I’m in the bloggers’ area of the Parks1 Mayoral Forum. Up on stage, Democrats Gifford Miller, Virginia Fields, Freddy Ferrer, and Republican Tom Ognibene, are telling us why they all love parks.
One of the first points of disagreement came up when a panelist asked the candidates if they would support banning cars from Central Park and Prospect Park, as Transportation Alternatives has advocated. Borough President Virginia Fields, who actually has some influence over this policy, thinks there should be a “balance,” and that the limited car-free hours are adequate. The other candidates took this opportunity to distinguish themselves from Fields and her terrible position.
And the moments that garnered the most applause were the sound bites and pithy slogans. “How about a balance where the people use parks,” the panelist asking the question said, “and the cars use everything else?” But when the moderator pressed by asking where the cars would go, the candidates seemed less sure of themselves. In truth, we have plenty of evidence that closing the park loop drives would not increase traffic elsewhere.
Gifford Miller knew this and said as much, but had no crisp, easy way to explain it. Later on, when discussing vandalism of park benches, he and the others had a sure footing. “In this city we’ve learned the broken window lesson,” Miller said, “that if you don’t fix one window then they break the next one.” If we paint over graffiti enough, then people give up. Just having a simple name for a principle - in this case, “broken windows” - gives candidates an easy way to understand an issue and the confidence to talk about it.
Sometimes the most important attribute of an issue is, simply, its name.