It’s amazing how a small alteration can completely change your concept of something. A simple demonstration of this came to me today as I fought off the midday ice cream craving I’m forming. Ice cream, the words, the thoughts, the object itself, likely bring about certain feelings of enjoyment, memories of deliciousness, maybe your mouth begins to water. However, add one letter and you get lice cream. Feelings of desire turn to repulsion. But, how could we make this energy flow in the opposite direction and turn the figurative crazy monkey into crazy money.
I began to think about this as I worked on my project with perceptions of parks in neighborhoods. In the case of perceptions the correlations with other, more measurable factors, are almost always weak if they exist at all. One reason is that the ways we form perceptions differ from person to person. Likewise we all form perceptions using different pieces of information including personal history. In my analysis safety is one aspect we’re considering for its ability to confuse or change the relationship between what really exists in our neighborhoods and what we think is there (and consequently what we use and enjoy, or don’t). A criminal incident in your neighborhood will likely affect the amount of time you spend outside around the neighborhood, what facilities in the neighborhood you use and your freedom to act as see fit in your immediate surroundings.
Even if the incident happened to someone you don’t know, on a street you’ve never been on, and the person was caught it is likely that something about the way you think of your neighborhood changes. The incident will be there in your mind. Suddenly the actions of single person have economic implications for shops in the neighborhood, stress implications for the residents, activity implications for the kids. Public policy is interesting to me as it might be a way to influence or even make decisions (by no means involving only a single person) that affect people’s lives positively.
A couple important problems come up before we arrive at the Utopian future you may have already begun to imagine. In both, the analogies used above break down. First, the actions resulting from a decision for expenditure of public monies often take place over years, not hours like a crime. Second, figuring out exactly what people consider to positively affect their lives is difficult and again, entirely personal. But sometimes it’s more fun to examine smaller decisions that went the other way.
Two minor examples of odd decisions (either for the benefit of the public or not) have caught my attention and both involve garbage trucks. The first is an example from the private sector in Atlanta. Perhaps you’ve seen the bright pink DreamSan trucks making their way around town. The second is here in Bogotá, where when you hear a familiar xylophone rendition of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain it’s likely the trash pickup and not the ice cream man. In each case, someone has tried to change the way that we think about this negatively perceived, though very necessary, service. Are they doing any good? How would we determine it, if they were?