During a Dolores Park community breakfast, Supervisor Scott Wiener announced that the oft-delayed Dolores Park Renovation project is slated to begin in January—only a few months past the previously announced date. However, Wiener's comments about what will happen after the renovations are complete in 2015 were the most curious.
“Everything about this Park is going to be better,” Dolores Park Works quoted him saying. “But we need to make sure that when we reopen the Park we have a culture shift, and we need to get people to stop trashing it. We want to make sure when it reopens, that this Park is going to continue to be really the gem of our park system.”
No doubt that the park gets trashed week after week—it's a shame and it would fantastic if it stopped. However, the tragedy of the commons is a very real thing and its rare to see any widely-used public space not get wrecked by its more apathetic users. Park advocates like to claim that “leave no trace” campaigns will solve the Dolores Park litter 'crisis', but even if the all-responsible population Burning Man cannot help but leave leaps of garbage—that takes weeks to clean up—on the Playa, it seems impossible to imagine such a campaign would work in a city park.
Curious about how Wiener saw the cultural shift taking shape in the newly rehabilitated park, we reached out to him for more clarification on Twitter.
“[We] need a strong education campaign about treating the park with respect, accompanied with better enforcement.”
Better enforcement seems reasonable, at least on face. In fact, in New York's Riverside Park, neighbors are making similar calls about their trash crisis, with one echoing Wiener's sentiment, telling the New York Times, “If this was their house, they would never do this. We need better enforcement.”
Of course, “better enforcement” isn't as practical as it might seem:
Despite such complaints, park officials say their options are limited. They have mostly pursued a strategy of flooding the area with maintenance workers early Monday morning. William Castro, the parks department’s Manhattan borough commissioner, said that despite the recent hiring of scores of new enforcement patrol officers, penalizing parkgoers was impractical. The officers, who carry clubs and mace, focus mainly on loud music and alcohol, which, he pointed out, were the source of even more complaints.
Littering regulations are difficult to enforce for a few reasons, especially when it comes to large groups of relatives and friends who remain in the park for hours. “For the officers, it’s time-consuming to observe, and then who are you going to give the summons to?” Mr. Castro said. “If you go into a large crowd and the person resists, arguments happen and things spin out of control.”
Then again, maybe “enforcement” will work just fine here.