BY PAUL LAZARO – A great example of the “tragedy of the commons,” is the upkeep of communal bathrooms in freshmen residence halls. As a resident assistant it has always been difficult for me to assign blame for vandalism on behalf of a few residents. The result is that the community as a whole is charged for the recklessness of a few. The same parallel can be drawn with the county of Honolulu’s public parks.
When property is private, businesses and individuals have an incentive to care for their property because neglect results in a direct loss of value. Conversely, when property is public and investment is unseen through taxation, individuals have less of an incentive to care for the property in question.
Every morning on my way to work I pass through two local parks. It disheartens me to see trash and litter surrounding the same place where children will spend their summer months. Like those vile communal bathrooms, a select few of the population hurt the majority of the population because they see no value in maintaining parks. Our current budget situation only makes matters worse. Looming budget cuts will only add to the current state of disrepair facing Hawaii’s public parks. However, a new trend of privatizing parks is emerging in states facing similar budget shortfalls. In fact, New Jersey and Arizona are both considering privatizing their larger state parks.
While the suggestion of privatizing parks may seem unconventional the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. The most apparent benefit is that the park is no longer in control of the state, meaning big savings for the taxpayer. In fact, according to park concessionaire Warren Meyer, states which privatize only a handful of parks can expect up to 50% savings in their entire parks and recreation budget.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of private parks is that unlike public parks, private parks are open to market forces. The concessionaire in charge of the private park has an incentive to keep the park in optimal condition in order to attract clients. If the concessionaire fails to provide adequate facilities he/she loses business.
Moreover, parks are able to offer the state savings while usually not raising parking fees because they follow a more efficient business model than public parks. For example, most private parks maintain seasonal and part time work staff, while public parks pay employees full time wages and benefits.
Even with these apparent benefits, critics of privatized parks still bring forth compelling arguments against the privatization of parks.
The major critique of private parks is the argument that private concessionaires will raise fees so that only a select few will be able to visit these parks. One major oversight of this argument is that privatization of parks is a result of a contract between the government and a potential lessee, meaning government has the opportunity to set guidelines for operation. For example, the state could mandate that private parks maintain free entry to parks privatized on beachfront property. In this situation, private concessionaires could turn a profit by selling concessions, beach lounging materials, and/or food and beverage.
Overall, the privatization of parks would end our “tragedy of the commons,” in relation to private parks. In addition privatized parks would open the park system to market forces which means money saved for the tax payer and less graffiti on park bench at a time.
PAUL LAZARO IS A SUMMER FELLOW AT THE GRASSROOT INSTITUTE OF HAWAII, A NONPARTISAN RESEARCH ORGANIZATION COMMITTED TO THE PRINCIPLES OF FREE MARKETS, INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY AND LIMITED, RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT.