Monday, May 22, 2006

Philosopher Kings

Much has been written on slots in Pittsburgh (some particularly insightful analysis being done over yonder) which was why it was nice to see the bureaucrats (well, a bureaucrat, anyway) finally officially weigh in with their thoughts. From the P-G:

The City of Pittsburgh's planning director gave high marks to a proposal for a slots casino at Station Square at a special City Council meeting today.

The proposal by Harrah's Entertainment and Forest City Enterprises beat out two rivals in terms of location, site plan, socioeconomic impact and experience of the proposed casino operator, said Planning Director Pat Ford.

A proposal by Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. to build a Hill District casino rated best in terms of accessibility and traffic impact, he said. Don Barden's Majestic Star on the North Shore did not rate best in any category analyzed.

"It is not the intent of our analysis to make a recommendation to the mayor or City Council," said Mr. Ford. "All we did was evaluate the numbers that [casino applicants] gave us."
A couple important points there:
(1) City Planning is not making a recommendations;
(2) Analysis was done;
(3) Analysis was not done using independently verifiable data, i.e., data was pulled from the casino players themselves.

It is quite possible, even probable that the data itself is skewed to make the proposals better than they really are. Such is the nature of the game.

What struck me about the article, however, was the following:
Nonetheless, council members, most of whom have endorsed the Isle of Capri plan, blistered Mr. Ford with tough questions and comments.

"Personally, I think [the Station Square] location is the worst location, and you guys rated it the best," said Councilman Jim Motznik...

Councilwoman Tonya Payne questioned Mr. Ford's contention that the Isle of Capri's proposed casino would be too close to residential areas.
Now, let it not be said that I think that the casino proposal is a good idea. If it were up to me (it's not, obviously), I would have bought the slots license and sold it to, say, North Versailles and let them have the untold, and heretofore, uncalculated social costs. Unfortunately, however, we are stuck with the reality of a casino in Pittsburgh, and the ultimate choice will have to come down to the least worst of the options at hand.

That being said: don't you hate it when your bosses have set their opinion based on some non-data driven "gut feeling," rather than thorough analysis? Everyone loves the Isle of Capri plan. Loves it in a way that Roger Ebert doesn't love North. And why not? It promises everything: hotels, supermarkets, an arena, a chicken in every pot, and a mule that gives hummers.

I might be wrong on that last one, but the damned plan just cries out for you to love it in a way that may only be legal in parts of the Netherlands. But that's just a feeling, not logic.

Is there some objective criteria that Councilpersons Motznik, Payne, et al are looking at that Mr. Ford was unaware of? I'm just curious, as it seem, out of context that it is, to be a rather foolish and "truthy" assertion that the Isle of Capri plan is better than Harrah's. I mean, far be it for me to question the guy who's full time job is to work on City Planning matters... but then again, I don't have the Aristotelian practical wisdom endowed as a result of holding elected public office either. It seems rather silly, therefore, to request the advice of a so-called "expert" after one has made up his/her own mind.

Now, I could be totally off base here and these remarks could have been made totally out of context (I have not been able to sit down to watch the rebroadcast of the meeting on City Cable, sadly enough). Still, I don't think I'd trust many elected officials to find their own assess, let alone think broadly and deeply about great urban and public policy matters.

But, then again, we're the ones that keep electing these yahoos...

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