Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Broken Window Syndrome

I started working in New York City while Ed Koch was still mayor. It was the New York City of the movies, dirty, smelly scummy and mean. I continued to work there during the early time of the Dinkins adminstration. It actually got worse, I can't explain how it could have possibily gotten any worse but it did. You were afraid to go anywhere after dark alone-like to the subway or the path station to get the hell out of dodge. I wasn't really interested in politics-I just wanted to be able to go into the City to go the Met or the Natural History Musuem, eat out, go to a show or Lincoln Center or a game. It seemed impossible not to be frightened of it.
I took a job in the country in Jersey (no, I am not being oxymoronic here, there really is country in Jersey, you just have to look a little harder). I stopped commuting the New York. Then Guiliani took over. He is a very polarizing figure. You either love his brash, total in your face New York persona, or you hate him. He was best known at that time as the Italian American who helped bring down the mob as a federal prosecutor. Then after he took over as mayor, instead of being tough on crime like people thought he would be, he went after quality of life issues. It was a case of WTF? Car alarms? Porn shops in Times Square? Squeegee guys? What is this guy doing?
It was a case of the broken window syndrome. If you have a neighborhood where one home has broken windows that never get fixed, someone else is less likely to mow their lawn. Then another home lets weeds grow. Its insidious. Pretty soon, the whole neighborhood looks like crap and no one really cares.
This was what had been happening with New York City for a long time-a lot of benign neglect. All of a sudden, Guiliani takes over and things slowly started improving. It got safer to go around the city. You didn't feel like you had to peer over your shoulder all the time. Broken windows got replaced. Graffiti disappeared. Times Square became a tourist destination for other reasons. (tourists you wanted to see, let's put it that way)
Guiliani did an amazing job in New York as mayor long before 9/11. But 9/11 will be his legacy, how he guided a city enveloped in grief tragedy and war to healing. Those of us wholost friends and family that day will never get over the losses entirely, but he was like a beneveloent father figure (even if his own kids hate him) who grieved with us.
Our ocuntry has a lot of broken windows. Maybe its time to call in the repairman.

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