Sunday, March 01, 2009

Commandeering the Commons

Our small urban public parks that were created and are maintained for the enjoyment and refuge of its landlords (us) and to preserve the last vestige of Nature in our cities are under continual assault. Note the history of our own urban parks that have over the years resisted morphing into golf courses, zoos, dog runs, drug havens, soccer fields and (perhaps the worst) neglect by a myriad of tactics. These tactics have included everything from public appeals to secret deals.

A new tactic for coercing the public to allow new uses of our Eastern urban parks should concern us all. Some aggressive off-trail Mountain biking enthusiasts believe that our small urban parks not only belong to us all, but should be open to all activities. And they are unabashedly using the argument style of the bully to radically change the intended purpose of our urban parks: If you don’t allow us to take over your parks with our extreme bike sport, we ├╝ber-athletes will take our ability to crank big bucks into your public coffers and go elsewhere. If we give into this manipulation of our common charity, it would be a tragedy.

The tragedy of the commons “describes a dilemma in which multiple individuals acting independently in their own self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared limited resource even where it is clear that it is not in anyone's long term interest for this to happen.” The systematic depletion of the fish in the ocean is an example of this tragedy because it is always in the best interest of the fisherman to try and take more fish, as the fish get fewer each fish becomes more valuable. While overfishing insures the destruction of fish, it is nevertheless pursued because there is no cost of fish loss to an individual fisherman. The commons, the ocean (in this case), is a shared limited resource.

Taking over our small urban parks is not overstating the case as, using my fishing analogy; you cannot have your fish and have them fill the oceans too. You cannot enjoy your park if off-rail bikers are hurling themselves over jumps, tearing up shrubbery, engaging in an extreme sport and enjoy the serenity of and preservation of your park at the same time.

The irresponsible rich use the argument of bullying too, to keep their taxes down. Over tax us and we will move to another state, they warn. (Though, just what state they could go to in this Recession where their tax potential wouldn’t be eyed with envy is problematic.) So to, the aggressive bikers think their bullying argument, their strident aim to push their agenda, will compel us to submit to a new interpretation of our urban parks.

My counterargument is this: Is this the way we should act in these extraordinary times, using “Karl Rove" tactics or sub-prime mortgage shenanigans to take from the public their political rights, their money, and their resources for the bullies’ single-minded desires? Shall we continually be stripped of our parks, our water, our mountaintops, our clean air, and our land because those with power (any kind of power) want what they want when they want it? I think not.

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