Empathy: The New Business Motto

Jane Jacobs describes that a sidewalk filled with public shops, restaurants, and cafes generates vitality, empathy, security, and trust in a chaotic and diverse city. As men and women roam in and out of local establishments, greeting storekeepers who know them by name, the city instantly becomes intimate. The sidewalk becomes a home. Jacobs portrays a storekeeper, Mr. Jaffe, who “supervised small children crossing at the corner on the way to P.S. 41… lent an umbrella to a customer and a dollar to another; lectured two youngsters who asked for cigarettes” (Jacobs, 61). For Mr. Jaffe, business was not a means of making a living for himself. Of course, this was part of it, but Mr. Jaffe invested himself in the lives of those who surrounded him because he hoped to use his clout and visibility in the city in order to inspire and guide others. Similarly, Jacobs explains that it is customary for shopkeepers to hold keys while owners of apartments were away on vacation. Thus, these storekeepers are simultaneously part of the key owners’ families and detached from them completely. This dichotomy, Jacobs illuminates, is the foundation of trust in the city.

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Children run down the street as parents chase them, adults walk by with coffee in their hands laughing and embracing the chill of the morning, and storekeepers smile as they watch the streets fill with life. Students cross the street in packs, with backpacks creating a rainbow of color. In the midst of chaos and anxiety that accompanies the beginning of school, children flock to the Little Kitchen, “a delight in each bite.” The local business that truly acts as a stationary food truck invites children with the warmth of the food and the company of the chef. With the danger that accompanies life in the city, the Little Kitchen acts as a sanctuary. Located directly across from the local public school, the Little Kitchen is the “eyes” of the neighborhood, watching the streets and protecting the students. Many of the businesses surrounding the Little Kitchen are larger, chain companies such as TD Bank, UHAUL, and a Mobile Gas Station. Thus, while many of these larger businesses follow company protocols and do not act as “eyes” for the street, the Little Kitchen can create its own rules. Perhaps, the chefs and storekeepers give children food for lower prices and understand when children are running low on money. The power of a local business, as Jacobs explains, is to serve as a friend to the community. Empathy lies not only within people who walk on the streets, but within local businesses like the Little Kitchen that epitomize trust and community.

One thought on “Empathy: The New Business Motto

  1. What a wonderful description of an area in the Bronx and engagement with the ideas of Jane Jacobs. Can you make clear the location of the Little Kitchen? Also interested in how the time of day you chose for your observation, frames your analysis — imagining what another time might be an interesting exercise. What would the block feel like when the eyes close in the evening?

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