Monday, July 27, 2015

Happiness pursued: hearting hockey and public policy

Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor in general, for anything other than itself. - Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics 1097b 5-8

Taken in by the ball - or hockey - game

If last week's commitment of ink and bandwidth by a local news outlet is any indication, the puck is dropping on this conversation. You know the one. If we just build this sports thing they will come and you will go and it will all be good because economic impact. The one where elected officials who are otherwise locked in a passionate embrace with austerity will discover coin in the city coffers that needs to be given over to support an "ownership group" because economic impact.

The conversation where it must be built now - NOW! - or all will be lost because the team will go elsewhere, because developers need certainty, because Mayo Civic Center is all tore up anyway so might as well, because D-M-C,  not to mention, well, just because. You know, that conversation.

First of all, a junior league hockey team in Rochester would be fine by me.

Why not give it another try. Just because it didn't work last time doesn't mean it won't work this time. Besides, an "ownership group" is doing a study that will conclusively demonstrate to the satisfaction of any reasonable person just how successful this new team would be if it only had a nice arena downtown.

And, to be sure, the "ownership group" (who will own it and reap the profits from the team's eventual sale to somebody else before it leaves town) will show with arithmetic that if they make money we'll all win because "economic impact."*

So it's only fair that we all kick in some money now - NOW! - because otherwise there'll be nothing for the "ownership group" to "own" (and sell later) if we all don't help out with some public monies for their private undertaking. Also, later we can pay these owners to sit in the seats we paid for because free enterprise.  And don't be taxing them! How is an ownership group to make a go of it if the government has it's hand in the till also because free enterprise.

(This model is charmingly called a "public-private partnership." Why would any public official enter into such a partnership? Economic impact, of course. And a little pixie dust called "a multiplier." It is also sometimes called "win-win." No doubt because the "ownership group" wins twice.)

Secondly, a junior league hockey team in Rochester would be fine by me.

Yes, the city is in a big infrastructure budget hole. Yes, the city is desperately hoping that some study will give them the magic beans they need to not fund public safety at the levels requested by the police and fire departments. Yes, council members are lining up Peters to pay Paul. What better time to bring forward a request to add a new hockey arena to the convention center? I mean an ice machine. Who'd seriously propose a big new publicly funded construction project now - NOW!

Even a new arena for a junior league hockey team would be fine by me. New baseball stadium? Sure. I'm also partial to a performing arts center, a mixed use entertainment venue at the Chateau, an arts and culture center, an outdoor concert venue, a few museums, a robust parks system with wide and varied uses - including hockey. It's all good.

Really, it is. Growing the list of civic amenities is not a ploy for some stingy argument about wishes being horses; or, we can't have everything so we can't have anything; or, even as a precursor to we have some tough choices ahead of us and not everyone is going to be happy.

I think we should try to make people happy - as many as we can. Maybe even everyone. Or at least put it in the mix. Admit that we want something, not because economic impact, but because happy. Because happy might just be good public policy.

Being the third among our certain unalienable rights

In their seminal article, "Understanding the Pursuit of Happiness in Ten Major Cities," (Urban Affairs Review 2011 47:861) Kevin M. Leyden, Abraham Goldberg and Philip Michelbach conclude that, "the happiness of city residents requires far more than simply focusing on the economic conditions of a city." They observe:
There is more to individual happiness than income, health, social relationships, and government effectiveness. People also care about the places in which they live and how those places are maintained. This is demonstrated by the significant relationship between happiness and access to cultural amenities, such as movie theaters, museums, and concert halls, along with libraries. 
And hockey, too, I have no doubt. At least in those places where people are made happy by hockey.

Sharing that the “urban landscape is not simply the result of individual choices about where to live or to create a business. It is the product of a multitude of governmental policies," the authors also note that:
The viability of the city and the happiness of its residents will depend mostly on whether policy makers learn to think of the city more holistically and being about people and their lives.
The economic impact folderol misses the heart of the matter because the matter is about the heart. What makes you happy?

This bottom line stuff is what we say because we can't say we want it because it will make us happy. Just tell me you want a junior league hockey team because hockey makes you happy and that's fine by me. That's where we start the conversation and we'll probably have a better one at that. Better city, too.

Tell me what makes you happy and I'll know you're being serious.


*"Take whatever number the sports promoter says, take it and move the decimal one place to the left. Divide it by ten, and that's a pretty good estimate of the actual economic impact." Pat Grafolo and Travis Waldron."If You Build It, They Might Not Come: The Risky Economics of Sports Stadiums," The Atlantic. 09.07.12.

No comments:

Post a Comment