Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Private Parks: Practical and Moral

I have previously argued that the city of Houston should begin selling off assets, such as parks and libraries, in an effort to reduce spending, cut taxes, and return to its proper function of protecting individual rights. An editorial in the Chronicle last week provides some evidence regarding the practicality of such a plan.

Citing Hermann Park, Discovery Green, and the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, the editorial explains how these amenities are are funded:
In large part, it’s Houston’s private donors. Most obviously, a check from the Jamail family launched the skate park. But just as admirable are the many members of the two conservancies that support Hermann Park and Discovery Green; they provide money for the endless extra love and care that top-notch parks require.

While urging Houstonians to lobby city council to spend more on neighborhood parks, the editorial acknowledges that police salaries and fire trucks take priority. With the city "tightening its belt", the Chronicle advocates "direct action": "Give money. Raise money. Volunteer your time."

This is all well and good, but it doesn't address the fundamental issue--the city should not be in the park business. The city should sell its parks, beginning with the neighborhood parks.

Economically, taxpayers benefit from the elimination of the costs associated with park maintenance. Those who value parks would be free to provide financial support, and those who do not will be equally free to spend their money as they choose. The editorial makes it clear that there are individuals and groups who value the parks and are willing to pay for them.

Some may fear that the parks would disappear as developers buy up the land and build town homes. There is some justification in this. But considered in its full context, and by implementing appropriate measures, such concerns can be easily addressed.

I have previously advocated selling the neighborhood parks to the home owners of the neighborhood. The "cleanest" arrangement would be for the home owners association to own and operate the park. This is currently done in many subdivisions. As a part of the sale, deed restrictions could be attached to the property so that it cannot be used for other purposes while the deed restrictions are active. When the deed restrictions lapse, the owners could then decide to renew them and retain the park, or use the property for other uses.

Such a plan provides short term protection for property owners who purchased their home because of its proximity to a park, yet allows the owners to control the use of their property without intervention from government.

Morally, individuals should not be forced to provide financial support for parks (or anything else) against their own judgment. If Jane Doe wants to have a park down the street with clean restrooms and freshly painted equipment, she should be willing to pay for it. She should not--nor does she have a right to--force taxpayers to provide her children with a place to play.

Privatizing the city's parks is both practical and moral.


Kate Goldberg said...

I never thought about the parks as being outside the realm of government responsibility. It makes total sense. I assume that many are like me and they just go along with what has been the norm, without questioning. You are right though. Where do park creation and maintenance fit into the government's responsibility to protect our rights and freedoms. It shouldn't be government work.

I like your blog. You may enjoy mine as well:

Brian Phillips said...

Thanks Kate. I'll check out your blog.

jadtbfcass said...

I came across this site while searching for private parks. While I generally oppose the idea - because I think parks are a public good - there are other kinds of private parks besides the kind described in your article. There are parks that are really private, in that the public is not invited to use them without paying to the landowner. These privately funded parks really are "private" just like a country club. Here's a link to a company that uses several of them.

In fact, at least two were built with public money or public property rights. UC Irvine and Bonnelli.

The problem with privatization is that a lot of public assets are being sold, not to the highest bidder or the best steward, but to the best connected. Land, airwaves, and mineral rights have been "sold" to corporations at below their true value, and sold too quickly. The privatization advocates are ripping off the people by selling off at discount, when we can afford to hold back and let the market pay top dollar.

Look at what happens with charter schools - often the best connected will get to take over schools that have been recently renovated, while the kids who are stuck in public school because their parents don't know the system are stuck with an old facility.

Brian Phillips said...

I do not disagree that often privatization occurs through back room deals and political pull. I am opposed to such methods of privatization. But the fact that some businesses use political pull and some politicians grant favors to their pals does not negate the morality of privatizing "public" assets.

I won't claim to know the best method for every situation. I am inclined to think that auctions will often be best, but there are certainly other methods.

In short, there are two issues: The morality of private parks; and the methods for privatization.

Gene Basler said...

Pretty cool discussion. I hope I may chime in without being too abrasive. I agree with jadtfabcass that backroom deals between the state and the connected are not examples of legitimate free-market privatization. However, just to be clear: there is no such thing as a "public good". And there certainly is no such thing as "public property rights".

To tackle the first: the term "public good" actually has no meaning. You may say it's in the public good for a community to have an open space, and that everybody must pitch in? Well, what about me? I live right next door. Am I chopped liver? I think it's in MY interest to keep my tax dollars and save it for my kid's college. He can play in the back yard. See, my dear jadtbfcass, you are ignoring the gun in the room. You think it's a slide and a swing and a baseball diamond, but there's a gun, too! The gun that makes it all happen. The gun that forces everyone to pay, even if they're a little behind on their mortgage this month, just because some people want to force their definition of "public good" down my throat.

Taxation is theft, pure and simple. To prove this, I challenge you to try to collect some without the use of force. Nothing ever achieved by theft has ever been for the public good. Nothing. It's logically impossible, because if you accept that we should steal people's stuff to have a park, then you logically accept that we should steal their stuff to support a bully-foreign policy, or tell people what they can and can't smoke, or tell them they can't have solar panels.

While it may be common to assume that parks are a public good, While you may have the vast majority in agreement with you, it is actually quite narrow and unimaginative to assume, without so much as an ounce of junior-high level critical analysis, that open spaces for communities can only be provided by the coercive mechanisms of the state.

Gene Basler said...

Have you ever considered opening your blog up for comments without the captcha and the "submitted to the blog owner for approval"? I have found that the rate of inappropriate comments is pretty close to zero, and blog experts say that if you want increased traffic, you should make it as easy as possible for people to leave a comment. You can always pull one if it's objectionable. Something to think about. I think your blog is very interesting.

Gene Basler said...

I just read your profile, and an patting myself on the back. I was pretty sure, from reading this article, that you weren't a Chicagoite, and I didn't really think you were an Austrian or Rothbardian anarchocapitalist, so I concluded that you must be a Randian. Now that I've read your profile, I see that I guessed correctly.

I was talking to a self-described Randian who advocates the continued war on Radical Islamic Jihad as it's currently being fought by the Pentagon--the largest socialist institution in the history of the human race--as necessary and better than the alternative. Yes, I said he's a Randian and not a Buckleyite. He further said that his views on this are informed by the ARI. Is this correct? And if so, what would be the end game? Anyway, I'd appreciate your thoughts on this. I live in Houston and feel all alone in my property rights fanaticism. my blog is

Brian Phillips said...

Gene--Thanks for the comments.

I would like to correct one thing. The term "Randian" implies allegiance to an individual. While I subscribe to the philosophy of Ayn Rand my allegiance is to the philosophy and not a particular person. Thus, the proper term would be "Objectivist."

I don't purport to speak for ARI, but I disagree with the claim that they endorse the current approach to fighting Islamists. This might give you a better idea of their position

Gene Basler said...

Thanks for the reply. I read the intro you linked me to: that's more akin to a position I can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with. Of course, I don't like language like "victory over", as perpetuating the very mindset that led to 9/11, as this intro so adroitly alludes: I rather prefer "disengagement", or some other language that implies friendly exchange.