Public vs private: park edition

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People want “public” rather than “private”.

The public is … free, right? Wide-open. Share. Available for everyone. All the good stuff.

“Private” is… selfish, closed, for the rich.

Obviously the audience has to be better.

But then why do the words “public toilet” make me cringe? I think: dirty, smelly, ugly, maybe dangerous.

A lot of people think so.

I know this because I watch tourists watch the long line of people waiting to use the public restrooms near my office in Manhattan.

“Yuck,” they say, with a look of disgust. “Why would anyone stand in line for this?” “

“A lot of people say that,” laughed a gas station attendant.

Wait, a gas station attendant?

Yes. It’s a different type of bathroom, in a different type of park.

There is ice skating, table tennis, juggling lessons, yoga lessons … all for free.

Two attendants clean the bathrooms 30 times a day, and the bathrooms are furnished with flowers and paintings. The speakers play classical music.

That’s a huge difference from 37 years ago when Bryant Park was filled with vagrants and trash. It was then that urban redevelopment Dan Biederman managed to persuade city politicians to let him try to manage the park.

He got money from local businesses and tried innovative things like playing music in the bathrooms.

“It’s just another element, along with the flowers, recessed lighting, and the artwork, that makes people think they’re going to be safe,” Biederman says in my new video.

Safety is important because crime is on the rise.

But there is little crime in Bryant Park as crime thrives in dark corners and this park is packed with people.

More small businesses like Joe Coffee Co. and Le Pain Quotidien. They pay for the park. Some people oppose it.

“A park is not meant to be a business! ” they say.

Biederman replies, “As it is, you can’t have ‘passive spaces’. Too many people going around are violent or emotionally disturbed. “

To discourage such people, he fills his businesses and park activities – like juggling lessons. When a lot of people are in a park, he says, vagrancy is less of a problem.

However, he sometimes has to deal with people in difficulty. The worst, he says, are the people who take the K2 drug and suddenly get so hot that they take their clothes off.

Our rangers “guide them out of the park,” says Biederman.

Everything is working. Twelve million people visit Bryant Park each year, and none of it costs taxpayers a dime. In fact, the city is making money, Biederman says, because “the increase in property taxes paid by surrounding buildings – it’s $ 33 million a year.”

“Why can’t governments do this? ” I ask.

“They do, sometimes,” he replies. It points to Central Park.

But Central Park was saved by a private charity, which I work with. Before we started running the park it was also run down, dangerous, covered in trash and graffiti.

This often happens in the public domain. Politicians rarely spend a lot of time on boring tasks like maintenance.

“A typical thing for park services is to take old barrels of oil … and use them as trash,” says Biederman. “Oil barrels are really ugly. What does this say to the public?

He installs elegant trash cans. Then he has them emptied often. “It means someone cares,” he explains.

Biederman operates “private” parks in other locations, such as Salesforce Park in San Francisco and Fair Park in Dallas.

All of them save taxpayers money, while government-run parks (SET ITAL) cost (END ITAL) taxpayers’ money.

When the government does things, almost everything costs more and is of lower quality.

One of my first Stossel TV videos was about a New York park that spent $ 2 million on its bathroom. The parks commissioner said that $ 2 million was “a good deal”.

“But you can buy whole houses in this neighborhood for less than what you spent on that bathroom,” I said.

“These are very, very durable materials,” he replied.

Leave me alone. Bryant Park’s nicer bathroom uses similar durable materials. But it costs a lot, a lot less.

If possible, let the private sector do it.

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