Privatization

New York City's Bryant Park Was a Hot Mess. Then It Was Privatized.

When government does things, most everything costs more and is lower quality.

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People want "public" rather than "private."

Public is…free, right? Wide open. Sharing. Available to everyone. All good things.

"Private" is…selfish, closed, for the rich.

Clearly, public must be better.

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

Lots of people think that.

I know because I watch tourists stare at the long line of people waiting to use a public toilet near my office in Manhattan.

"Yuck," they say, with a disgusted look. "Why would someone line up for that?"

"A lot of people say that," laughed a bathroom attendant.

Wait, a bathroom attendant?

Yes. This is a different sort of bathroom, in a different kind of park.

There is ice skating, pingpong, 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. Speakers play classical music.

This is a huge difference from 37 years ago, when Bryant Park was filled with vagrants and trash. It was then that urban redeveloper Dan Biederman managed to persuade city politicians to let him try to run 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 flowers, recessed lighting, and artwork, that makes people think they're going to be safe," says Biederman in my new video.

Safety is important because crime is up.

But there's little crime in Bryant Park because crime thrives in dark corners, and this park is filled with people.

Plus little businesses like Joe Coffee Co. and Le Pain Quotidien. They pay for the park. Some people object to that.

"A park isn't supposed to be about business!" they say.

Biederman responds, "In the current state of things you can't have 'passive spaces.' Too many people are circulating who are violent or emotionally disturbed."

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

Still, he sometimes must deal with troubled people. The worst, he says, are people who take the drug K2 and suddenly get so hot that they take their clothes off.

Our guards "guide them out of the park," says Biederman.

It all works. Twelve million people visit Bryant Park every year, and none of it costs taxpayers a penny. Actually, the city makes money, says Biederman, because "the increased real estate taxes paid by the surrounding buildings—it's $33 million a year."

"Why can't governments do this?" I ask.

"They do, at times," he responds. He points to Central Park.

But Central Park was rescued by a private charity, one I happen to work with. Before we started managing the park, it, too, was run-down, dangerous, covered in trash and graffiti.

That often happens to public property. Politicians rarely spend much time on boring tasks like maintenance.

"A typical thing for parks departments to do is take old oil drums…and use them as trash cans," says Biederman. "Oil drums are really ugly. What does that say to the public?"

He installs elegant trash cans. Then he has them emptied often. "That signifies that someone cares," he explains.

Biederman runs "private" parks in other places, like Salesforce Park in San Francisco and Fair Park in Dallas.

All save taxpayers money, while government-run parks cost taxpayers money.

When government does things, most everything costs more and is lower quality.

One of my first Stossel TV videos was a report on an NYC park that spent $2 million on its bathroom. The Parks Commissioner claimed $2 million was "a good deal."

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

"These are very, very durable materials," he replied.

Give me a break. Bryant Park's nicer bathroom uses similar durable materials. But it cost much, much less.

Whenever possible, let the private sector do it.

COPYRIGHT 2021 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS INC.

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  1. Stossel is great. Maybe they can get some more libertarian writers.

    1. He didn't vote for Trump.

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      2. Trump is not a libertarian

        1. Don't say that too loud. It's blasphemy in these here comments.

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        2. Trump never claimed to be a libertarian. But he also wasn't a totalitarian; Biden is.

          1. Also correct

          2. Sarc will get mad that you dared criticize his precious democrats.

        3. I agree Trump isn't a libertarian, but he was the most libertarian president in the last 60 years. Importantly, he was working with a big spending Congress, and that's a battle I'm sure he knew he couldn't win. But he deregulated via EO more so than any president I'm aware of, and he put 3 good libertarian leaning judges on the SCOTUS (and many more in the lower courts).

          Trump knows the games the politicians play to enrich themselves at our expense, and he didn't engage in them as president. But as a businessman he donated a lot to politicians of both parties, like many other businessmen find they have to do these days or else find that government politicians do favors for their competition instead, and put them out of business for not contributing. That's what happens (and it's ongoing) when the government gets control of commerce via regulations (always called "reasonable" regardless), legislation, and the permitting process.

  2. Now do Yosemite.

    1. I'm the meanest, roughest, toughest hombre that's ever crossed the Rio Grande - and I ain't no namby-bamby!

      1. ^

      2. Rootinest tootinest shootinest!

        1. Yeah. Good, but Sam would've been the roughest and toughest to ever cross the North, South, East, and West side of the Rio Grand-e.

    2. I did a quick bit of shallow research about ten years ago, on Yosemite, Yellowstone, NYC's Central Park, and San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. I don't know much about how to read government budget reports. Does revenue include entrance tickets, for instance?

      Yosemite is 760K acres and in 2012 had 3.9M visitors, 689 full time equivalent employees, and a budget of $29M, or $8 and 21 employee minutes per visitor, $42K per employee, and $38 per acre.

      Yellowstone is 2.2M acres and in 2012 had 3.4M visitors, 557 full time equivalent employees, and a budget of $35M, or $10 and 19 employee minutes per visitor, $63K per employee, and $15 per acre.

      Central Park in New York City has a $37.5M budget and 35M visitors. Golden Gate Park in San Francisco has a $10M budget and 13M visitors. Both are a buck a visit.

      Other than being woke and insulted, most people would think a buck to visit either of those city parks well worth it, if maintained and the bums evicted. The two national park costs are also eminently reasonable.

      Reason had an article a few years back on a company which took over operation of New Mexico's (or Arizona's?) state parks. Entrance fees dropped, surveys reported more satisfaction, it was a win for everyone but the local burrocrats. The explanation in the article made sense to me: when governments set a fixed budget, every excess visitor is an expense to the park manager, so he has every incentive to discourage visitors. Whereas a for-profit manager has every incentive to get more visitors and make them happy to come back.

      1. CP has 35 million visitors at $1 per visit and a $37.5 million dollar budget. Looses money like all other .gov endevors.

        1. It is not $1 per visit. I’m afraid you and the above commenter need to do more research. I’ve been going to Central Park almost every day for more than 50 years, and there has never, ever, been an entrance fee.

  3. I remember what a horrible place Bryant Park was back in the late sixties - all that sweet green icing flowing down just because someone left the cake out in the rain. The real bitch was that it took so long to bake it and I knew I'd never have that recipe again. I think that was Bryant Park, anyway, I could be mistaken.

    1. Douglas park, I believe. Some Philippino.

    2. McArthurs park

  4. Whenever possible, let the private sector do it.

    And it's always possible.

  5. What? You mean packing and threatening people with Gov-Guns to pay/STEAL/ENSLAVE them for "big political imaginations" (i.e. plans) doesn't work out as well as being required to *EARN* (i.e. Actually produce something besides a wild imagination)?

    Gov-Guns =/= Wealth; Never has. Never will.
    Gov-Guns ONLY purpose is to ensure Individual Liberty & Justice.

  6. That deer-in-the-headlight look doesn't work well for Stossel. Or anybody.

    1. Thank God for Stossel. How many $2 million government toilet type expenses aren't reported? It's good we find out what those government employees are doing.

      As you keep forking out taxes for government toilets (and other government stuff just as bad and overpriced), you'd also get a deer in the headlights look. Stossel also has to look out for government employees who are sent out to harass him and his reporting, and I'll bet the IRS audits him every year.

      Headlights coming down the road towards onlooking deers, are like government bureaucrats coming for your tax money and to tell you what you must do. You won't like seeing them after awhile. His deer in the headlights look is a warning to others.

      1. Stossel and Reason haven't been particularly effective in combating those "$2 million government toilet type expenses", have they?

        Stossel's article are self-serving virtue signaling, not effective advocacy for liberty or small government.

  7. Visit public parks (and bathrooms) in Europe. They are typically clean, safe, and vibrant.

    1. Visit public parks (and bathrooms) in Europe. They are typically clean, safe, and vibrant.

      That is common in many nations where the people can't afford a lot of other recreational activities, and where the authoritarian regime makes sure that public institutions reflect the image the state wants to project.

      Given the choice, most people prefer to do something more fun than hang out in city parks.

      1. Yes, all those poor people in Europe. /s

        1. Your "sarcasm" tag indicates that you are truly unaware of how much poorer and less free the average European is than the average American. Go educate yourself.

          1. If he actually knew things, he wouldn’t say the stupid things he says.

          2. You speak with experience NOYB2. Having travelled overseas numerous times on business, I can attest to smaller hotel rooms, smaller homes, less selection at the grocery stores, and higher prices.

            My general approach to understand what living is like in a foreign country, is to visit one of the larger grocery stores near where I'm staying, and check out the products and prices. Also look for burglar bars and the safety measures used at businesses (in Italy, I recall going to a bank, and you had to enter a phonebooth like door where you were scanned and potentially kept locked in if you are carrying a weapon). Another bad sign is very long lines at stores.

            See how the regular people live, not the pictures from the tourist resorts, where the locals can't get in.

    2. That's because Europe tends to take better care of their citizens. Instead of pushing the problem down the street like this they actually try to get to the root of the problem.

      Morons like the writer think it's better just to push it off somewhere else and claim it solved.

      1. That's because Europe tends to take better care of their citizens.

        Yes, that's true, in the sense that European governments are authoritarian and intrusive. European governments take half of everybody's earnings and then give people shitty government services in return.

        Morons like you think that amounts to "solving problems" or that it's a good deal.

    3. Europe is quite a diverse place (the US too, but Europe even more): public parks and bathrooms in Napoli are not exactly in the same condition that parks and bathrooms in Geneva. So "in Europe" does not really mean anything.

  8. Imagine your argument that compares the park today to 4 decades ago. Not only that, you blatantly state that you push out the riff raff and mentally ill and claim private ownership is somehow the panacea.

    Pro tip jackass- you just moved the problem on down the street.

    Imagine being this fucking stupid. JFC

    1. I am at a loss to understand your comment.
      Are you really saying we have to solve the problems of homelessness and drug abuse before citizens can enjoy a cup of coffee in a safe park environment?

      There are social services available for the homeless and drug addicted.
      When these people refuse these services, should they be allowed to take over (and ruin) the public parks for every tax payer?
      I think Seattle, San Francisco andL.A. would be red flag of what happens when these people are allowed to take over public spaces.
      I don't see any choice except to make them move on so the rest of society can have nice things.

      1. There are social services available for the homeless and drug addicted. When these people refuse these services, should they be allowed to take over (and ruin) the public parks for every tax payer?

        More to the point, Europe, which "raspberrydinners" seems to like that much, doesn't allow the homeless and drug addicted to refuse social services. That is how they are dealing with these problems, and are spending much less money to do so than the US.

        It's amazing how effective not subsidizing illegal and destructive behavior combined with enforcing laws can actually be.

        1. Until fairly recently, exterminating Jews was legal, even mandatory, throughout much of Europe. Law and orders, they call it.

          1. I didn't endorse what Europe is doing; in fact, I despise Europe and European governments. Obama, Biden, and the progressives aren't lying when they are saying that they want to make the US more like Europe.

            You know, just like what you want, Hank.

    2. Not only that, you blatantly state that you push out the riff raff and mentally ill and claim private ownership is somehow the panacea.

      That's how Europe keeps its parks clean: they push out the riff raff and mentally ill; if they have no place to go, they force them into supervision and treatment and/or institutionalize them. That works regardless of whether the parks are public or private.

      It's "fucking stupid" people like you who have opposed dealing with homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness like that for decades. That is why our inner cities and parks are such a mess.

  9. Stossel for President. Seriously!

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