The church has a parking lot but only for about 100 cars. Therefore, people would park on the streets of the residential neighborhood. That is until the neighbors went to the gity council and got it to declare a no parking zone on all the streets (two block radius from the church) on sunday ornings from 8 – 12. Also, the neighbors complained to the citycouncil about the noise of cars opening and closing their doors on the parking lot during the week. The city asked the church to close off the parking space on the edge of the parking lot on weekdays. So, that is the suburbs.

    I now attend http://www.holy-trinity.org in San Francisco. There is no parking lot. about 2/3 of the worshipers live in the City. The remainder drive in from all over the bay area. There is only street parking. Neighbors don’t complain. But nobody double parks either. Parishoners who drive in from the burbs just park as far away a six or seven block from the church. Its a nice little walk. At least in San Francisco (I guess I don’t understand D.C.) people expect a city to be crowded. Hmmmmm… there is also this: The church I attend now is seen as a cultural institution. I once asked one of the neigbors (who is not a church-goer of any kind. I sometimes see her coming in from a night of partying as I am going into church on Sunday mornings.) if the bells bothered her. She said “Are you kidding? They are part of the local soundscape. I love them!”

    I think the reporter could do more digging. Why are these people dringing into DC for church? Why are people moving into the neighborhood to become neighbors of a church if they don’t want a church to be their neighbor?

  • Michael

    Why are these people dringing into DC for church? Why are people moving into the neighborhood to become neighbors of a church if they don’t want a church to be their neighbor?

    These are great questions. In the neighborhood where many of the problems exist, the churches are large African American congregatinos with long roots in the community. The congregants, however, have moved to the suburbs but want to keep a connection with their home church which is still serving the urban community.

    The underlying racial tension in DC is something that often doesn’t make sense to people who don’t live here. Nothing happens in DC, or at least it seems, that doesn’t have a racial component.

    In this case, these are neighborhoods–as Daniel pointed out–that are being gentrified by affluent whites, many of whom are gay. The white/black tension has the added component of sexual orientation. In addition, while the “white” churches in these neighborhoods are considered progressive and gay-friendly, the African American churches are not. Thus, more tension.

    As to your question about what people expect, it’s a good one. Gentrifiers have this tendency to like their nice, old houses but not like the community that those houses exist in.