A Commons Experiment In Luxembourg Gardens

Lynne Kiesling

At the south end of the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris there are three stretches of grass. As you would expect with the Cartesian rationality symmetry inherent in French landscaping, the larger rectangle of grass faces the exact middle of the Palace. The two slightly narrower rectangles are the same length as the middle one, and they are the exact distance from the middle one. They face the left-middle and right-middle of the Palace.

The large rectangle in the middle is pélouse interdite, or sitting not allowed, presumably because having people sitting, romping, and frolicking on that grass would ruin the lovely prospect of the Palace from the central south gate of the gardens. The two side rectangles are pélouse authorisée, or sitting permitted.

Not surprisingly, the grass in the middle rectangle is lovely, wtih no bare spots. The grass on the two adjacent rectangles, though, is trampled and rife with bare spots, particularly after a weekend of lovely weather.

Here’s an experiment we could run: keep the central rectangle off limits, and one of the others as it is now, which is open access. On the third rectangle, install a higher (maybe hip-high, but transparent and difficult to vault) fence, hire a guard and a clerk, and charge people for admission to that rectangle. Thus we would incur some costs for defining and enforcing the use rights. But would that rectangle be in better condition than the open access one? Perhaps it would even be in better condition than the off limits one! We could use the profits from the experiment to maintain that rectangle, assuming there would be profits after paying for the fence, the guard and the clerk. That would mean having to consider profit-maximizing pricing.

Just a thought … I had to entertain myself somehow on my run!