Sunday, August 31, 2014

The opportunity cost of reading a newspaper is that your parakeet must wait to poop.

Now that public art is a concept to be displayed across the street from the 'Bama Post & Folderol's nerveless center in Jeffersonville, suddenly it exists.

Meanwhile, in New Albany, we've taken a two-track approach. The private sector has tried to promote and fund public art as a concept, even as the public sector has gazed longingly at its "Dogs Playing Poker" office prints and shrugged, preferring to channel the bulk of its abbreviated attention span in other directions, ones more calculable for accruing chits redeemable in the great game of local patronage politics.

My personal view: What the Carnegie Center has done these past few years in terms of public art has been amazing. Too bad we've tended to pit arts organizations against each other when it comes to allocating resources, and even worse that at a larger level, we've squandered those resources on "quality of life" bricks and mortar projects like an aquatic center destined to be unused most of the year.

Why do I return again and again to the aquatics center?

Because it illustrates the concept of opportunity cost. City Hall's decision to prioritize an aquatics center cost us opportunities to expend time and resources elsewhere.

To me, public art is like street grid reform. The all-encompassing ripple effects from both embrace much larger swaths of the city's terrain, involving greater numbers of people, and are available for consumption every single day of the year -- not merely during the height of summer. The aquatic center represents a suburban "Leave It to Beaver" ideal of plaque-mounting expenditure, promoted by reference to undefined ideals, like those painfully amorphous "quality of life" words.

Outdoor aquatics may be viewed as "special" during a strictly seasonal usage, but the center differs not one jot from what political mediocrities in other cities have been able to painstakingly conceive, absent groundings in modernity that might suggest alternatives.

By focusing on the aquatics center, we've lost opportunities to make the city "special" on a daily basis, because being "special" every single day is what compels attraction and commitment. It's what might bring people to New Albany to live, not just visit. It's what affects those already living here the most.

Art can do that. So can complete streets, and walkability. They establish an unmistakable atmosphere that says we're serious about being serious. The newspaper joins both local political parties in being unable to fathom it, so I suppose we'll keep making the point right here.

In microeconomic theory, the opportunity cost of a choice is the value of the best alternative forgone, in a situation in which a choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives given limited resources. Assuming the best choice is made, it is the "cost" incurred by not enjoying the benefit that would be had by taking the second best choice available. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as "the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen".

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