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The police department has been humanized; Gordon Thisner, a Berkeley criminologist, told the President's commission on violence last week that New York's force was the most sophisticated department in the country in its response to civil disorders and unrest. Most important of all is Lindsay's unique rapport with the Negroes and Puerto Ricans, a fragile yet invaluable link that the Mayor readily admits could vanish in a single night of riot and looting.
The question that is always asked about New York can be asked about any other metropolis in the U.S. today: Is it governable? Under its present antique structure, the answer is quickly becoming obvious: it is not.
Plugging People In
In part, the problem is one of technology. City lines are meaningless when a commuter, on his everyday ride to work, passes through a dozen corporate boundaries from home to office. Neither are there limits to the problems technology has created; traffic jams and noise, air and water pollution do not stop at the city line. In part, the problem is one of insensitive institutions. A city welfare department may have been well equipped to han dle the demands of a quarter-century ago, but almost all are handicapped by today's huge caseloads.
The villain generally is size. Most local governments are either too small to deal with the big problems, or too big to take care of the small. In New York and other major cities, the difficulty is one of reaching down. "The city is designed to shrink people," says Leonard Fein, associate director of the M.I.T.-Harvard Joint Center for Urban Affairs, "so one doesn't feel plugged in, connected, part of a family. So at least then, let's resurrect the neighborhood, the community within the city. That's what decentralization is all about. It's not about schools. It's about neighborhood and plugging people in. I think John Lindsay knows that. I think Albert Shanker does not."
Plugging people in is the goal of modern planners and urban thinkers, just as building grand boulevards and sweeping plazas was the dream a century ago. Most urban thinkers envisage a graduated form of government. A large, regional body would do such things as policing the environment, building expressways, and providing police. Smaller organizations would provide services such as recreation and education.
Thomas J. Kent Jr., a Berkeley planner, says that "the radical experiment that began in the U.S. 50 years ago in local self-government has run out in the biggest cities." No doubt with some exaggeration, he holds that all cities with populations of a million or more are "too large to be manageable as democratic self-governments." A somewhat similar theme was sounded by Leonardo da