Created By: Shnakepup on September 18, 2012 Last Edited By: Gatomon41 on January 18, 2013
Troped

Pointless Civic Project

A city or government wastes money on a project with questionable justification

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Trope
(Do We Have This One?? I tried searching around but couldn't find anything. Also, maybe Needs a Better Name?)

This trope is for when a city or country spends tons of money to build something that has little to no use. The reason may vary: the city council might've been taken in by a Con Man, Corrupt Politician, the knee-jerk reaction of a terrified population, or the people in charge are just plain crazy.

In some cases it might not be the actual local government but rather a charity of some kind. The result is usually the same: a lot of money is spent on something that ends up being utterly useless.

In Real Life, projects like these are sometimes labled "Follies": Buildings that are built for no practical purpose except for decoration and/or to show off the wealth of whoever ordered it built. Another Real Life example would be "pork barrel" projects (expensive projects approved by congress that only really benefit the district of the congressman who proposed the project in the first place). However, one person's pork barrel is another person's much needed civic improvement, so No Real Life Examples, Please!.

See also Unwanted Gift Plot, Money to Throw Away, and Organization with Unlimited Funding.

Examples:

Literature
  • CoDominium: The colony planet of Hadley is in serious need of industry and infrastructure... but the CD builds them a giant sports stadium instead. Unsurprisingly, the company that got the contract is owned by a corrupt CoDo Senator.
  • In Nineteen Eighty Four, the Big Brother regime constantly builds things like monuments to both inspire mindless nationalism and to soak up excess resources. This is to keep living standards so low that the people are too worn down to resist.
  • Lampooned by Dave Barry in his book Dave Barry is Not Taking This Sitting Down, in a column called "Eye of the Beholder":
    [Recently] Dade County purchased an office building from the city of Miami. The problem was that, squatting in an area that the county wanted to convert into office space, there was a huge ugly wad of metal, set into the concrete. So the county sent construction workers with heavy equipment to rip out the wad, which was then going to be destroyed. But guess what? Correct! It turns out this was NOT an ugly wad. It was art! Specifically, it was Public Art, defined as "art that is purchased by experts who are not spending their own personal money." The money of course comes from the taxpayers, who are not allowed to spend this money themselves because (1) they probably wouldn't buy art, and (2) if they did, there is no way they would buy the crashed-spaceship style of art that the experts usually select for them."
  • In the Retief story "Dam Nuisance", a local alien asks the eponymous hero for aid from the CDT to repair his house. However, Retief notes that the Corps is prohibited from building anything useful - the CDT experts believe that it would cause the aliens to lose self-esteem as a result. However, Retief notes that the CDT is more than happy to construct something pointless should the need arise.
  • The incredibly expensive, country-spanning Anti-Smite Shield commissioned by the British government in the Thursday Next series. A bit of a subversion, in that it actually did serve a function: using up surplus government stupidity with one massive, incredibly stupid project

Live-Action Television
  • Something of this nature is discussed but doesn't actually happen in an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati. The local homeless shelter's kitchen catches fire and it will cost $40,000 to rebuild. Jennifer gets a bunch of wealthy Cincinnaitians together to donate the money, but they decide "why just rebuild the kitchen when we can build them a whole new shelter?" One man will donate a plot of land he has sitting around and a couple of others donate $150K for building it. Then the users of the shelter show up, and point out they don't need nor want a new building, espeically not one in a distant suburb no one can get to via public transportation. What they need is to have the shelter's kitchen rebuilt.
  • In the Frontline episode "Let the Children Play", the Frontline team did a community service project for disadvantaged inner-city youth as a ratings grab. Despite all the kids wanting a basketball court, they decide to build a playground as it makes better television. And then the playground is found to be unsafe and cannot actually be used.
  • In Series/Benson, federal auditors discover an unexpected buget surplus of $8 million and insist that the state spend that money or their federal distribution will be reduced by twice that much the next fiscal year (which starts tomorrow), so Benson & Clayton try to find a way to spend it before the end of the day. In the end Benson decides that's stupid, and just announces that they have a surplus.

Tabletop Games
  • Has appeared in Warhammer 40k lore from time to time: members of the Ecclesiarchy will demand the construction of more centers of worship for the Imperial Cult, even though the space could be better used for more practical purposes, like food production or housing.

Videoames
  • Building at least one is traditional in Dwarf Fortress. The more gratuitous, the better. The forum even ran a contest to see who could build the best tower out of soap, in a game where soap is surprisingly hard to come by.

Web Original
  • The demented city council in Welcome to Night Vale approves several pointless projects.
    • The town's continued project to build a drawbridge in Old Town Night Vale, despite there not being any rivers or bodies of water nearby, and no boats to even necessitate a drawbridge. The project keeps on failing due to the engineers insisting on using hilariously inappropriate materials, such as cardboard.
    • There's also the Night Vale Harbor and Waterfont Recreation Area...in a city that's landlocked and in the middle of a desert.
    There is no water at the actual waterfont. And that is a definite drawback, I agree. For instance, the boardwalk is currently overlooking sagebrush and rocks. The Business Assocation did not provide and specific remedies to this problem, but they assured me that the new harbor would be a big boost to Night Vale nonetheless. Maybe wait until the next flashflood and head down there for the full waterfont experience.

Western Animation
  • Family Guy: Mayor Adam West commissions an unusual war memorial for Quahog's deceased soldiers: "I can think of no greater tribute to their memories than this solid gold statue...of Dig 'em the Sugar Smacks frog".
  • The Simpsons:
    • The Monorail project in the episode "Marge vs. the Monorail". In it, the townspeople are sold on the idea of the monorail by the slick-talking monorail salesman, despite the fact that Springfield has no need for a monorail. The end of the episode reveals that the city routinely builds pointless things, such as a Popsicle Stick Skyscraper, a 100ft Magnifying Glass (that sets the Popsicle Stick Skyscraper on fire) and a huge escalator to nowhere (whereupon reaching the top, riders simply plummet to their death).
    • In another episode, Kent Brockman mentions the Clamatorium, described as "a million dollar boondoggle based on nothing more than clever word play."
    • Another example revolves around a music hall in the episode "The Seven-Beer Snitch". Because Springfield is filled with a bunch of "stupid hicks", they leave after hearing the first five notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and the music hall becomes a porno theater, "An Evening with David Brenner", and finally, a prison.

Needs More Examples
Community Feedback Replies: 41
  • September 18, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    This seems like asking for trouble to me. At the very least, it needs to be in-universe only and possibly also YMMV.
  • September 18, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Yeah, I wasn't sure if I should add the Real Life example, since it might be Flame Bait, but I figured I'd throw it in since the Bridge To Nowhere was fairly well-known in the last election season. But I can take it out if needed.

    Barring Real Life examples, though, why would this be YMMV? A wasteful or pointless project doesn't seem like it would be a subjective thing.
  • September 18, 2012
    Astaroth
    Family Guy: Mayor West commisions a war memmorial for Quahog's deceased soldiers: 'I can think of no gretaer tribute to their memories than this solid gold statue... of Dig 'em the Sugar Smacks frog.'
  • September 18, 2012
    elwoz
    Regarding Real Life, I would suggest that you link to Wikipedia's "pork barrel" article in the trope description, but then say that we aren't taking real world examples because there's always an argument and we'd rather stay out of it.

    In fiction, it seems to me like this is something that gets used intentionally for storytelling purposes, and there's no subjectivity about its presence, so it needn't be YMMV.
  • September 18, 2012
    foxley
    No Real Life examples please. One person's pork barrel is another person's much needed civic improvement.

    A non-government example. In the Frontline episode "Let the Children Play", the Frontline team do a community service project for disadvantaged inner-city youth as a ratings grab. Despite all the kids wanting a basketball court, they decide to build a playground as it makes better television. And then the playground is found to be unsafe and cannot actually be used.
  • September 19, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Okay, I put the "pork barrel" thing in the description and added a No Real Life Examples Please warning.
  • September 20, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Something of this nature is discussed but doesn't actually happen in an episode of WKRP In Cincinnati. The local homeless shelter's kitchen catches fire and it will cost $40,000 to rebuild. Jennifer gets a bunch of wealthy Cincinnaitians together to donate the money, but they decide "why just rebuild the kitchen when we can build them a whole new shelter?" One man will donate a plot of land he has sitting around and a couple of others donate $150K for building it. Then the users of the shelter show up, and point out they don't need nor want a new building, espeically not one in a distant suburb no one can get to via public transportation. What they need is to have the shelter's kitchen rebuilt.
  • September 20, 2012
    Astaroth
    Might be worth linking the other wiki's article on "Follies": Buildings that are built for no practical purpose except for decoration and/or to show off the wealth of whoever ordered it built.
  • September 26, 2012
    mdulwich
    Nineteen Eighty Four might count: The Big Brother regime constantly builds things like monuments to both inspire mindless nationalism and to soak up excess resources. This is to keep living standards so low that the people are too worn down to resist.
  • September 26, 2012
    Shnakepup
    I'd say it counts. I'll add it.
  • September 26, 2012
    Gatomon41
    • Co Dominium: The colony planet of Hadley is in serious need of industry and infrastructure... but the CD builds them a giant sports stadium instead. Unsurprisingly, the company that got the contract is owned by a corrupt CoDo Senator.
  • September 27, 2012
    NateTheGreat
    Dave Barry commented on this. From his book Dave Barry is Not Taking This Sitting Down, a column called "Eye of the Beholder":

    [Recently] Dade County purchased an office building from the city of Miami. The problem was that, squatting in an area that the county wanted to convert into office space, there was a huge ugly wad of metal, set into the concrete. So the county sent construction workers with heavy equipment to rip out the wad, which was then going to be destroyed. But guess what? Correct! It turns out this was NOT an ugly wad. It was art! Specifically, it was Public Art, defined as "art that is purchased by experts who are not spending their own personal money." The money of course comes from the taxpayers, who are not allowed to spend this money themselves because (1) they probably wouldn't buy art, and (2) if they did, there is no way they would buy the crashed-spaceship style of art that the experts usually select for them."

    You can read more of the column over at Google Books here.

  • October 9, 2012
    TonyG
    Another Simpsons example is the Clamatorium, described by Kent Brockman as "a million dollar boondoggle based on nothing more than clever word play."
  • October 11, 2012
    SquirrelGuy
    See also "White Elephant"
  • October 13, 2012
    TBeholder
    elwoz> I would suggest that you link to Wikipedia's "pork barrel" article in the trope description, but then say that we aren't taking real world examples because there's always an argument and we'd rather stay out of it.

    of course. Web Original examples are not "Real Life".

    (fixed)
  • October 13, 2012
    elwoz
    @T Beholder What did I say that you are responding to?
  • October 13, 2012
    TBeholder
    Also, "Civic" may not be a necessary part... Pointless Pompous Project?
  • October 13, 2012
    tardigrade
    ^ Civic seems informative enough though.
  • October 14, 2012
    tardigrade
    I'm not sure about the link to the Wikipedia article on follies. The historical follies that I'm most familiar with were constructed either: (a) to provide much-needed employment during times of hardship; or (b) as decoration on private land paid for by the owner of that land. Neither of these involve the irresponsible squandering of civic resources on a pointless project that seems to be the key to this trope.
  • October 14, 2012
    StarSword
    IMHO this needs to be categorized under No Real Life Examples Please. Too much potential for edit wars.
  • October 14, 2012
    Shnakepup
    I've added it.
  • October 16, 2012
    Gatomon41
    Another Literature example:

  • October 16, 2012
    JDogindy
    Yet another example from The Simpsons revolves around a music hall in the episode "The Seven-Beer Snitch". Because Springfield is filled with a bunch of "stupid hicks", they leave after hearing the first five notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and the music hall becomes a porno theater, "An Evening with David Brenner", and finally, a prison.
  • October 31, 2012
    DracMonster
    It would only be YMMV if real life examples were allowed. For fiction if a work is calling something wasteful it won't really be a matter of dispute.
  • November 27, 2012
    BrokenEye
    The incredibly expensive, country-spanning Anti-Smite Shield commissioned by the British government in the Thursday Next series. A bit of a subversion, in that it actually did serve a function: using up surplus government stupidity with one massive, incredibly stupid project
  • November 27, 2012
    KTera
    • Building at least one is traditional in Dwarf Fortress. The more gratuitous, the better. The forum even ran a contest to see who could build the best tower out of soap, in a game where soap is surprisingly hard to come by.
  • November 27, 2012
    zarpaulus
    Was the Co Dominium example on purpose by any chance? From what I've read they tried to keep the colonies from developing industry so they couldn't rebel.
  • November 28, 2012
    Arivne
    ^ In the story it was specifically stated that the reason the stadium was built was so that the company owned by the corrupt Senator's family could get the construction contract.
  • November 28, 2012
    PaulieRomanov
    I think some real-life examples should be added with moderator approval. North Korea is infamous for their pointless (and often failed) projects such as fake cities near the South Korean border and a still unfinished tower that was only made out of spite towards South Korea.
  • November 28, 2012
    MorganWick
    ^While those aren't "much-needed civic improvements", I don't think they count for this trope either as they're part of North Korea's continual backbiting and lukewarm-warring with South Korea.
  • November 29, 2012
    Gatomon41
    @zarpaulus: It's implied in this case it was just so the Senator in question could make money off it. Whatever the case, the colony certainly didn't need a sports stadium of all things.

  • December 24, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In an episode of Benson federal auditors discover an unexpected buget surplus of $8 million and insist that the state spend that money or their federal distribution will be reduced by twice that much the next fiscal year (which starts tomorrow), so Benson & Clayton try to find a way to spend it before the end of the day. In the end Benson decides that's stupid, and just announces that they have a surplus.
  • December 24, 2012
    StarSword
    IMHO this is ready to go.
  • December 26, 2012
    Gatomon41
    So is anyone going to launch this?
  • January 4, 2013
    Gatomon41
    If nobody minds, I'm willing to launch this in three days.
  • January 4, 2013
    Larkmarn
    I don't think any real-life examples should be added. As silly as... everything North Korea does, it just opens the doors that should stay shut.
  • January 4, 2013
    StarSword
    ^^I'd PM the OP first since it's not marked as Up For Grabs.
  • January 5, 2013
    Gatomon41
    ^ As suggested, I sent a PM to the sponsor. No reply yet, but I'll wait a week or so.
  • January 5, 2013
    0blivionmobile
    Has appeared in Warhammer 40k lore from time to time: members of the Ecclesiarchy will demand the construction of more centers of worship for the Imperial Cult, even though the space could be better used for more practical purposes, like food production or housing.
  • January 14, 2013
    Gatomon41
    It's been more than ten days since I PM the Sponsor. I have received no word.
  • January 18, 2013
    elwoz
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=ir74fjhczyqswjbe02pf5stu&trope=PointlessCivicProject