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The “Kvetchocracy”

September 24, 2012

Cap’n Transit takes a look at the limits of 311 and cautions against using the data it gathers as any sort of reliable gauge for the public’s true top concerns. Why? Because people who use 311 tend to be “retirees and people on long-term disability” with time on their hands and therefore do not reflect the breadth of opinion within the population at large:

These retirees are the same people who show up at all the community board meetings. Many of them are nice people who care about their neighbors, but most of the current batch are trapped in the middle-class Baby Boomer ideology. This is the worldview that equates car ownership, parking and use with freedom, opportunity and upward social mobility, and sidewalks, apartments and transit with dirt, crime and corruption. This worldview colors and pervades their activities, making them more likely to care about noise, parking and congestion, and less likely to care about sidewalk obstruction, transit delays and pedestrian harassment.

Knowing this, it is not surprising that the 311 calls reflect the priorities of middle-class Baby Boomers more than any actual reality on the ground. That will always be present as long as a 311 call takes so long and other populations feel discouraged and disenfranchised. Cutting the alternate-side announcements to ten seconds or less would make a difference, but the totals are not representative of public opinion in general. We need to be very careful that they’re not taken out of context.

Rogue cyclists and the dangerous behavior of food delivery men on e-bikes are “among the top quality-of-life complaints on the Upper East Side,” even though I’m willing to wager that cyclists are no more or less likely to break laws there than in other parts of the city. I understand that politicians must respond to their constituents most urgent concerns, but one would hope that such leaders would filter all complaints through the reality of statistics. People who are “almost” hit by bikes tend to live to report the incident to their local representatives. People who are hit by cars? Not so much.

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2 Comments
  1. Crusty permalink
    September 24, 2012 7:29 pm

    Much has changed over the past 40 years. In 1972 I was a pot-smoking hippie unpatriotic anarchist who was destroying the fabric of very country that coddled me. I must admit some of that was true. I do not recall morphing into someone who has a worldview “that equates car ownership, parking and use with freedom, opportunity and upward social mobility, and sidewalks, apartments and transit with dirt, crime and corruption.” I am not aware that my friends who set up food coops, love their diverse neighborhoods were so venal either. Maybe Cap’n Transit should get a life consider the fact that lots of young wall street types live on the Upper east Side.

    Mainly he should make peace with his mommy and daddy already.

  2. September 24, 2012 8:29 pm

    Well, Crusty, I don’t know if I agree with Cap’n 100%, but his central point — that 311 data may not be representative of the problems of central concern to New Yorkers — is valid. And while he may suggest that most 311 callers and “kvetchers” are seniors with time on their hands , I’m sure he would not say that most seniors are also 311 callers.

    Take it as merely a general warning to avoid listening to anyone who claims that the volume of 311 calls is somehow representative of what’s really happening on the street.

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