Adirondack Park: Violation of a Social Contract?
NPR has posed an interesting economic development question for Adirondack Park residents. Brian Mann has posited
that there exists an unwritten social contract between Adirondack
Park residents and New York state
What New York provides: full payment of
taxes by the state, locating state prisons in the Adirondack
Park to provide local jobs, and large
state investments in Adirondack park tourism
What New York gets: Strict regulation of Adirondack Park land, both public and private. The
economic development strategy of the region must work within these limitations.
So New Yorkers as a whole should have to pay Adirondack-ers since New York saddled them with the Park? My sense is that this poses the issue in an interesting but wrong way. To me, having the Adirondack Park and all that comes with it is a huge benefit to New York and to the people that live in it.
Let's look at it from the real estate perspective in the context of historic districts. There are studies that show that historic districts actually raises property values. I haven't read these studies, but if this is indeed true, my sense is that uncontrolled building and economic development usually results in a hodge podge "look and feel" of an area, whereas people are naturally attracted to thematic consistency. If the theme of an area is attractive in some way, seeing that theme consistently around the region multiples the value. Just take a look at the mountain chalets in Switzerland or the adobe style in Santa Fe New Mexico and I think the value of thematic consistency is self-evident. So Adirondack property values are higher precisely because of all the wilderness that surrounds the private parcels.
Why, then, do we feel this contradiction between economic development and Adirondack protection, even if we know Adirondack protection is good for us as a whole? It turns out it's an economic law that's at work (serious stuff here, like the Law of Thermodynamics). The precise economic principle at work here is Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons", where the commons in this case is the overall aesthetic feel of the region. Every property owner in the Adirondack Park has their own interest in breaking out of the bounds of Adirondack regulation. But it is precisely the Adirondack regulation which maintains the overall aesthetic feel of the region. If every property owner and resident sacrifices some of their own individual freedom and lives within the framework of the Adirondack Park regulation, the resulting collective Adirondack aesthetic provides something attractive to tourists and raises the values of neighboring private lands.
So I think the question posed by NPR's Brian Mann is a good provocative question, but one that is a little bit misleading. His implicit social contract between New York and Adirondack residents presumes that having the Adirondack Park is a sacrifice for the region's residents for which they must be paid. If you ask me, I think they're just paying themselves.
How good a job has the greater Adirondack region done to take advantage of the Adirondack aesthetic and pay themselves well? How can the greater Adirondack region do a better job of developing its economy within the context of its strengths? That is the question that this blog hopes to address over time. Stay tuned!
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