Thursday, May 29, 2008

Private Use of Public Land

This is a good step: making all private businesses, including fitness trainers, to pay to use the parks. Yet it's a sign of how much our sense of the commons have eroded to read comments like this:
"Where did the taxes go that I am already paying for parkland? They should go towards using parks however I'd like, whether it's for flying kites or walking dogs or doing push-ups," said Michelle Persica, a personal trainer with 20 years of experience who sometimes holds classes in Pease Park.
Well, Michelle Persica, if I can come join your class in Pease Park whenever I like, and for no charge, then I guess I'd be happy to let you count your taxes toward a private use fee. Oh...I can't? I have to sign up ahead of time...and pay? Then I guess you're exploiting the commons, aren't you? I guess you're using my contributions to the parklands for your own personal gain.

My friend Roger calls this the "free rider" syndrome, and the free riders "Snopes" (after the family in Faulkner's novels of rising working class Southern whites who "were more interested in avaricious commercial gain than honor or pride" (well put from here)). He describes the phenomenon more:
The Snopes hate the Hoover thing – hate the idea of paying for something when they have figured out how to get it free. And of course they hate the Roosevelt thing of tolerance and enlightenment and blacks moving in next door and marrying their kids. But what they hate most is the idea that the progressives they are conning don't understand what is happening. The progressive harping on the ignorance or bad consciousness or brainwashing of the Snopes class has to stop. Far from being ignorant or unaware of their self advantage, they have had a free ride that has given them the luxury of being able to indulge in reactionary hate while being bankrolled by progressive legislation and opened up to the world through Civil Rights. Everything they hate has supported everything they love: credit cards, big trucks, big motor boats leaking oil over various federally funded dammed lakes, etc., etc. It is no wonder they feel like God's remnant on earth. They have the satisfaction of knowing who is conning who in the great progressive deal, and what they really can't stand is that the liberals that are being suckered don't know who is suckering them.
No free riding, Michelle Persica Snopes.


Gayatri Rao said...

I run with a group and we run a lot around the ladybird lake. I pay for that and I guess I pay for use of the lake through my taxes. I pay my coach for the training he provides me not for use of the trail. I must sign up so that it doesn't get overcrowded and I pay for his expertise. I don't see why he should have to pay for my use of the trails. He is making money off it but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
The cities logic would have us charging musicians that perform on the streets as well (the ones that collect money).

Gayatri Rao said...

oops, city's not cities

sandeep said...

If fitness instructors are expected to pay for the park usage, are they going to be able to always have access to their space on a regular basis?

This is akin to charging them "rent" for their space around Town Lake.

Fine, let's go down that road. Will the City be reimbursing them or providing payment to those instructors when the area around the lake is closed for a festival, from which the city reaps a fair sum of money?

What about the potential negative effects of such a move? It is conceivable that this would have the net effect of lessening the number of people down around the lake on a regular basis. If this begins to negatively impact tourism or if the businesses right around the lake begin to suffer financially, who will offset this? The city? Not likely.

The City of Austin is going for a healthy wellness image, right? How does such a move foster this if they are forcing people to pay for use of the park, which they already do from their taxes?

The City of Austin is in the wrong here, pure and simple. They are taking a dangerously narrow view of the park areas and not considering their function in the greater ecosystem of the surrounding areas.

coffeehound said...

I think there's some common sense to be used about the commons: if your use of the commons doesn't contribute to or enhance the commons, or if it constrains others' use of the commons, then it should be restricted or taxed. Do you think RunTex provides water at the MoPac bridge because they want runners to be hydrated? Hardly. They know they use the public space for their events & groups all the time, and they've made a deal in which they're giving something back.

The city's logic wouldn't affect street musicians, as long as the musicians play music people want to listen to; this is, after all, the live music capital. The argument that the city will make people fat, or at least contradict its own image as a "fit city," doesn't make any sense to me. Don't people still exercise on their own, or do they need someone to teach them how to do it?