Is a $3 Parking Fee for Waterfront Park an Example of Structural Racism?

Question: Why is a $3 parking fee like a poll tax?
Answer:  Both keep the same people away!

Much is being said and written about the decision of the Board of the Waterfront Development Corp. to establish a $3 parking fee for access to its parking lots for 5 days a week. The authority reaps an automatic “got-cha” bonus of an additional $3 for people who overstay their welcome.  I have no access to a detailed budget of the Waterfront Park to allow comment on how dire any need is for new revenue, or if there are other operational or budgeting mechanisms to support the Waterfront Park.  It may well be that the Board is playing chicken with local and state governments to contribute new money or restore previous financial support to keep this wonderful community asset open.  What I do have an opinion on is that the least able to pay for access to this public property must not be used as pawns in any such gamesmanship.  If the Park Board actually means to enact this regressive budget maneuver, I suggest that the easy reflex to do so is an example of the under-acknowledged structural racism underlying much of our public policy.  Although the impact of even $3 on distressed family budgets is color- or ethnically blind, in metropolitan Louisville, it is such families that will be disproportionally kept away.

There can be no one who does not recognize what a treasure this park has been for our community.  When I came to Louisville in 1984, I had to risk predictable flat tires on my Jeep getting from River Road across the tracks of the railroad-car recycling operation to University Hospital. Today the Park is truly the combined living room and backyard of Louisville. The opening of the Big Four walking bridge to Southern Indiana only made things better.  I love to ride my bike across the bridge to the coffee shops and bakeries of Jeffersonville to read the news, think, and write.  The diversity of people crossing with me never fails to make me smile.  Even within families and groups, the permutations of ages, colors, ethnicities, apparent genders and socio-economic status seem infinite.

I wish the same could be said of the equally magnificent Parklands system in Eastern Jefferson County for which travel time and lack of public transportation serve as disincentives to visit for many Louisvillians.  It is not like public transportation to the Big Four Bridge is that great.  I was told by TARC people that the nearest bus line access to the Bridge is from Market Street. There are no busses on River Road, allegedly because of difficulties railroad track crossings would have on schedules. I do not know how people get to the Waterfront Parks at present.  Apparently enough come by car that taxing them would be profitable.

Such a public asset deserves to be funded publically.  The financial structure underlying the Waterfront Park may always have been less than predictably secure.  I was told that its initial construction was funded by Federal Medicaid money gleaned from the now more-tightly controlled Inter-Governmental Transfer scams of the 80’s and 90’s.  The Commonwealth of Kentucky kicked in additional annual funding until it was recently withdrawn, apparently triggering the current claimed funding crisis.  The state and city are obviously challenged by any number of poorly funded infrastructure needs, not the least of which is a decrepit drainage system that pours raw sewage in our rivers requiring the parks on our riversides to post off-putting signs warning that contact with the waters is hazardous to public health.  The sewer-related sinkhole that opened up on Main Street this week will hinder access not only to the Park, but for eastern-city residents, to downtown Louisville as well.  The politically driven agenda to avoid raising taxes, indeed to reduce them is taking a predictable toll on our state.  Repairing bad public policy for parks, pensions, healthcare, sewers, and more will be difficult and expensive.  Doing so regressively on the backs of those who– for whatever reason– are least able to afford to pay is in my opinion patently unfair.  To disproportionally target those who have been systematically disadvantaged by earlier baked-in, government-sanctioned racial discrimination of the kind that sorts people by Zip code would be unpardonable.

Peter Hasselbacher
September 1, 2017

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