“Sorry I didn’t pick up when you called earlier. I was looking for a space.”
Let the record show that Brendan Goldblatt does not fumble with his phone when he’s driving. Let it also show that he’d rather spend Q.T. with his wife and daughter, be on time for appointments and generally run his pest-control business more optimally than play hunt-and-peck for a parking spot in his neighborhood. Unlike the thousands of other New York drivers who share his feelings—and who’d typically just swallow down their caustic bile or channel their rage into the nearest bodega—Goldblatt took action.
Last month he founded a Facebook group, Spot Swap NYC, which has become something of a phenomenon in his native Upper Manhattan. The premise is simple: Leaving your space? Let your neighbors in the group know what time you’re leaving. Need a space? Let your neighbors in the group know what time you’d need it. There is no money exchanged, no secret handshakes, no profit motive. Granted, just because you’re in the group doesn’t mean you’re always in luck.
“I missed a member by like 20 minutes, so I had to drive around aimlessly,” Goldblatt, 38, says.
The lightbulb went off after watching nightclub valets in his neighborhood working the curbs in total, and illegal, syncopation.
“They’d use the street spaces like a valet lot. When one would leave, they’d slot another car in. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great just to let my neighbors know when I was leaving my space?’ It’s something that if you don’t drive and park in New York, you just don’t understand.”
The idea had legs, and it quickly outran Goldblatt’s early intentions. “When I started it, it was in Inwood, west of Broadway. Then someone said, ‘Why not east of Broadway?’ So we included east of Broadway. Now it’s all the way down in Harlem,” a good 70 blocks south of Goldblatt’s nosebleed-north nabe. “I mean, in two weeks we’ve got almost 1,000 Likes.”
Insofar as the group has rules, they’re the rules of the city.
“Whoever gets there first, gets the spot,” Goldblatt says. “You can’t hold a spot for a member, not that you’d ever know who was and who wasn’t one. There’s no talking, no connection. There’s no wink, no nod; this is New York. All I need to know is, you’re midway down the block in the silver car? O.K.”
There’s a touch of the class warrior to Goldblatt, and part of his project’s appeal lies in its subversion of the big guy—and in New York, that’s usually a real estate developer.
“They keep putting up new buildings, but they never put in new parking. What are we supposed to do? Drive around for hours? Because we’re already doing that. And we can’t afford to pay $300 a month for a spot.”
As Spot Swap NYC has grown, Goldblatt has enlisted his brother Frank to help with admin rights, set up rooms and respond to friend requests. Goldblatt sees nothing that would preclude the concept from going city-wide.
“Creating order amid the chaos—that’s something people are attracted to,” he says. “That’s a very New York impulse.”