Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Two Things On My Mind In Union Square

1) You can really tell Obama's approval ratings by the woman selling Obama Condoms on the street.

2) I was talking with my mother, who lives in the suburbs of Orange County where I'm from, about the show I recently produced at the Paradise Factory, and I was talking about my obligations to the city (mostly providing a fire-guard, really), and I happened to mention that we had to put out the garbage three times a week. My mother was incensed. "You mean they take out the garbage three times a week and there are still those huge piles of trash?"

On the block where I grew up, trash was picked up once a week. Once a month, there was street sweeping. And that's all it took to keep the place clean because there were, at most, 100 people living on the street (probably a lot less -- 20 houses with probably on average 3-4 people). But here in New York, the sheer population density means that we have to take out a lot of garbage.

But not only do we have to take out the garbage a lot, but we have to have people pick up after us in our squares. Specifically, I was watching one of the Union Square Partnership guys picking up trash off the floor. After all, we leave a lot of trash.

And I wondered -- how much of that trash do we tolerate letting out into the world simply because it all gets picked up. It's the same logic that people were using on the health care bill - the fact that people don't pay the cost of their care directly, and therefore the end user doesn't care about the cost. That's why the Free Market doesn't apply -- This American Life did a very good comparison by looking at Animal Health Insurance, which includes a stop-payment level after-which people prefer to let their pet die. The same thought was on Isaac's mind recently about the cost-shifting of publicly funded or ad-supported arts. It's the same thinking behind Cap-and-Trade's "true cost of carbon" idea.

So, are we hidden from the true cost of our garbage? Measures like charging for plastic bags are one way of tackling it, but I remember when I was in the Czech Republic I visited a little (gorgeous) tourist town called Cesky Krumlov, where there was no McDonald's and vendors were not allowed to sell foods with disposable plates, cups, etc. because the city wanted to keep it pristine. Now, that's clearly not going to happen. But I wonder what would happen if the city stopped picking up after us, just to let us see.

Oh wait, it already has happened in Italy.