There is a lot of debate over the effectiveness of so-called “big stick” diplomacy.
As you may have guessed, this ideology’s roots date back to President Theodore Roosevelt and his often-quoted line, “speak softly and carry a big stick — you will go far.” It’s an idea that actions (or the knowledge that such actions are available) are more powerful than words, which can be perceived sometimes as empty.
While those who love a good policy debate could spend hours discussing the finer points of Roosevelt’s approach (and whether it’s one we should use in today’s day and age), the fact is that sometimes knowing the consequences of an action or inaction is all that needs to be said to get something to a negotiating table. Using words? They can sometimes do more harm than good.
That brings us to the great folks on Community Board 8’s environment and sanitation committee. They have been on the front lines against the city’s environmental protection department over its plans to permanently leave empty one of the massive basins at the Jerome Park Reservoir. By doing that, the hundreds of people who look directly at this massive water feature will see nothing more than a big, barren hole. And that ain’t pretty.
But there is an element to this that shouldn’t surprise anyone: DEP is not beholden to the neighbors living around Jerome Park Reservoir over what DEP does at Jerome Park Reservoir. It’s a terrible fact, but still a fact all the same.
The only way to correct this requires a significant amount of diplomacy, and not the “big stick” kind.
The CB8 committee isn’t using Teddy Roosevelt’s ideology, but the exact opposite — they are speaking quite loudly and have no stick in their hand at all. They have hammered DEP with questions before they even arrived, making it clear city officials were walking into a contentious debate.
And here’s the thing: DEP doesn’t have to do that. Knowing that, they chose not to, and skipped the CB8 committee’s December meeting.
The committee may have patted itself on the back for asking the tough questions, but what did this accomplish? DEP was a no-show, and the only chance of fixing the proposed reservoir plan is to have DEP at the table. Scaring them away is not the right approach at all.
There are times when we hope those who represent us — even in an appointed capacity like our community board — talks tough. But that tough talk must accomplish something, and absolutely nothing was accomplished by keeping DEP away.
DEP must face some hard questions, but we need to get them to the table. They have no motivation to do so, except as a courtesy.
So let’s let DEP extend that courtesy, and save the tough questions for when they arrive — not before.