Monkeys, Fire Hoses and Parks


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So, the monkeys, right? You get this one monkey and put it in a cage. In the middle of the cage you hang a large bunch of bananas and put a ladder right under it so that the monkey can get to the bananas. All the monkey has to do is climb up the stairs and get a banana.

Except that every time the monkey climbs on the ladder to get a banana, you douse the monkey and the entire cage with a fire hose. With really cold water. And you do it enough times that the monkey starts doing the mental math that banana = cold water from a fire hose.

Now, you put a second monkey in there. Of course, the new monkey will immediately reach for the banana, but the first monkey will beat the crap out of him at every try. Because the first monkey doesn’t want to be fire hosed with cold water. At this point you don’t have to fire hose the monkeys anymore as the first monkey will make sure no one reaches for the banana. After a few pummelings, the second monkey also stops reaching for the banana.

Then you put in a third monkey. Same thing happens, with both monkeys beating the crap out of the third monkey. The second monkey is especially enthusiastic about dishing out punishment to the newcomer, even though he doesn’t know why. The third monkey will give up too. No one has been fire hosed since the time when there was only a single monkey in the cage.

At this point, you have a majority of monkeys who have no idea why they shouldn’t go for the banana but who will not even try or let anyone else try either.

Why?

BECAUSE IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN DONE THAT WAY!

That’s why.

Case in point: You live in a nice neighborhood. You decide you want to improve your local park by putting some art in it. You get the park neighborhood together, you find an artist with civic spirit willing to work for free, you get it installed. It’s a temporary installation. The neighborhood loves it. You go to City Hall to turn it into a permanent installation. The neighborhood association wants it. The Arts Commission is for it. The Neighborhood Parks Council approves it. A bunch of people speak up, every single one in favor of it. There is a pile of letters of support. Not one person is against it. There is nearly unanimous support for the idea.

Except for the Parks & Rec Department. Their reason not to support a permanent art installation?

BECAUSE IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN DONE THAT WAY!

So, that’s what happened to Jenn’s art installation in Juri Commons in the Mission. The message: if you try to do anything to improve your local park or get the neighborhood involved in keeping it, Parks & Rec will be there to make sure you fail.

The hearing was Kafkian. I’ve seen bureaucrats like that before, but in Brazil. I didn’t know we had this variety of paper pusher up here, especially in a city that prides itself in being progressive and enlightened. The disdain with which they cast their votes was amazing. They didn’t even make the pretense of giving a damn. The General Manager of Parks & Rec even let a loud sigh of relief when the motion was not approved. It was that crude.

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