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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

By any other name

Changing the name of Dickerson Road, if you ask me, is putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. I would like to see this much-maligned strip of crime, debauchery and violence improved, but renaming the street isn't going to do that. It will just take awhile before "Skyline Boulevard" becomes synonymous with prostitution, drug dealing and other crimes. You can't cure the flu by renaming it bronchitis.

In the book The Tipping Point (a great read, by the way), Malcolm Gladwell discusses the "broken window effect" and crime on the New York City subways in the 80s. NYC reduced crime on the subways by enforcing the law, especially instances of people hopping turnstiles, vandalizing property and robbing passengers. The result is that NYC subways are now much safer to use than they were 20 years ago.

How does this apply to Dickerson Road? There are a ton of broken windows, absolutely. Rather than applying a band-aid, though, let's figure out a way to deal with the roots of the problem, not its symptoms. Let's eliminate the incentives to commit crime and to abandon this street first, and then rename it when the environment is improving. Otherwise, in 20 years, someone will be asking to rename Skyline Boulevard.

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