Friday, September 23, 2011

Port Deli

681 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10036
(212) 245-2362
by Beau Cadiyo

So there have been a few more shootings in Cleveland recently. As with all of the shootings in this city, there was an initial flurry of political attention and television coverage after each incident, followed the next day by radio silence.

Whenever something like this happens it reminds me of a debate I had with Frank Ciepiel over whether it was a more pressing priority to fund education or security; he argued the former, I the latter. It was during a discussion with a few friends over the weekend that I realized again that Frank is completely wrong and I am completely right. Two important points came up in that discussion, and the subsequent ruminations that such discussions always provoke: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the living example of New York City.

A while ago, a psychologist named Maslow formed a theory about how we progress as human beings. It said that we all have basic needs, and only after basic needs are met can we move on to secondary needs that are less important to survival but are important to our happiness and sense of self-worth. Among these basic needs: food, water, shelter and security. If we don’t get these, we will be so preoccupied with getting them that we won’t begin to think about whether we are truly happy, or what our purpose in life might be. Education? Seriously? It’s not even on the radar. Security, however, is very important; if we don’t feel secure, we will put up with threats without realizing our full potential, fight for our security until we ARE secure or flee to a place where we are secure.

Here’s the thought that Andrew Samtoy, our media representative and bon vivant, had: just as there is a personal hierarchy of needs, there is a societal hierarchy of needs that is necessary for a society, on any level, to function properly. At its most basic level, before anything else, a city must provide citizens with security.
This played out in New York City over the last twenty years, and shows us a clear path to where we must put our energy, attention, time and money. New York City was a dangerous place twenty years ago. It was so dangerous that people living there were leaving and people not living there were staying away. The critical need of safety wasn’t being provided, and New York City was falling apart.

So what did they do?

The police stepped up their game and the citizens got themselves some security.

The cops started to work better and smarter. They secured the streets and the subways. They fixed broken windows, and then they went neighborhood by neighborhood to stop crime. The result? Murder rates fell. Violent crime rates fell. Actually, all crime rates fell, and they continue to fall . People felt safer because people were safer, and soon they were able to think about other things besides their personal safety. They were able to do more, to think creatively, to achieve, and to invest their time in things like education without worrying so much about their safety. The most important thing is that they stopped moving out and others started moving in.
Frank Todoroff and I saw this first-hand last week. We took the train into Penn Station and walked up toward Central Park, through sidewalks absolutely packed with New Yorkers and tourists. We saw a sign for the Port Deli and I went in and ordered a corned beef sandwich. The man behind the counter carefully prepared it – rye bread, heated corned beef, Swiss cheese, mustard, lettuce, tomato. He wrapped it carefully and handed the package over. It was medium sized, and warm, with well-marbled beef, perfectly melted cheese and good rye; it wasn’t Slyman’s, but then, you can only hope for so much. Back outside, we joined thousands of people rushing around, New Yorkers and tourists alike, flooding the restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, parks, subways, and pounding every inch of concrete, overflowing into the streets.

Many years ago, when we came together to create the modern form of social groups, we delegated certain tasks to society in order to focus on doing other things well, things that we found more interesting and rewarding. The most basic need we delegated was safety; we set up a societal security system where we created a police system and, in exchange, we rewarded the people who served. As a society, we can’t and shouldn’t feed and clothe all of our citizens; history shows that that’s a fool’s errand . We can and should, however, create a system where people can do this for themselves, and this can only be accomplished by making sure they are safe to pursue their chosen vocations. I am not arguing that Cleveland should be like New York; I am arguing that if we want the vitality of a city, we’re going to have to change a few things to make Cleveland better for Clevelanders.

Right now, our citizens aren’t being provided with enough security - the recent shootings are proof of that. If we do not meet this need, we, as a city, will continue to lose our citizens to cities that provide security, and we won’t attract replacements for them.

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