MEXICO CITY ó Every day before dawn, dozens of men appear in the Mexican capitalís hip Condesa neighborhood and block off parking spaces along entire streets using water jugs, cardboard boxes, buckets, crates and even blocks of cement.
As visitors start arriving for the districtís restaurants, organic food stores, boutiques and art galleries, the men collect 20 to 40 pesos ($1.50-$3), remove the obstructions and let drivers park.
Here and in other well-to-do areas of traffic-choked Mexico City, authorities are trying to take back the streets by installing parking meters. They say the meters will make the area safer and more orderly, as well as encouraging less driving, which will be a boon for a polluted city with more than 4 million cars.
Residents of Condesa, a bohemian neighborhood of 70,000 residents who rub shoulders every day with 170,000 visitors, will decide in a referendum Sunday whether they want the meters on their streets.
Many are vehemently opposed, hanging banners from balconies to attack meters, saying the streets are public and no one should profit from them. But others hope the plan will cut down on cars from elsewhere. Parking has become so critical that some Condesa residents have seized their own pieces of the street by erecting removable metal bars that jut from curbs in front of their homes.