Anyone in the Baby Boomer generation who grew up in New York remembers what New York City used to be like.
Kids will never believe you when you tell them the Times Square they know today used to be a disgusting, dangerous place, with prostitutes and drug dealers peddling their wares on the sidewalks, piles of garbage everywhere, and rows of X-rated shops.
If you got stuck in traffic, you were bound to be harassed by a filthy person throwing filthy water on your windshield and aggressively demanding money to wipe it off.
The "broken window" initiative instituted by Mayor Rudy Giuliani cracked down on crimes like graffiti and littering, which gave the city a bad image.
It worked on all levels. Not only did crime drop significantly, but so did the unemployment rate. The city became cleaner and less intimidating for residents and visitors alike.
Of course, simply eliminating minor crimes alone won't automatically bring your murder rate down and send the drug dealers scurrying to get jobs in pharmacies. It needs to be a citywide effort involving police, code enforcement officials, the courts and community and neighborhood groups.
The reason the initiative worked wasn't because police ticketed everyone who didn't clean up after their dogs. It worked because the public was just as fed up with the problems as everyone else and just as frustrated that nothing was being done. And when they saw the government was serious about improving their city, they began to take pride it in it themselves. When local businesses and residents and neighborhood organizations and charities joined the initiative, that made the good easier to maintain and the bad more difficult to hold on.
So a similar initiative proposed by Schenectady Councilman Vince Riggi to have police issue tickets for such things as littering and speeding is a welcome step in the city’s rebirth.
One could argue that having police officers go after someone who throws a candy wrapper on the ground is a waste of resources in a city that has much bigger problems for them to tackle, such as drugs and gun violence. But having police take a more active, visible role in cracking down on these offenses demonstrates a commitment to making the city better. Combined with a crackdown on absentee landlords who refuse to maintain their properties, reducing the number of vacant buildings through demolition and rebuilding, and following through on initiatives that bring in new business to downtown, the city will get better.
An effort like this won't alone solve Schenectady's quality-of-life issues. But it can play an important role in raising the bar.
Let's see it in action.