The benefits and costs of life in the city became very clear to me last month in a fairly remote spot.
As my wife and I worked toward the summit of one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, we heard from other hikers that a climber had been killed after falling just ahead of us on the trail.
Authorities had been notified. Nothing more could be done. We continued up the mountain.
And for the rest of the morning and early afternoon, we watched the recovery operation from above.
The first responders did not arrive for three hours, because that’s how long it took them to hike from the trailhead.
An hour or so later, a rescue helicopter fluttered in to drop supplies to the rangers. Later still, the helicopter returned to pick up the body.
(To be fair, the response likely would have been swifter had the climber survived. The helicopter also was assisting in the rescue of an injured hiker several miles away.)
Including two more helicopter stops at a camping area on the mountain — presumably to pick up the climber’s gear — the entire recovery operation took six or seven hours.
Had that been a fatality accident on the downtown loop, a seven-hour delay would have been intolerable.
We expect things to work faster in the city.
Response times are measured in minutes, not hours. And police, fire and ambulance services look for ways to shave off seconds. Response times have become an established metric for judging the effectiveness of such agencies.
But those of us who live and work in the city pay for such efficiencies.
While my wife and I clung to that mountainside, we faced a very low probability of being robbed or assaulted.
But to reach the population density necessary to afford fast emergency response times, fancy coffee shops on every corner and blazing Internet connections, we must live close together, almost in one another’s pockets. We do our best to accommodate one another’s eccentricities and, inevitably, we must deal with one another’s poor decisions and bad behavior.
Call that an urban “crime tax.” It’s what we pay to keep the Internet fast, and life convenient and well caffeinated.
Not long ago, I asked a lot of lawyers whether city dwellers ever could reasonably expect their crime tax to drop to that of their suburban or rural neighbors.
Most weren’t encouraging. And more than one responded with something like this:
“It’s just living in the big city.”