Parks for Sale

Want to buy a city park? Detroit is looking at putting 92 of its parks up for sale. Most of them are tiny "pocket parks" in de-populating neighborhoods.
December 2007
Christopher Swope
By Christopher Swope  |  Former Editor
Christopher Swope was GOVERNING's executive editor.

Want to buy a city park? Detroit is looking at putting 92 of its parks up for sale. Most of them are tiny "pocket parks" in de-populating neighborhoods.

Park officials think they might fetch $8 million for the land from housing developers and earn the city another $5 million from putting the parcels on the property-tax rolls. The goal, if the city council approves, is to pump the proceeds into fixing up the remaining parks or building new ones in more vital neighborhoods. They call this "park repositioning."

It's an interesting idea, but I doubt developers will buy it. Many of these parks are surrounded by vacant lots. If there were a market, wouldn't builders already have arrived? Rather than unloading its assets, perhaps Detroit could find community groups who would be willing to maintain them.


"What's measured gets done." I've heard government managers say that so many times that I figured everything got measured by now. Turns out I was wrong.

Consider Los Angeles, where traffic engineers delete the data they collect from managing signals at busy intersections after just a few days. According to the Los Angeles Times, the city is missing the big picture about whether congestion is getting better or worse.

Then there's Maryland, which cannot say how effective its landmark "smart growth" law has been at supporting established cities and towns. According to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland, state agencies have been lax about tracking and reporting $1.1 billion worth of growth-related spending.

Not to be outdone, there's the federal empowerment zone program, which has handed out $1.1 billion to dozens of cities. A recent Miami Herald investigation into waste in local administration of the Clinton-era anti-poverty program found little tracking going on of what money went in and what results came out.

The irony, of course, is that technology makes it easier than ever to capture, store and sort scads of data. But that doesn't matter if the managers aren't interested in what the data have to say.


Normally, seeing a duopoly reduced to a monopoly would make me cringe. I feel good about the merger of Flexcar into Zipcar, though. The radical and wonderful business of car-sharing will be better off.

I've been a Zipcar member in Washington, D.C., for three years. Car- sharing is a big reason why my wife and I were able to get by without owning a car--until we had a baby (car seats complicate everything). With a Volvo and a Mazda parked across the street from our apartment, we enjoyed the convenience of driving when we needed to, without paying for maintenance, gas, insurance, parking or depreciation.

Flexcar and Zipcar operate in dozens of cities, but compete head-to- head only in D.C. and San Francisco. When the companies merge, members of their carless cults will have access to wheels in all of the locations. I'm not worried about Zipcar's pricing, because it will be held in check by competition from mainstream rental-car companies and by the cost of auto ownership in general. The biggest upside is in terms of marketing the car-sharing concept to the masses. When I tell people how I can go online and reserve a car for just an hour, and then let myself in with a card in my wallet and drive away, I still get lots of bewildered looks. Now, Zipcar will be to car-sharing what Google became to searching the Internet circa 1999--shorthand for a cool but complicated idea whose time has come.