Seize your power to make NYC a bit better today
The city government is surprisingly responsive to reports from residents about issues that need attention.
New York is a great place to live – and I set out some of the things I love most about this city in my first post. Despite being generally awesome, it’s definitely not perfect and there are plenty of things about it that could be a lot better.
Sometimes you pass litter on the sidewalk. The road surface wears away and potholes appear. Bus lanes get blocked by cars driving where they shouldn’t be. The subway sometimes is smelly. Yesterday the air conditioning in the train carriage I was riding in didn’t seem to be working properly. There’s a pedestrian crossing near my home where the “don’t walk” ✋ signal is broken. The city is noisy.
On their own, each of these is a fairly trivial inconvenience. You could just ignore each of those problems and carry on with your day. But when taken together these “papercut” problems sting and make living in New York a crappier experience than it needs to be.
Cities are a large cooperative project that works best when everyone actively participates to make them better. Some people do that through electoral politics or by getting involved in civic organizations. Other people serve the community by operating restaurants, shops, or services that are convenient for residents. Most people – and this probably includes you – just pay their taxes and go on living their lives.
Recently, though, I’ve learned that certain city agencies are actually quite responsive to reports from the public about these sort of papercut problems. Letting them know when you encounter one of these issues can be an easy way to contribute to making the city a bit better for everyone while solving problems that inconvenience you at the same time.
Here are some examples of things you can easily report to the City of New York:
Litter, trash, garbage, or rubbish anywhere it shouldn’t be
Anything wrong in the subway or bus system: things that are broken, dirty, or otherwise need attention from MTA staff
Unsafe driving by taxis or for-hire vehicles (like Ubers or Lyfts)
Anything that needs attention in a park, like dirty paths, blocked drains, streetlights (or whatever they are called when they’re in a park) that aren’t working
Over the past few months I’ve been making an effort to proactively report things to the city government when I see something wrong.
I told the city about a crosswalk near my home where the paint had badly faded away. About a month later I noticed the crosswalk had been fully repainted and was now a vibrant white. Success!
Several times I’ve reported to the city that the flexible posts that delineate the bike lane on my street have been flattened by vehicles driving over them. They promptly replace them. I wish they would use something more durable that didn’t need replacing every month, and I hope that by regularly reporting when the flexposts fail it will help to build a case for sturdier solutions.
The clock in my nearest subway station hadn’t been updated for daylight savings (which we should abolish, by the way). I sent a quick message to the MTA, and the next day I saw the clock had been fixed with the correct time. Now people won’t be startled when they see the wrong time on the clock.
I’ve made about a dozen reports to the Taxi & Limousine Commission about vehicles blocking bus lanes, crosswalks, and bike paths. Each of these has been treated seriously, and in every case I reported the commission issued a fine to the driver. I have no particular desire to punish these drivers, but the evidence shows that enforcing traffic rules does actually lead to safer driving.
Seeing the tangible impact of these reports is a great feeling. I know I’m not solving any huge social problem, but I love knowing that my neighborhood is now a slightly nicer place to live in part because of my submissions to the city government.
Of course, in a perfect world residents wouldn’t have to report any problems. Ideally the city’s employees would notice everything and take immediate action, or there would be automated systems to detect when something goes wrong. But in the meantime, while we’re building that perfect city, you have the power to get involved and make a small contribution to improving the place you call home.
A better city is possible. You’ve just got to do your part.