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The Tipping Point

Jordan | Cram it in Your Ear | Saturday, January 27th, 2007


In keeping with my desire to always stay a good 5 years behind every trend, I just read Malcolm Gladwell’s wildly successful book “The Tipping Point.” (He’d have a snappy term for exactly the type of statistics-driven pop-sociology best seller reader I am.)

“The Tipping Point” is one of those books that’s completely fascinating — on each page is another piece of gotcha research. I know you think the response to this test was “A” but actually it was “B!!” (That’s when Moe Syzlak would go “Whaaaaaaaaat?“) These moments are fun — but the overall theories are kind’ve unprovable. One of Gladwell’s chapters centers on how the recession of crime in New York is due to the broken windows theory. There’s another bestseller out there (equally readable, I’m told) called “Freakonomics” that argues just the opposite. Go know.

1 Comment »

  1. “One of Gladwell’s chapters centers on how the recession of crime in New York is due to the broken windows theory. There’s another bestseller out there (equally readable, I’m told) called “Freakonomics” that argues just the opposite.”

    So, the opposite would be if vandals broke more windows/committed more acts of vandalism, crime would decrease … for what reason? That just doesn’t make sense. Would the logic be this serves as some sort of outlet for pent-up angst, and it’s better it comes out in such a relatively minor way?

    I can vouch for the Broken Window theory based purely on the sidewalk leading along the side of my landlord’s house here … running between the dumpy PS school across the street and a small playground just behind her house. Also, the odd crawl space she has between the edge of her patio/inner sidewalk and the outer cinderblock wall running along the sidewalk.

    I’m forever cleaning shit out of that crawl space — usually beer bottles and kiddy-drink bottles. We also have that dumpy Eurotrash bar a block over on Steinway (can never remember the name) that means for us empty beer bottles on occasion (hopefully not broken) and the occasional pack of drunken guidos on the sidewalk at 3 am howling bon mots like, “Yo, dawg, you shoulda’ fucked that bitch in dah back of her cah, yo” and such. Just yesterday, I found a popped open, empty half-gallon can of Juicy Juice and an empty plastic half-gallon bottle of vodka … whoever was mixing that shit, had to be 15, or just seriously sick. At least they didn’t puke on the sidewalk, I’ll give them that much. I’ve found a bicycle there, a kitchen sink and a live chicken – which I wrote about last year.

    The sidewalk, too — I’m grateful when it’s just empty bottles and not broken bottles. But these buffoons, kids using the schoolyard and drunks from that lousy bar, constantly litter this sidewalk. Graffiti, too, on that outer wall, which some police group occasionally comes and paints over, although that hasn’t happened in at least a year. (If anyone expects me as a renting tenant to buy paint and a brush and do this myself, forget it, just helping my landlord keep her grounds clean is work enough and all I’m willing to do.)

    I have noticed that when the cops paint over the wall, it takes a very long time, months, for anyone to tag it again. And now that I’m up on keeping her sidewalk clean, the amount of litter left there has dropped quite a bit. Now, some of this could be hooked into the changing demographics of the neighborhood — clueless white college-educated folks moving in and paying way too much to live in a place that, essentially, still has a truckload of 718 douche bags stalking the streets. Thus, less kids. But I can’t help but think now that I’m ensuring that sidewalk is kept clean, people are less prone to dumping crap there.

    Schoolyards and parks are asshole magnets in New York — anyone who lives around one knows this. I’m glad I know this, because you have people moving to Astoria with this “my, what a diverse neighborhood, yet it’s almost like living in a small town” line of logic, with me, thinking, buddy, you don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground, you don’t know a thing about this neighborhood, but sooner or later, you’ll learn.

    But I have to agree wholeheartedly with the Broken Window theory. When you walk around the upper East Side, say Park or Fifth Avenue, or any of those sidestrees in the 60s and 70s, say, between Madison and Fifth, what the first thing you notice? No graffiti — or minimal. No garbage on the street. No dogshit on the sidewalk. The buildings are well-maintained, at least on the outside.

    And I ask myself, why can’t your average urban working-class neighborhood be the same? It doesn’t cost anything to do this. You ask yourself what the difference is between a really nice neighborhood and a slum, and the basic, most obvious answer is how it looks. That part of the Bronx I lived in for a decade was a beautiful piece of land, hilly, lots of trees, great views, interesting architecture — but the neighborhood had gone to seed long before I got there, just a total mess. Nobody wants to live in a shitty neighborhood.

    Comment by Bill R — January 28, 2007 @ 8:58 am

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