THE PLANK AUGUST 10, 2009
I never find this to be a particularly useful way of talking about a policy issue. It used to be that when I criticized the home mortgage interest tax deduction, people would tell me I would feel differently if I had a mortgage. Well, today I have a mortgage and I don’t actually feel differently about the issue. I recognize that I now have a self-interest in not seeing a bad policy ended, but it’s still a bad policy.
Actually, the point I was trying to make was not so much that Yglesias's self-interest would make him come to appreciate parks, but, rather, that his life experience would. I do think there's a difference between the two. And, while life experience isn't everything, on a policy issue like public parks, I think it helps, if only because it awakens you to the way in which plenty of people experience parks. For instance, Yglesias writes:
It’s one thing if you live in California, where the weather’s nice all of the time, but here in the Northeast how much use do we really get out of parks? People don’t go to the park at night, or during the winter, or when it’s raining. Compare that to, say, an apartment building with some retail on the ground floor. People go to stores all the time. Obviously, that’s not to say that an ideal city would have zero parkland—parks are nice. But it’s not clear to me that we’re suffering from a park shortage.
I thought this way, too, until I had a kid and we started going to the park at night and during the winter and when it's raining. Judging that we are very seldom alone in the park on those occasions, other families feel the same way. Parks do get a lot of us use, at least judging from my life experience.
Yglesias posits a one-to-one trade-off between the development of parks and the development of housing. He prefers the latter because
cheaper housing is strongly pro-family, since people with kids obviously need more square feet per income-earner.
That's right up to a point, but I don't think there's any way you'll ever get the square feet per income-earner high enough to justify the trade-off. Kids need a lot of space--much more than many people could ever possibly afford to own or rent themselves in a city. That's where parks come in. In some ways, they serve as an addition to your home--and a public one at that, not one in which you need to purchase something (or at least pretend that you might) in order to use it, like a ground-floor retail space; no sales clerk is ever going to rush you out a park. And that's not even getting into the whole issue of fresh air, exercise, etc., that are obviously beneficial to children.
This importance of parks isn't something I necessarily appreciated--or even realized--until I had a kid, and started taking him to the park. I suppose there's a degree of self-interest involved in this realization, but I like to think it has more to do with experience, and having my eyes opened to a facet of life that I hadn't previously noticed. That's the point I was trying to make.