A Community Approach in Action
In a prior post (link), I proposed what I called a Department of Community here in New York City. This would be a city-run agency with branches all across town geared to help residents, especially recent arrivals, solve practical problems and become better community members. The theory—just like with preventative medicine and wellness—would be that addressing certain common issues up front will be both more efficient and more cost-effective to long-term social health than letting them fester and become a problem for law enforcement or social services down the road.
Let’s zoom in on just one of the many problems that a Department of Community could help resolve. We are all aware that New York is a major destination for migrants and refugees from other countries, especially Central and South America. They do not speak much English, and what is one of the easiest, and in-demand, jobs to land for a non-English speaker? Food delivery for services like Uber Eats and DoorDash. All you need is a bike and a smartphone. And if you live in New York, you have no doubt noticed the growing numbers of such food delivery operators on the streets—and often the sidewalks.
The chaos this creates in part stems from the total absence of any guidance from either the city or their employer for basic safety or traffic rules in the city. Many of the delivery workers have either no experience with riding a bike in urban environments or come from other countries and cultures with different traffic and safety requirements or standards. Nobody tells them the rules when they arrive here, and we create a bigger problem by not informing them. This creates chaos and congestion, and it often becomes a problem for the police. Good city liberals respond to this by saying, “Don’t pester that person, they are just trying to do their job and make a living.”
But it’s not a problem that can be safely ignored. A friend picked me up recently and we were driving down Second Avenue with its four lanes when we encountered a bicyclist coming up against the traffic in the middle of the four lane road. We also have elderly people and children on the sidewalk who now have to watch out for someone coming flying by on an e-bike who is looking at their phone. People are getting injured and even hospitalized and it is getting out of hand, and more importantly frustrated and triggered because who knows what might cross their paths now on the sidewalk… not just the streets and crosswalks.
How can we address this type of problem? In our current society, not very well. It’s a lot to ask of the police, who are busy with more serious matters, to crack down on every errant cyclist. It also could be handled by placing new regulations on food delivery providers and holding them more accountable for their delivery workers the way restaurants must abide by food and safety regulations. But it’s hard to regulate and enforce what is essentially a gig economy in food delivery. And who would effectively enforce or police these new rules anyway?
So, if the general citizen can really do anything, and the police are not an option, who can do something? Enter the Department of Community. Not only would such a city-wide agency help with the orientation of new arrivals—including informing them about the rules for riding bikes in the city—but it would also serve as a valuable source of information sharing. Imagine having a mobile phone alert go out from the Department of Community that reminds residents that it is illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk with safe tips and suggestions on how to navigate safely. For the first time in human history, we have a device in someone’s pocket that means nearly every adult (and teen) can be reached. Let’s use it. Such alerts would share information widely and quickly, and save lives.
Such notifications would just be one weapon in an arsenal of community-building that would begin with a proper welcome and orientation for new residents, something I will discuss in my next post. Until then, stay safe and—if you’re on a sidewalk or crosswalk, keep your head up.