Good for the City in Small Pieces
“Some years ago, and a year or so after the 9/11 disaster, I was standing near a conversation at a town hall session, when a constituent decried failing systems in service to the simple act of voting – long lines, ill-trained, confused poll workers, broken machines, deplorable participation rates, falling registrations, and so on. The Senator, politely nodding, said, “Little will happen on any of these issues until voting breaks down completely. Only if that happens can action with money be taken, in the meantime…” when the constituent interrupted and said, “But Senator, all the dots are in a row here,” it was like being slapped.”Rex L. Curry
The policy of catastrophic resolution is supported as a congressional decision-making model. It trickles as policy all the way to cities. In New York City, as an example, the policy is to wait until the water main breaks. “It is the only way to find them to fix them.” claimed the officials with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) at the time.
While reasonable in one sense, it has become a disease of denial regarding the value of prevention. Today, a variety of life-denying systems within the western economies are held by self-styled anthropophagus-like altruists whose logic would destroy the village to save it and govern at an “arm’s length” with the help of psychopaths they put into public offices. They are not the oligarchs of old that hold the spoils of war. In their worlds, surrounded by the obsequious kindness of others, I believe many of them do not know what they do or have done to damage the future. The clutch of sycophants in their spheres quietly whisper in a gaggle of insistence, saying there is no need for decisive action on the unprovable loss of a single species or global breakdowns in seasonal patterns that bring fire, drought, and thunderous waves from a rising global ocean or the searing heat across ever-widening dry plains. The policy of “no need without undeniable insistence” must not occur. There is a need for revolution, and I think I know where it might begin.
The synergy of dense urban living appears to create or at least support the rise of conditions that prevent damage to future generations as it defines and solves problems squarely ahead. It can be sloppy. However, most of the cycles of sloppiness are short, cover small geographic areas because only parts of the systems that glue the city together fail at any one time. A city in constates of repair is a city with powerful expertise. When an ancient, wood water main breaks, a sewer fails, a gas line leaks and an electric power loss occurs, only a few people are affected and only for short periods because of compacity. A word that describes many people nearby that know exactly what to do or how to get it done.
If you are in a dense area you can experience compacity (the feeling of density) by taking a walk for fifteen to twenty minutes in a reasonably straight line, make four right turns to get back where you started, and you have probably walked a square mile. On average, you have enclosed 30,000 to 80,000 people, miles of road, and thousands of homes. If you are in New York City, you may have come across multiple subway stations, several hundred commercial retail, institutional service, and public facilities such as schools, police, and fire stations. All in a little over a one-hour walk. Amazing.
The central and overriding responsibility of political leaders and public and private service agencies is to assist in the readiness of people to respond to problems of any kind or any sort. They should know and understand this capacity as it represents the beating heart of NYC’s future. In every one of these square mile enclosures in any one of hundreds of neighborhoods, the capacity for positive change is undeniable. Still, it needs to be taught as a practical matter of citizenship, of what to do or not when the need for help is immediate or anticipated like the tide.
If or when a city’s potential for positive change or the need for occasionally rapid response is denied or obstructed, it is readily recognized as a conflict against humanity in the place where it occurs. The origins of the forces behind these life-defining conflicts may begin as “person-against -person,-nature, -self, -society, -technology or the raw unknown. These are not the elements of fictional narratives. They represent the day-to-day experiences of regular people. They produce these occurrences of conflict with relish in all things, from the simple exchange over the price of bread for currency to a course in high-school algebra for a grade. They are all things wrought by the compacity of urban life that are continuous and in many ways unrelenting.
In many places throughout the city, your walk would have included observing a highly diverse population. You would have heard many voices speaking combinations of familiar and unfamiliar words. Your opportunity within this environment to purchase and consume your requirement for protein or clothing, a laugh, or a smile is easily acquired. Your business is appreciated. A twenty to thirty-minute train ride will take you to some of the world’s finest hospitals and universities or airports and trains to see far-off places. All of these little break-downs and celebrations renew the place and the person.