Looking Down From The Top

The world looks very different looking down from the top. With a bird’s eye-view, it’s possible to see the grid layout of Manhattan’s streets.

The gridiron plan was implemented in New York City starting in 1811. It was applied to the area of Manhattan north of Fourteenth Street to allow for a more orderly partition and sale of land than the heretofore scattershot approach to building a city that can still be experienced in Lower Manhattan. Get me down that way, and I still follow the Sun to orient myself East and West. Since the plan was applied to as yet undeveloped areas, implementation was progressive.

Today, thanks to careful planning centuries ago, the continued growth, operation, and traffic flow on Manhattan Island has been largely successful.


Two centuries ago, no one could have envisioned the massive buildings that would one day line our streets, the number of pedestrians that throng our sidewalks, nor the volume of vehicular traffic that our streets and avenues host every day. While it all looks orderly, methodical, and organized from above, there’s a lot of car honking and elbowing happening on the ground to keep our city moving. No amount of tweaking from the penthouse view will save you from jostling on the street.

Every four years, people in the United States are subjected to on-the-ground jostling by political parties and candidates looking down from a metaphorical penthouse.  Just because they have a view from the top, doesn’t mean they know what’s happening on the street or, in some cases, that they still recollect what it’s like to tread those sidewalks. Every four years, We The People long for someone at the top who can understand our needs and desires, whom we can support wholeheartedly in the gladiatorial contest that the Presidential election has become. Every four years, many of We The People feel that we are presented with the choice of Bad and Worse. We The People are tired.

The reality is that many of We The People think our duty is done once the ballot is cast and we walk out of the voting booth. It seems that engagement in the civic process begins when a decision is imminent and ends when the decision is made.  What about all the days in between? What about all the little decisions that lead to the select few forming the ranks of Bad and Worse? How do they get there?

They get there because instead of paying attention to conditions on the ground: the school board, county clerk, city council, municipal mayor, state assembly representative, and all higher offices leading to the Presidency, are not considered as sexy or “important” as the Presidency. Participation in local elections is minuscule compared to years when the national office is at stake.

The result is that even when an excellent candidate, such as Barack Obama, makes it through the job application process and takes office, she or he does not have the support, the political infrastructure, reflecting the will of the people who elected her/him to assist in implementing the directive that We The People issued.

As sexy and romantic as a view from the top may seem, pay attention to what’s happening on the ground. That’s where the action and momentum for progress are.

6 thoughts on “Looking Down From The Top

  1. Your post really resonates with me M! Kyle and I talk about this a lot too. Something we’ve thought as an idea for more empathy and insight on the part of the “people at the top” is in order for them to run for office, they have to spend time living the life of people at the very bottom of the economic rung before being eligible for office. Some people are born with silver spoons and never know what it’s like for so many people who are being forced to eat with their hands because they can’t afford a spoon. I love how you used the penthouse view as a an analogy of our political process and what’s wrong with it! Love to you!

    1. Thanks, Jackie! FDR who was born with the metaphorical silver spoon in his mouth and enjoyed a life of priviledge in his youth, went on to become a champion of the common folk and one of the most progressive presidents ever to occupy the oval office.

      I just listened to President Obama’s speech at the DNC last week and he, too, made the point that it is up to the constituency to make and hold the elected representatives accountable for their decisions and actions.

      My sweet husband said he’d heard it all before…from me! He’s such a comedian, that man! xoxoM

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