Back in the 1950’s when local activist Jane Jacobs’ David took on Robert Moses’ Goliath in a historic fight over city planning, questions rose over how the world’s most famous city should be designed. Moses, the powerful and autocratic city planner, upended entire communities to build highways and other public works. Jacobs, the feisty critic from the Lower East Side, wrote the influential book The Death and Life of American Cities and became a liberal icon.
Four decades later, then-mayor Rudy Giuliani and Bill Bratton, his police commissioner, went to war against ‘disorder’ and low level ‘quality of life’ offenses in the city. Squeegee men became public enemy number one. All sorts of New Yorkers, from the homeless to street artists, also became targets. Influenced by the desires of business leaders who wanted Times Square cleansed of graffiti and ‘vagrants’, the policing of non-violent behaviors and offenses eventually became the bedrock of the NYPD’s strategy across the city. The era of Broken Windows policing was born.
While Broken Windows is often cited as a conservative contribution, championed by the likes of Giuliani and the right-wing Manhattan Institute, its co-founder, George Kelling, has pointed to Jacobs’ writings as an early influence for the 1982 article that started it all. Did Jacobs’ desires for neighborhood mechanisms of surveillance and order really mirror Kelling’s conservative penchant for disorder-fighting?