Flags around the Washington Monument fly in the gentle breeze at daybreak on a warmer than average day in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015. The U.S. Capitol is in the background. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

Government Says it Will Cost $150K; Citizen Does it for $550

For those still tempted to believe that involving government in anything will make stuff cheaper (“free” healthcare, “free” college, “free” prescriptions, “free” puppies), you need only look to Toronto where exhibit 1,524,229 in the people’s case against big government has just been introduced.

It seems there is a popular park in Toronto called “Tom Riley Park” that for some time now people have been entering directly from the parking lot rather than from the main entrance. The direct approach is quicker, but more dangerous since it includes a slide down a steep slope. To facilitate the treacherous pass, some park goers had attached a yellow rope to provide something to hang onto. That didn’t stop many citizens from falling, including one unfortunate lady who broke her wrist.

So to remedy the situation a retired mechanic named Adi Astl, who frequented the park with his wife, approached the city about constructing some steps. Toronto’s bureaucracy turned him down saying that the cost would be up to $150,000 to build. You’re probably wondering just how many steps this would entail. Eight. Yes, eight steps, and the city quoted him at $150k.

Personally, earlier this summer I built nine steps going up a walkway in my backyard. I did it under $300. Granted, I’m not a carpenter certified by the local government, but I’m also not an idiot. Post holes, concrete, beams, boards, wood screws and a drill – it’s not rocket science.

That was the conclusion of Mr. Astl who decided to offer his services for the good of the community. After taking up a collection from residents who visit the park regularly, Astl hired a homeless man to assist him, and built a nice set of steps for just $550. For those keep track at home, that’s $149,450 cheaper than what the government was suggesting it would cost them.

And how did the city respond to this act of spontaneous productivity in one of its innovative citizens? They taped off the steps and planned to tear them down for not being built with city supervision and according to city code.

Unsurprisingly people walked right around the city’s tape and used the completely reliable steps that were – if nothing else – a tremendously safer option than sliding on their rear ends down the embankment. Since that time, local news crews became involved, drew attention to the ridiculous position of the city, and embarrassed officials into promising to work with Mr. Astl to come to a mutual agreement about the steps.

Who knows how this drama will end, but if it doesn’t remind us all of this truth recorded in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, nothing will:

“The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.”


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Peter Heck

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