The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for December 14th, 2016

dread aperture

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There’s so many of us, at least for a couple of hours each day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Scuttling down Skillman Avenue and approaching Queens Plaza, one was reminded of a conversation recently enjoyed with a locally deployed NYPD Commander about the unique nature of this area. For a couple of hours, each morning and evening, this is theoretically one of the most densely populated places on the planet, but the individual members of this population blob are seldom in the neighborhood for longer than a few minutes and they are in vehicular motion (however stunted) the whole time.

To put it simply, the multitudes moving through western Queens during the rush hours, on their way to work or home to other places – traveling by car, bus, subway, railroad, bicycle, or autogyro perhaps – create a statistically irrelevant but nonetheless astounding jump in the “persons per square foot” or population density of LIC. Thing is, lots of people elected to suffer a long commute when they moved to Eastern Queens, or Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Lots of time to read, I guess.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Statistical relevance is part of how planning decisions are made. It big math – “quant” stuff, actually, and beyond my understanding. The theory behind the relevance of statistical information is summed up by that quote from Josef Stalin that a single death is a tragedy whereas a million deaths are a statistic. A lot of policy decisions revolve around, or at least they’re supposed to, the greatest good for the greatest number.

“Greatest number” inherently means that someone gets left out, which translates as “not statistically relevant.” Planning of public works in recent decades has strived to expand and include traditionally marginalized groups, most notably folks with health related mobility issues – thanks to the ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act. A lot of public spaces and City buildings out there were formally denied to people in wheelchairs, since the era in which most of these public buildings were erected, the disabled population wasn’t considered as being “statistically relevant.”

Access to mass, affordable, and reliable transit – which parallels what’s available to “abled” people – still remains a problem, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Statistical relevance, I’m informed, is a big part of the algorithm under which the 311 service of NYC was designed to operate. One person from Blissville complaining to 311 about a cat in a tree is low priority and statistically irrelevant, but the City will send somebody out when they can. Twenty people from the same block call 311 about the cat? Help is on the way a lot faster, as the problem is now far more mathematically relevant and the City will send out Superman to investigate and mitigate.

Make me wonder what would happen if everybody who was commuting through Queens Plaza on any given day suddenly called 311 to complain about something.

Then again, I wonder why it is that everyone doesn’t vote on Election Day.


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