NYC REVISITED — THE BROKEN WINDOWS THEORY

 

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Times Square – the pulse of NYC and it is located on 42nd Street and Broadway.

“…These little town blues, are melting away
I’m gonna make a brand new start of it, in old New York
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York, New York

New York, New York
I want to wake up in a city, that never sleeps

To find I’m a number one, head of the list,
Cream of the crop at the top of the heap…” 

  • New York, New York song by Frank Sinatra, 1977

LIVING IN NYC

Where do I start telling stories on NYC? This city is close to my heart. So many different perspectives that I could dealt with when talking about NYC. I  had lived in NYC from 1993 to 2000 as a diplomat’s wife, a mother and a Ph.D. student.

The whole family  – hubby and two daughters – were together living in NYC with me. The hubby was then posted as the Malaysian Trade Commissioner of NY and, subsequently, the two daughters went to the United Nations International School (UNIS). So there, the family unit was here experiencing what living was like in this vibrant city of melting pot.

BROKEN WINDOWS THEORY

Nope, this posting is not meant to be an academic piece, viewing into the Broken Windows Theory. Instead I believe it is appropriate for me to discuss on the theory based on my experience in NYC.

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I saw this book being exhibited  at the Museum of New York City when I visited the museum on 4 October, 2018

By definition, the Broken Windows Theory is “… an ordered and clean environment, one that is maintained, sends the signal that the area is monitored and that criminal behavior is not tolerated. Conversely, a disordered environment, one that is not maintained (broken windows, graffiti, excessive litter), sends the signal that the area is not monitored and that criminal behaviour has little risk of detection (Wikipedia).”

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This was Harlem then in the 1980s (internet pix).

Put simply, the broken windows theory transmits a message on the lack of cohesiveness of the community and the theory emphasises on the importance of building up esprit de corps among community members by establishing a safe and cooperational environment that is free from crimes and social problems. 

MY EXPERIENCE IN BROKEN WINDOWS THEORY IN NYC

You can never get enough of NYC. I can vouch anytime that NYC is the best living city in the planet. The notorious 42nd Street with its “sexplicits”  ambience could create uneasiness and fear for individuals and families walking long its corridor of walkway. Now, I am referring to the times when I first arrived in NYC circa 1993.

This specific street had negative connotations and been portrayed as a “dark” location in movies like Serpico and Godfather. The novels authored by the likes of Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon both had an equally similar descriptions of the infamous 42nd Street. In reality, I had familiarised with the 42nd Street prior to my arrival in this city. Yes, my teenager’s life was heavily influenced by movies and novels; I learned a lot about places through this mediums. 

And, what a coincidence that the place where I studied my Ph.D. was at The Graduate Centre, CUNY, which was located on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. To be exact, it was right across Bryant Park. Hence, walking to the subway to go back home after finishing my night class, which normally ended by 10pm, was always a nightmarish thing. To reach the subway on 42nd Street and Broadway was a challenge for me. 

I encountered hagglers in drugs and prostitution activities. People – men, women and teenagers – were negotiating prices and selling drugs right under my nose. Plus, the prostitution activities also occurred at the time. I was actually petrified, but had no choice. There were hardly bright street lightings along the way to the respective subway. So much so that the male students would take turns to accompany us to the subway station. I would like to thank my buddies who took care of us during my university days.

Recalling my days as a student in NYC was something that I would always cherish. Being a student in NYC had not only taught me the art of survival in my study, but also in my everyday life.

SUCCESS STORY OF GIULIANI AND BROKEN WINDOWS

Rudy Giuliani came into the picture with a bang as the Mayor of NYC in late 1993. He was the saviour of NYC, providing the remedy to the social problems in NYC and its inner cities. The drastic changes he made with his team through his urban policies had transformed NYC positively. His “brutal” and efficient actions, especially with the Mafia dealings in the economy of the city, earned him a positive reputation not only in the USA but worldwide. 

In fact, Mayor Giuliani was the one who had adopted aggressively the concept of the “broken windows” theory. Being a witness to the implementation of this theory, I had also taken the subject on urban policymaking under Professor John Mollenkopf who was the authority on the subject, specifically in NYC. I undertook the study on Giuliani and his policymaking with regard to solid waste disposal in Fresh Kills landfills in Staten Island. The area was finally closed down in 2001 after operating since 1948. For me, it was definitely an interesting project with many stakeholders, positing different kinds of issues. I learned on the interplay of many players in the policymaking with Giuliani in the centre, facing the players and he was tough in dealing with the underworlds. 

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Dilapidated buildings and graffitis all over Harlem prior to the implementation of the Broken Windows Theory (internet pix).

My take on the broken windows theory is that it is adoptable and adaptable in  any community. The caveat here is the theory should be moulded in one’s own community ecosystem. In the context of NYC, for example, the theory has resulted in positive changes in NYC inner cities itself. As stipulated in the theory, the transformations can be seen as follows:

  • Policing presence in neighbourhoods;
  • Reduction of crimes in the marginalised neighbourhoods; and 
  • Beautifying of dilapidated areas and building.

At least on my part, the beautification and transformation of 42nd Street says  it all. If during my Ph.D. student days 20 years ago, I walked in fear to the subway station in Broadway, but post-broken windows theory, the bright city lights has changed the whole landscapes of 42nd Street, including Times Square. I just could not resist to take a picture of the exact train station which I used to ride as shown below. 

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The subway station that I used to take during my university days. I took the R train and even the train numbers are now brightly lit.
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Bright lights along the stretch of 42nd Street, NYC. 

What Harlem? During the good old days tourists were advised to keep out of the town. It was a totally inner city area with graffitis all over its dilapidated buildings. The roads were dark and crime rate was very high. The blacks population was highest in Harlem. No whites lived or rather wanted to live in Harlem. Please do read the novels by the authors of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Their writings on Harlem were synchronised — dark, crime-infested area, broken families and downright condemnation of the place. The new generation of authors will now have a more “clean” and positive description of Harlem.

I visited Harlem only once during my 7 years living in NYC from 1993. It was a place I would not want to touch based with. I remember passing by the place and saw a group of teenagers playing basketball in the middle of the road. Frightening? Yes, at the point of time.

Post-broken windows and two days ago, the hubby and I took a bus ride to Harlem. And, lo behold, the area has totally transformed. The streets were clean and no graffitis. I didn’t see dilapidated buildings in the area. The whites were walking around and doing shopping around the area. Designers like Zara, GAP and H&M shops are now established in Harlem. The ambience and surroundings came as a nice surprise for me. Looking around, I would say that to remedy the inner city areas, policing and well lighted streets are among the more crucial factors.

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The transformed Harlem that I saw on 4 October, 2018. 
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The transformed Harlem that I saw on 4 October, 2018. 
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The transformed Harlem that I saw on 4 October, 2018. 

Thank you for reading.

Noorul Ainur Mohd. Nur

6 October, 2018

noorul.ainur@gmail.com

*Pictures were taken by yours truly.  

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