Thursday, May 01, 2014

Transportation Costs and the Political Economy of Support for State Parks

California's population is increasingly non-white and concentrated in major cities far from the state's parks.   How many of these center city residents have visited the state's beautiful parks located hours away in remote places? Such parks are likely to be an "experience good" in the sense that visiting them causes one to have a greater respect for beauty and allocating scarce fiscal resources to preserving them.   My UCLA colleague Jon Christensen  has written a piece  and here is a quote;

"From the beginning of its efforts, the commission says it has been "mindful" of California's rapidly changing demographics. The state's Latino population is projected to grow from 38 percent in 2010 to 52 percent in 2040. Millennials — people born between 1980 and 2000 — now make up 29 percent of the state, constitute "the single largest generation in human history," and nationally "will decide the next six presidential elections." And while 61 percent of Californians were clustered in three urban areas in 2010, that number will rise to 76 percent by 2050.
All of this gives an urban, millennial, technologically savvy flavor to the Parks Forward recommendations. In 1928, when the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. offered his recommendations to a state park commission, he noted the "magnitude and importance, socially and economically, in California, of the values arising directly and indirectly from the enjoyment of scenery and from related pleasure of non-urban outdoor life." Today, the future of California's 280 state parks, covering 1.6 million acres and providing access to more than a third of the state's coastline, hinges not on escaping the city but on reconnecting to urban life."
I have several thoughts;
1.  Is the environmental preservation movement worried that it is "elitist" such that educated are the vast majority of the people who take trips to California's parks?   So, what are the facts about the demographics of who visits these parks?  
2.  Does visiting these parks have a "causal" effect on one's willingness to vote tax dollars for preserving nature?
3.  If statements #1 and #2 are true, and  given that the center cities of LA and San Diego and San Fran are "far" measured in time costs of accessing most of the parks, what can concerned environmentalists do here?  Should my IOE be subsidizing trips to State Parks?   
It appears that the environmental movement wants Californians to become more sophisticated in its experiences.  How do you lure people to the opera and state parks?  How large an incentive is needed? What difference would it make in terms of political economy and voting outcomes?

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