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I'm just settling into public-transportation commuting again, and I just read The Tipping Point, which has a chapter on the application of the broken-window principle to the subway in New York. The original observation is that in an environment where windows get broken frequently and are not fixed promptly, people are ambiently encouraged to act as if order is likely to be unenforced and inapplicable in other ways, as well. This makes somewhat better sense phrased the other way around: in an environment where obvious attention is paid to the smallest details of physical maintenance, people also tend to take the formal and informal social rules more seriously. In New York a rigorous campaign against subway-car graffiti and fare-jumping ended up causing (it is theorized) a dramatic decline in all kinds of crime on the subway. I was also recently in petty-crime-free Tokyo, where a whole host of social patterns are different, but among other things the subways and trains are operated to obvious exacting standards.  

Thus I am hyper-aware of what seems like an increasingly out-of-control plague of disrepair on the MBTA. Equipment as simple and presumably componentized as turnstiles and card-readers breaks routinely and goes unapologetically unrepaired for weeks. Torn seats are treated with electrical tape. Stair treads wear through the rubber to metal, and then rust through the metal to dank holes. Dismantled escalators sit in oily piles surrounded by desultorily drooping perimeters of creased caution ribbon. Floors are coated with a layer of grime that turns into viscous, clinging ooze in the gray ground-water that leaks out of the walls under the slightest weather provocation. Misaligned train wheels screech and clatter. The next-destination PA systems are usually off, and at least a third of the time when they're on they're unintelligibly garbled or simply wrong. The Authority publishes an official bulletin itemizing all the stations whose elevators are not operating, and it's only a matter of time until somebody notices that it would be more efficient to reverse this and list the ones that are.  

To be fair, though, the MBTA is really in no worse shape than any other aspect of the public infrastructure in Boston. The streets are poorly maintained, and traffic flow is irrational, largely unmanaged and often systemically unmanageable. Only the largest highways and smallest side-streets are reliably labeled, making virtually any navigation process into frustratingly inevitable trial-and-error. A constant flow of crap and its packaging debris spews out of fast-food and donut shops into pasty, lumbering bodies and onto the crumbly sidewalks, and in the winter it melds with minimally displaced snow to form rancid heaps as if the sewers are extruding sores up through the city's skin. SUVs sprawl out of cramped spaces in unrealistically lined parking lots, and their drivers swerve right out of left lanes, and vice versa, without turning the head to which one hand is holding their cellphone. The city could barely be more ruthlessly segregated by a formal initiative, the Red Sox fairy-tale has surrendered to the Yankee dollar, the record stores are just waiting to die, and in the winter it's really too damn cold.  

So, OK, maybe it's my tipping point I'm really approaching. But if I'm losing this city, I'm getting plenty of help.
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