My Vacation and the Economics of Public Space
Here’s my self-indulgent Summer vacation blog.
John Kenneth Galbraith is rightly renowned for the contrast he drew between private affluence and public squalor in the US. Yet he also argued that public investment is needed to sustain private affluence. What the US has generally – but not always – got hugely wrong is the balance between investment in the public and private sphere.
Here’s a modest anecdote in point. I’ve just returned from a few days in and near Virginia Beach, VA, a fortuitous place to land up in after we dropped my daughter off at a week long water polo camp in Maryland. I rather enjoyed it. There’s a great beach with lots of big waves rolling in, lifeguards every 100 yards or so to drag you out of the rip tides if needed, and a rather fine public space, a 40 block long public boardwalk paralleling the beach on which literally thousands bike, roller skate and promenade (along separate pathways) day and night. There is free music every night, quality bands plus lots of buskers, and great opportunities for people-watching, not to mention scores of decent bars and restaurants. The crowd was mainly families and groups of friends, but pretty diverse
The key point is that Virginia Beach has a great public space. The beach and board walk belong to everyone and are bordered mainly by 40 blocks of hotels as opposed to condos, many of them quite affordable. This is quite unlike the Caribbean norm of private beach resorts and ersatz clubs, each with its own strip of controlled access private beach.
I can’t vouch entirely for the accuracy of my informants, but I’m told the boardwalk was built with federal government dollars, and that the huge beach was extended by dumping sand dredged while building the two huge tunnels which cross nearby Chesapeake Bay. So, we have a lot of hotels making money off an intelligent public investment, and lots of ordinary Americans enjoying an affordable vacation which reminds one of summer resorts of time gone by.