by Jordan Trabue, IPED ’23
What makes a city function? Is it the blue-collar workers that collect the trash and erect the omnipresent scaffolding? Is it the brow-beaten bureaucrats in government offices typing away on their computers? Is it the community leaders holding press conferences? The police strolling the streets? The electricians fixing the power lines? The bodega-owners?
This thought has been on my mind often since I began work as a policy intern at the Office of the Bronx Borough President. The work is simple and straightforward. I prepare reports on policy ideas related to areas that the president expresses interest in. These may be on topics such as housing, maternal healthcare, community land trusts, and more. In the course of my research on a topic I will reach out to specialists and experts in a field, interview them, and summarize their expertise in context of the larger academic framework around the subject.
My vantage as a policy intern allows me a view of the machinations of the office. I’ve grown to appreciate the slow, methodical movement of large organizations, the way complaints and concerns bubble up slowly from constituents through the entire bureaucracy and the turnaround of policy ideas that ripple back down. Addressing the concerns, fixing the problems, that’s the goal. Between here and there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of steps, backsteps, hard left turns, and sudden stops. At times it can be frustrating, at other times rewarding, but I never lose sight of the goal of helping the citizens of the Bronx. My belief in the office’s ability to improve the lives of the people in the community motivates me to show up everyday and put in my best effort.
So what makes a city function? I’ve come to think that it’s the common belief that together people can achieve more than they can alone. That the buy-in of all the citizens that the city is an entity for the common good becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating the very institution of the ‘city.’ A city functions because the people believe it functions, and it’s my job to show up each morning, coffee in hand, and try to make it function just a little bit better. For everyone.