J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Government Listening Session at Faneuil Hall, 15 March

Tonight from 5:00 to 7:00, the National Park Service is running a “Listening Session” in Faneuil Hall. This is billed as an opportunity for us citizens to comment on the NPS’s priorities over the next decade.

Given the lack of publicity and the short period for public comments (get them in by 2 April!), this seems more like an effort to drum up support for the Bush-Cheney administration’s legacy-burnishing Centennial Initiative as Congress determines the U.S. budget. Does listening to two-minute remarks from citizens truly affect policy?

The Centennial Initiative is supposed to infuse more money into the NPS by 2016, the hundredth anniversary of its founding. Where will that money come from? Federal budgets under future Presidents and Congresses, mostly. And every dollar will have to be matched in some way by the public—the same people paying the taxes that should fund the National Park Service in the first place.

In general, this administration has preferred to privatize and politicize public resources. Under this initiative, it’s insisting that all projects “Use current staffing, unless additional staffing is provided through endowed positions or partners.” So would you like to buy your very own park ranger? Kurt at National Parks Traveler shares a hint of what to expect from NPS retiree Owen Hoffman, as well as observations on the planning of these sessions.


Anonymous said...


You said, "In general, this administration has preferred to privatize and politicize public resources."

By that same token, the Supreme Court decided in Kelo v. New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), that privately owned property taken by the government under the Fifth Amendment for economic development qualifies as "public use." Some would call this a watershed. Others call it an outrage.

I would like to emphasize that the conservative justices, namely Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas joined in the O'Connor dissent. In other words, the conservatives staunchly opposed the holding of the Court's plurality.

I am brining this to your attention because the extent to which one wishes to criticize the privatization of public resources as you have alleged here, the "liberal" justices of the Court turned the meaning of the takings clause of the Constitution on its ear as well.


--T. Antonini

Robert S. Paul said...

While I agree it seems stupid to pay for these monuments twice (three times if they charge admission), aren't there some monuments that are privately owned? Isn't Monticello privately owned?

I do agree with you that this is a bit of backpedal from the Bush administration, though.

J. L. Bell said...

T. Antonioni--

The unpopular Kelo case is well past the Revolutionary period, of course, though it does involve the neighborhood of Fort Trumbull.

All eminent domain cases involves privately owned property, I believe. Historically most such takings have been for public use; the takings clause of the Constitution is supposed to guarantee just compensation from the government to the owner.

It's my understanding that the Kelo case became notorious because it involved the privatization of private resources—i.e., the transfer of property from small landowners to private enterprises, on the grounds that the companies would deliver more economic value to the people of the region. Thus, the decision neither created a shared public resource nor protected a private property—which got practically everyone angry.

I recall surveys showing that 90% of the American public disliked the court's decision, even though a lot of legal observers expected it, based on a century of precedents. It's interesting to note that even though New London won its case, the city chose to settle with the homeowners rather than put its power into effect. And of course there's been some legislative pushback.

I think you're right to put the word liberal in quotation marks because the current Supreme Court doesn't include any liberals in the mold of Brennan, Marshall, or Blackmun. Breyer, Ginsburg, and Souter are only somewhat left of center while Scalia and Thomas are further from the nation's center to the right. I suspect Brennan and Marshall would have been less trusting of the improvement to come from a large corporation than the current Court's center-left side.

On many issues of society versus individual interests, I think the decisions break down not by left v. right but by center v. wings.

J. L. Bell said...


The admission fees at national parks, which are set in Washington, are small compared to the equivalent private resources. That's because they're supposed to be open to nearly all Americans. Like Boston Common, they're supposed to be held in common for everyone, including future generations.

Monticello is indeed not a National Park Service site; it charges $15 for an adult admission. Adams National Historical Park charges $5, (going up to $7 in 2008). Monticello charges $6 for a child's admission; Adams NHP is free for kids. That's part of the NPS's educational mission.

I worry about the quality of historical interpretation at sites. That requires personnel, training, resources, ongoing revision and improvement, and something that private business tries to avoid—a willingness to challenge visitors' assumptions and desires.

Anonymous said...

This was really amazing

Anonymous said...

I couldn't belive how much this teachs kids!!!