Earlier this month–January 10th, to be exact–Washington Park officially became a pay-to-park destination. The Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Children’s Museum, Oregon Zoo, the huge playground and the archery range: all of those have parking spaces that fall under Portland Parks and Rec jurisdiction, and now they all cost money.
At first, I thought it was a good idea. If you drive to the Washington Park, why not pay for it? It seems like a good way to incentivize transit use or alternative transportation, and the money collected gets reinvested into improvements for the park. It’s not that different from parking meters downtown: if you bring a car, expect to pay for the space it takes up.
The more I think about it, though, the more I think it’s setting a bad precedent.
First of all, this seems somewhat akin to saying “hey, if you have disposable income you’re welcome to use Washington Park; if not, go play somewhere else.” There are some transit options, of course. The MAX has one stop that serves the Oregon Zoo and Children’s Museum, though from there it’s quite a hike to other Washington Park attractions. And the 63 bus runs through the park, but only every hour, and only on weekdays between 7am and 5pm (i.e. not when many people are likely to have free time to go to the park). Until transit throughout the park is a viable option, I’m not convinced that this isn’t a somewhat classist (even if inadvertently so) policy.
But other than that, it just seems like the wrong message to send: Washington Park improvements and upkeep will be paid for by the people who drive there and use it. That is, the responsibility of the upkeep falls to the users–sort of like saying that if you have a kid in school, you should pay for school, but if you don’t there’s no reason to put your money toward something you don’t use, right? It seems like more and more things in Portland are funded this way, where one specific fee goes toward one specific thing, and we’ve lost track of the idea that some things might be public services that everyone has a part to uphold. Maybe parks aren’t one of those things, but I wish that would be the conversation.
I’m all for paying for parking. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that there are meters in Portland and I think it’s reasonable to expect that you might pay to use space. But I guess I’m a little worried that it seems there’s no coherent whole about how money gets apportioned, and I don’t like the super-individualistic idea that you only pay for what you use, everyone else be damned. Certainly there are things that we, as a civilized society, have decided are for the common good, and those things should be paid for by everyone via taxes, not user fees. Again, maybe parks and greenspaces aren’t one of those things–and maybe I just don’t understand how this works (the city’s finances are definitely not my forte)–but this strikes me as a step in the wrong direction.
Push me on this. Any thoughts?