Tag Archives: Parks

Quality Of Life

The unrepresentative Representatives who infest Indiana’s legislature have gone home, leaving  citizens to consider the multiple harms done during the concluded session. One harm that was mostly overlooked was their refusal to invest in Indiana’s state parks.

As the Capital Chronicle has reported,

Indiana Senate Republicans’ disregard for our parks and for the benefits they bring to Hoosiers’ quality of life was on full display recently when they zeroed out Gov. Eric Holcomb’s requested investment of $25 million for the President Benjamin Harrison Land Trust.

The Trust is the mechanism through which the state purchases land for conservation and parks. As the Chronicle editorialized,

Our Indiana parks and natural spaces are a treasure. They bring more than a connection to nature. They bring jobs, economic growth, and a quality of life that attracts and retains talent…. A 2016 study commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Wellness Council of Indiana stated, “infrastructure related to traditional wellness activities (such as trails, playgrounds, parks, and open green space) matter more than ever in where people and subsequent businesses relocate.” 

Parks are highly prized and extensively utilized–a quality of life asset–and as Michael Hicks recently documented, economic growth is tightly tied to quality of life indicators. It’s one reason some places grow while others shrink.

First, most migration is concentrated among younger people with high human capital. Yes, retirees move, as do folks in mid-life, but most don’t. One result of the age concentration of migrants is that this movement of people also drives natural population change of births minus deaths. So, places with net in-migration tend to thrive over the coming decades, while places that lose folks do not.

Migration of people is driven by three factors; economic opportunity, quality of life and housing elasticity. Housing elasticity is simply whether the supply of housing adjusts to demand. With the exception of a dozen or so large metropolitan areas in the U.S., housing elasticity plays no meaningful role in household migration. In fact, the Midwest currently benefits from bad housing policies in other regions such as the West Coast. Thus, migration in the Midwest really comes down to economic opportunity and quality of life.

For most of American history, people moved for better farmland, better jobs and/or better places to start businesses. As the role of educated workers has grown, however, and the share of college graduates explains nearly 80 percent of the growth and earnings in a city, people began to value more than just economic opportunity in their location choices.

Today, research shows that jobs follow people, not business-friendly tax climates.

In 1980, few places enjoyed both economic opportunity and high quality of life, but as of 2019, they are highly correlated…

Over the past couple of decades, families found that their location choices were vastly expanded. Economic opportunity was tied to the places where people clustered, and people clustered where the quality of life was good.

In the 60s and 70s, the perceived differences between places was driven by nature–climate, mountains, lakes– not government. That has changed.

The empirical evidence is now extraordinarily clear. Places with restrictive social policies in the United States fail to become destinations for economic opportunity. They struggle to attract and retain their share of well-educated people. That trend is sure to continue, if not accelerate.

Another change: in the 2000s, a national focus on school quality emerged.

At the same time, labor markets began valuing education far more heavily. So, for the past couple of decades, it has become obvious that the quality of a K-12 and college education were prime determinants of economic opportunity for individuals.

In the post-COVID environment, the role of quality of life is even stronger. Today a quarter of all young, educated people have full-time remote jobs, and half work at least partially remote. The certain effect of this is that the amenities (and dis-amenities) of a region will weigh more heavily on prospective residents than ever before.

So, what do we know about the characteristics of a high quality of life?  Excellent schools, natural amenities/climate, and local recreational opportunities head the list. 

What is new is the fact that the effect of quality of life on population growth is close to four times larger after COVID than in the decade before. Much of that is due to remote work accelerating the existing trends. We don’t yet know how long that will last, but my guess is for at least a generation. We also know that a welcoming social climate matters.

Meanwhile, Indiana’s legislature continues to pursue an outdated low-tax strategy, shortchanging education and parks, among other quality of life amenities, and doubling down on  misogyny and homophobia.

No wonder we’re not thriving.

Depending on the Kindness of Oligarchs

A recent op-ed in the New York Times considered the implications of some impending philanthropy–a gift of a new park.

[The] park will be just offshore in the Hudson River, largely financed by the media mogul Barry Diller and situated, conveniently, a short walk from his office in Chelsea.

The new park will also be near the High Line, allowing for an easy tour of how private wealth is remaking the city’s public spaces. This trend isn’t unique to New York: Philanthropists are also busy reshaping the riverfront of Philadelphia and building a green corridor through Houston. In Tulsa, Okla., a vast new park system is being financed in part by the billionaire George B. Kaiser.

David Callahan, the author of the op-ed and the editor of Inside Philanthropy, readily acknowledges the admirable generosity of donors like Mr. Diller. But he also worries that the increasing reliance on private philanthropy to replace–rather than supplement–funding previously supplied through taxes and subject to democratic decision making is, in his words,  “more evidence of how a hollowed-out public sector is losing its critical role, and how private wealth is taking the wheel and having a growing say over basic parts of American life.”

In New York, while philanthropists have lavished money on parks adjacent to their neighborhoods, declining public revenues have left parks in poorer precincts in considerable disrepair.

The design, placement and maintenance of parks were once a function of democratic processes. Now, as a citizen, you feel like a spectator to largely privatized decision making. A declining public sector, burdened by budget cuts, creates a vacuum for imaginative civic leadership that is being filled by a new class of Medicis.

Medicis–an apt descriptor.

I have often explained to students the different functions of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The question answered by the Bill of Rights is procedural: it answers the fundamental question who decides? Who gets to decide issues of basic individual liberty–what religion you practice, what book you read, what street you can stroll down, who you marry? In our system, I explain, those personal decisions–good or bad– are supposed to be made by individual citizens, not by the state. The Constitution, on the other hand, sets out rules applicable to collective decision-making; it assumes wide participation in a democratically-shaped civic life.

Oligarchy, on the other hand, does not rely on wide participation. Its definition:  “A form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.”

Receipt of largesse–no matter how well-intended–is not a characteristic of a free and equal society. When you are the beneficiary of someone else’s charity, rather than a citizen entitled to enjoyment of public goods, you live in a feudal society.

Like Blanche in “Streetcar Named Desire” who always depended on the kindness of strangers, we peons increasingly depend upon the beneficence of oligarchs.





The media is reporting on a huge gift from the Endowment to Indianapolis Parks. Again.

The gift acknowledges the importance of parks to our quality of life: for recreation, for contemplation, for the aesthetics of daily life. It also acknowledges our collective refusal to grow up and take responsibility for our own community.

Lilly has made other significant gifts intended to keep our city’s parks from falling into even greater disrepair. Back when I was in City Hall, the Endowment was accompanying those gifts with warnings to city officials that the largesse would not go on forever, that the gifts were intended to give the City some breathing room, some time during which we would have to come up with resources to sustain these important urban amenities.

We haven’t. Instead, we’ve bought into the “how dare you tax me” mentality–the spoiled child syndrome that demands goodies but is unwilling to get a job to earn the money to buy them. The Endowment, meanwhile, is like the rich, indulgent uncle who gives in and bails us out of the consequences of our irresponsibility.

One of these days, our rich uncle is going to say “enough,” and we are going to be on our own. The question is: will we be grown-up enough to pay for the services that make a city livable?


What Should Government Do?

My husband and I took our two youngest grandchildren to McCormick’s Creek State Park last weekend. McCormick’s Creek is one of Indiana’s state parks; located in the southern third of the state, it boasts acres of woods, a very nice (and reasonably priced) inn, and the requisite picnic areas and playgrounds. The weather was lovely, and the park was full of families.

While we were at the park, some 70,000 people were descending on Washington, D.C. to make a statement about their anger at “big government.” (Actually, it wasn’t too clear WHAT they were so angry about; apparently, it was an all-purpose “pox on your house” sort of event. A significant number just seemed royally pissed that a black Democrat had won the election.)

Giving the protestors/tea baggers the benefit of the doubt, their message seemed to be that government is too big, doing too much, spending too much and they want it to stop.

Which gets me back to the lovely state park we enjoyed with so many other citizens over the weekend. Should state and local government provide amenities like parks, museums and libraries? The Monon Trail gets massive use; was it okay for government to create it? What about street lights? Police and fire protection are generally agreed to be appropriate uses of our tax dollars, but there is considerable debate over spending those dollars on sports arenas, or even on the arts.

Maybe what the protestors are saying is that these more local expenditures are okay, but the federal government is too big. Again, though–“too big”  is too general. What would these folks like the federal government to stop doing? National defense? (I could see protesting unnecessary wars, but these are the people who appear to support those.) National parks? Social security and Medicare? Should the FDA stop testing our foods for things like e coli? Stop regulating banks and big businesses? (We did stop that, for all intents and purposes, during the Bush Administration. That didn’t turn out very well.)

I’m certainly not saying that everything government does needs to be done by government. (I would keep the parks, however. And quite a number of other functions we ask government to perform.) But people who simply rant about “too big” and “too much,” without specifying what they are prepared to do without, aren’t very persuasive.