Testimony before the Portland City Council on The Great Duct Tape Controversy

Steve BucksteinThis testimony was in response to a proposed ordinance by Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard which would ban reserving sidewalk space to view parades. Before my testimony, Mayor Potter suggested that Leonard withdraw his proposal and agree to solicit citizen input through a public committee. As the first person to testify, I supported the Mayor’s suggestion. After my testimony and that of others, Leonard withdrew his ordinance and agreed to co-chair such a committee with the head of the Rose Festival Association. Commissioner Dan Saltzman told his colleagues that he hoped “Steve Buckstein’s Rose Festival Duct Tape idea” would be considered. The idea was presented in my testimony below.

Mayor Potter and members of the Council. My name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute.

As I stated in my Oregonian opinion piece last Friday, what I call the Great Duct Tape Controversy can actually become a teachable moment.

First, the very fact that our streets and sidewalks are public spaces leads to what is known as The Tragedy of the Commons. Our sidewalks are usually conflict-free, but as Grand Floral Parade day approached last Saturday, sidewalk space along the route quickly became scarce. Too many of us wanted to occupy the same spots along the route. How do we decide who gets to stand or sit where, when every Portlander supposedly has equal ownership of the space?

We can fight for sidewalk space, the strong pushing out the weak. We can rely on common courtesy, or first come, first served. But this leaves out those who, for whatever reason, can’t camp out or get there hours early. Or, we can turn to the science humans have developed to deal fairly with the allocation of scarce resources — economics. The law of supply and demand tells us that the more people want something, the higher the price of that resource becomes.

I suggest that, rather than ban duct taping, we saction it, or sanction some similar reservation method, and let those who want prime spots pay for the priviledge. The city might authorize official Rose Festival Duct Tape that sells for several dollars a foot. Proceeds would go to the Rose Festival Association.

You can probably satisfy most people by only selling enough official tape to cover, say, half of the four-mile route. Let the other half be first come, first served. Selling just 20,000 feet of official tape at $5 per foot could generate $100,000 for the parade.

If it’s worth someone’s time to duct tape a space days before the parade, they should be willing to pay a few dollars to insure that the parade continues into the future.

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