Thursday, January 22, 2009

Size Matters

Or so I'm told. Fiona may know better than I, but I know better than to ask her about it. Instead, I'll just talk not about size per se, but about how we estimate size.

Here in the so-called National Capital Region, we've been living with Inauguration Paranoia since the election back in November. How could a city that can't manage the commuting population it already has accommodate the vast crowds expected for the inauguration of the first black president? Where would they stay? Where do we park the buses? How many porta-potties will be needed? What will we do if the Chief Justice botches the oath of office? Where do we put the annoying street vendors? How about the hookers (see the picture below, which originally appeared at The Scholastic Scribe)? Etc, etc, etc.

Well, as we all know, the inauguration came off all right. No terrorist attacks, no riots, no ugly demonstrations - just a happy, frozen crowd and the stirring sight of power being transferred from one leader to another legally and without bloodshed...not the usual scene of power transitions in this unhappy world.

But we were talking about size.

If you're planning a big event, you want to have a big turnout. The size of your crowd indicates how successful your event was, how much support you rallied, and how important you are. Crowds are an important sign of power and influence, as Elias Canetti noted in his classic book Crowds and Power. When Washington hosted the Million Man March in 1995, the organizers estimated the size of their crowd at between a million and a million and a half persons, while the US Park Police estimated it at about 400,000...and Louis Farrakhan threatened to sue the National Park Service for giving what he thought was such an insultingly low estimate. Similar controversies arose over the size of the crowds for the later Million Woman March and Million Mom March, although I don't recall any petulant lawsuits over those estimates.

Estimating the size of crowds isn't easy, particularly if you can't use standard measures like ticket sales, head counts at the door, and so on. The local Metro Rail system counted 930,000 riders by 6:00 PM on Inauguration Day, and one crowd analysis by based on satellite photography estimated roughly 1.5 million people on the Mall. This interesting article talks about the art and science of estimating the size of crowds.

So, size matters. And how we estimate it matters. It's easier if you can sit in the privacy of your home with a tape measure and a glass of wine...harder if you know that some doofus is ready to sue you if your estimate is not what he wanted to hear. So make everyone happy...estimate high. Or long. Or whatever.

I think I'll quit while I'm ahead. So to speak.

Have a good day. Estimate carefully. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

Prostitution free zone? Uh its legal than in DC? LOL

fiona said...

"sit in the privacy of your home with a tape measure and a glass of wine.."

Yes my dear after a few glasses of vino everything appears grander! LOL

Mike said...

Why can't women judge distances very well? Because all their life guys have been telling them this ---------------------------------- is 6 inches.

John said...

so I take it that a "prostitute free" zone is different than a free prostitute zone.

wv gampu

GreenCanary said...

"Tape measure and a glass of vino." Bilbo, you have given me a visual that I am finding hard to get rid of.

anOCgirl said...

if anyone knows about whether size matters, it's the prostitutes of DC. i'm so glad that they were taken into account during the inauguration planning.