Monday, August 8, 2011
In 2009, New York opened High Line Park to rave reviews. The city (and its allied private foundations) converted an unused stretch of elevated train tracks into a greenspace. By all accounts the High Line as been a smashing success; it's spurred new investment throughout the old Meatpacking District.
In fact, the park has been so successful that now other cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and St. Louis, are working to transform elevated train trestles into public spaces.
New Yorkers shoud be furious. These copycats are pulling a fast one the taxpaying citizens of the Big Apple. Afterall, New York took a big risk putting up the High Line. The 1-mile section cost over $150 million to renovate and, at the time, nobody had any idea if it would pay off. If the park had bombed, New York would have had to pay the costs all on its own. And now that the idea is successful the city cannot fully internalize the costs benefits of its risk-taking. That's bad.
The solution, I think, is to grant cities intellectual property in their innovations. Just as patents promote risky but ultimately valuable scientific experimentation, granting some form of IP protection to cities and states could result in a socially beneficial upsurge in municipal experiments.
It's easy to complain that our local governments don't do enough and that politicians lack the courage to enact bold new ideas, but in practice they have very few incentives to try genuinely new things. It's much easier to sit back and copy the ideas of others (I'm looking at you Chicago). Some form of intellectual property rights could fix that. Think this idea is too far out? Well, someone has already written an Article explaining why I'm right.
(HT: Carol Rose for the High Line article)