By Dan Hazen / Herald Forum
To a kid growing up in Stanwood in the 1970s, New York City might as well have been Oz. It was only a concept. Heck, Seattle was barely real. So, what filled my imagination was the limited media of the time: network television and the occasional movie. Taken together, these sources created the image of “the big city” as dangerous, crime-ridden and wicked. And to some extent, it was true.
But things began to change in the ‘80s. Stories of renewal began coming out of the Big Apple. Police Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani were credited, having deployed “The Broken Window Theory” proposed by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. The theory goes that if citizens are surrounded by signs of social disorder like graffiti, failing infrastructure, squalor and lots of broken windows, it creates the impression that nothing matters, and no one cares. This results in a downward spiral leading to serious crime and social turmoil.
Part of what makes this story compelling is the city’s “Rags to Riches” outcome. The idea that a New York neighborhood, which was unsafe to even walk just a few years before and was now a haven for children and families, captures the imagination. Especially if it all happened in your imagination.
But change like this is harder to see when you’re living it. It’s like Aunt Myrtle seeing the kids at Christmas after a year and exclaiming, “My! How you’ve grown!” She didn’t see the subtle, daily growth that the parents take for granted. It’s also harder to see change when you’re not starting at the bottom with out-of-control crime and a devastated economy. Improvement doesn’t stand out as much when things were already pretty good.
These are reasons that North Snohomish County folks might not recognize some of the truly meaningful improvements we’ve seen in the last few years. As a Marysville resident, I’m most familiar with the ones in my town, but I’ll bet you can list some of your own.
My short list:
• Marysville boasts the Ebey Waterfront Trail. Accessible, easy, and an opportunity to get up close to the recovered salmon habitat of the Qwuloolt Estuary.
• If you’ve never learned the history of the region, Tulalip’s Hibulb Cultural Center is a must-visit, along with the Marysville Historical Society Museum.
• Brand new for bikers and walkers is the connector which links the Bayview Trail (featuring amazing views of Possession Sound and the Olympic Mountains) with the regional favorite Centennial Trail, making Marysville an easy jumping-off, or starting-out point for walkers and bikers from Snohomish to the Skagit County line.
There are more.
These kinds of amenities get eye rolls from some taxpayers, but the impact on culture and community is undeniable. When neighborhoods are more livable, we spend more time in them, we take care of them, and we take care of each other better.
I am more inclined to pick up trash on my walks, drive more cautiously and greet my neighbors. Are there any broken windows in your neighborhood? And, what about those, “subtle changes”? My! How the kids have grown!
Dan Hazen is community pastor at Allen Creek Community Church in Marysville.