Signal for Chicago Park District Reps to be Thrown to Lions
"Bread and circuses" (or bread and games) (from Latin: panem et circenses) is a metaphor for handouts and petty amusements that politicians use to gain popular support, instead of gaining it through sound public policy. The phrase is invoked not only to criticize politicians, but also to criticize their populations for giving up their civic duty.
Since the arguments are virtually identical, I refer to their advocate as "Herald Hairston". They are all fundamentally misguided, if not wrong. Here's why. Herald Hairston asserts, drawing deeply from a reservoir of bathos put at her disposal by the creative writers of the our local paper, that;
1. Parking at, and enjoyment of the lakefront parks, is and has historically been "free".
2. Metering lakefront parking is regressive because it prevents the disadvantaged (people with cars) from accessing the lakefront
3. No one told us this was going to happen and we are shocked.
Herald Hairston errs on each of the above points in the following ways:
1. Nothing is "free" in the web of obligations known as "society." We all pay for the facilities and upkeep of Chicago's parks through our property taxes. Parking spots in all parks are subsidized by city taxpayers even if they themselves don't use those spots. Those who make intensive use of the lakefront benefit from the largess of those who don't.
Parking at these and other heretofore unmetered locations has therefore never been "free," only subsidized, by the good graces of one's neighbors and the degree of fatness in the city budget at any given time, both of which are independent variables.
We pay: just not at the point of use.
2. People who own cars are not disadvantaged. Vehicles don't come with free gas or car washes. They shouldn't come with free parking. Making parking free amounts to a first-come first-serve policy that does not equitably distribute the resource.
The assumptions hidden within the contrary argument are that a) people have a right to park a car on the lakefront if they own one, and b) charging them a minimal fee for use is more economically burdensome to them than their private decision to own and care for a vehicle.
a) is problematic because the lakefront could not possibly accommodate every city resident with a car, which is what a) assumes, and which is unjust to those who cannot find parking. Those who find parking at the expense of those who cannot are not only freeloading, but also preventing their fellows from enjoying the fruits of their taxes.
b) reinforces a deeply held prejudice that owning cars should be costless, and that public treasure should be dispensed to facilitate everything -- including recreation -- being centered around automobiles.
The argument that a meter policy "will cause inconvenience and expense for people least able to afford it" is sophistry of the purest kind.
3. If you didn't know this was coming, you are ignorant.
If you are ignorant, Herald Hairston did nothing to prepare you.
If Herald Hairston did nothing to prepare you, it was the better to cultivate your outrage at "not knowing" in the run-up to an election year, the better to manipulate your discontent with bread, circuses, and parking.
Grown-ups in the rest of Chicago read about this in the papers and heard about it in the news for months well over a year ago.
To sum up our response to the 3 points above:
1) Parking was never free, so it free parking cannot be taken away. Metered parking is based on the principle that, in addition to base support from property taxes, those who use the facilities most assume some level of responsibility for paying for them.
2) That mythical poor family who can afford to buy and maintain an automobile, but not to enjoy 2 hours worth of parking for $1, needs to sell their vehicle and get a CTA pass.