Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why we have government funding

Under Koch, Cuomo and Reagan we saw a reduction in public investment in infrastructure and services: our deteriorating parks, streets and subways allowed Reagan to deliver his famous tax cuts. Under Giuliani and Pataki we got private organizations taking up the slack: business improvement districts cleaned up the streets, and organizations like the Central Park Conservancy maintained the parks.

Of course, this is on a much more local scale: the BIDs and the foundations only pay for individual business districts and parks. If your neighborhood doesn't have enough rich donors, you don't even get a cheapo park conservancy, you just have to deal with inadequate city services. If your business district can't afford to tax its members, you get infrequent garbage collection and rarely seen NYPD patrols. In terms of transportation, we get oil wars and Cash for Clunkers for the rich, while the subway service is being cut.

Since the city, state and feds won't pay to maintain the existing facilities, they won't allow any new ones to be built unless they come with maintenance plans. Thus, the campaign for the Brooklyn Bridge Park rested not on convincing the city to build and maintain it, but convincing the neighbors to allow enough condo and recreational development to be built there so as to pay for the maintenance. The DOT's public plaza program has accomplished what it did only with local partner organizations who pledged to keep the plazas clean and functional.

Now Curbed links to a Post story about one of those plans that's coming apart. The new Hudson River Park was apparently built with the understanding that maintenance would be financed through allowing cars to cross the greenway and park at Pier 40, and eventually through some kind of recreational development on that pier. The neighbors didn't want to see that kind of development, though, and the pier has been deteriorating so that not as many cars can park there. The result is that the park is running out of funds.

Often we don't get a decent perspective on these things, so nobody explains why, for example, Brooklyn Bridge Park advocates were promoting condo construction. This Post article was an exception, though, thanks to one quote:
Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Park Advocates, said Hudson River Park is falling victim to government refusal to pay for essential services (parks, among them), instead putting the cost on to risky development schemes.

"The problems at Hudson River Park are a perfect example of why these deals aren't in the best interest of the public," Croft said.

I'm so glad that Croft and New York City Park Advocates have come along. Instead of having two sets of parks, one for the rich and one for the poor, they want the government to fund them all. And it sounds like they don't treat it like a welfare system, but as a matter of basic fairness.

They've got an uphill battle in this economic climate, but park maintenance would be a great stimulus program. I've only just heard of them, but they sound like a great organization. We have plenty of organizations arguing for decent transit from a welfare point of view, and others from an environmental standpoint, but I don't know how often I hear it being advocated from a fairness perspective. And of course it'd be nice if we had someone doing this for business districts.

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