Sunday, June 5, 2011

Vested interests

On Friday, I quoted Ruben Diaz, Jr. ("the Reasonable") about the City's borough taxi proposal: "We want to find a way to decriminalize street hails and at the same time not devalue the yellow medallions that so many people have invested so much in." In a comment on my last post, longtime reader NY Taxi Photo echoed this, "paying for a medallion is paying for such permissions, and shouldn't be limited after such a contract is purchased."

These quotes really encapsulate everything that I've been fighting against for the entire existence of this blog, and everything that Streetsblog has been fighting against. Brooklyn Spoke found a great quote from "Senior for Safety," Jasmine Meltzer back in 1984: "All we wanted was what we had." Meltzer was talking about the right to double-park without being subject to the penalties specified by the law, but Doug observed that she could just as well be talking about the ability to double-park on Prospect Park West without being uncomfortably close to the speeding cars.

All Meltzer wants is what she had. That's all that the taxi medallion owners want too. That's all America's drivers and politicians want, too - the cheap gas and open roads that they had. All East 57th Street business owners want is the parking they had. All Tim Hughes wants is the right he had to drop off his bottled water and Goya beans at his curb on 34th Street. All Kvetch Greenfield wants is clear streets after a snowfall, which he had.

You can say that about almost every post I've ever written, every Streetsblog post, every post by Larry Littlefield. People fight for safety, they fight for fairness, they fight for clean air, they fight to keep our energy supply from being used up. They come up with an idea that will make a contribution towards one of these things. Sometimes it's a small idea, sometimes it's a big idea.

Sometimes it's not an idea at all, or not an idea about carnage or global warming or access. Sometimes it's just a change in something else, like the size of the snowfall, or the number of snowfalls, or the size of the new subway stationhouse. But whatever it is, it can't get in the way of what "we" had.

The law is irrelevant to "what we had." Sometimes it is explicitly respected by the law, like the "right" to free bridges paid for by income and sales taxes. Sometimes the law says nothing about it, like the "right" to own a house or a taxi medallion that never goes down in value. Sometimes it is actually forbidden by the law, like the "right" to double park without being ticketed. Legal or illegal, if "we" had it, it must continue.

Notice the "we" there. Because "we" doesn't mean the people who have had nice wide sidewalks on Broadway. It doesn't mean the people who've (sorta) had crosswalks clear of snow. It doesn't mean the livery cab drivers who've had the right to pick up street hails in the outer boroughs without too much enforcement. It means the powerful: the drivers on Broadway, the drivers on the snowy streets of Queens, the yellow cab medallion owners.

Sometimes it's important to realize that what "we" had hurts other people. What "we" had contributes to hundreds of deaths every year. What "we" had is causing crazy tornadoes in Massachusetts. What you had is causing oil wars. What "we" had is stifling the economy of the United States.

Sometimes we need to give up some of what we had so that others can have a little more. Now we need to give up some of what we had so that our grandchildren can have anything. There's a word for that: community.

1 comment:

Stephen Smith said...

I'd add to that list zoning and rent control. People feel entitled to having every surrounding (and not-so-surrounding) property forever zoned exactly how it was when they bought it, and renters (or at least two-thirds of them) feel entitled to force their landlords to turn 1-year leases into lifetime leases, without ever changing the cost to them.

- Stephen Smith,