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Philanthropists Avoid Taxes, Build Public Parks

December 1, 2014

The NYTimes today features an op ed article by David Callahan titled “The Billionaires Park” describing a new enhancement to the Hudson River Parkway funded entirely by media mogul Barry Diller. Now the idea of a philanthropist providing more green space in densely populated city seems unarguably high minded until you realize that this same philanthropist has discretionary money to spend because their tax bill is lower than it has been for decades. Furthermore, the projects the philanthropists chose to build are not necessarily the ones the public needs and tend to be designed to serve people in a higher income bracket. Callahan uses the recent city budget and recently completed High Line Park to illustrate these points:

Meanwhile, many parks, starved of funds, have fallen into disrepair. This fall Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to spend $130 million to upgrade 35 parks in poor neighborhoods the same amount Mr. Diller and his wife, Diane von Furstenberg, pledged for the new 2.7-acre park.

And who will use (Diller’s) pricey new island park, in one of the most expensive and least densely populated parts of Manhattan? Take a stroll on the High Line, which was also heavily financed by Mr. Diller and Ms. von Furstenberg, and you’ll get a sense of the likely visitors: out-of-town tourists and locals who can afford lunch in the Meatpacking District. 

Callahan missed one major point in this article. There used to be parks sprinkled throughout urban areas in the form of school playgrounds… but tax starved urban areas “can’t afford” to build new schools and playgrounds? Oh wait! I forgot! There used to be public schools in urban areas… but those “failing schools” have been replaced by for-profit charter schools run by CEOs who make more than the city’s Superintendent. And to make matters even worse, the school facilities are underwritten by taxpayers. Maybe that form of philanthropic abuse will be taken up in a future NYTimes article.

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