Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Broken windows" theory of crime

I found this article somewhere on the internet last year.  Unfortunately, I have lost the link.  The simple concepts outlined here have been a major influence on my thinking about cleaning up our area.  The only thing that I can add to it is this - you can't sit around waiting for government (of any level) to take action.  That is a recipe for disaster.  You don't need a committee.  You don't need a grant.  You don't need to create an inter-agency task force.  You don't need a summit of the brightest and best.  You don't need "community leaders" and social workers and all that tripe.

You just need you.  You just need you to get up off your date and take responsibility for ensuring that damage is reported to whomever is responsible for fixing it, and then following them up if they don't get onto it in a timely basis.  This is not an imposition on their time - most government organisations, and larger private companies, have people who are paid to fix things like this, and they have money in their budget to spend on the repairs.  They are sitting their at their desks, reading the paper and wondering how they are going to spend their budget for maintenance before the end of the financial year.  You are doing them a favour by giving them something to do.  Be nice - pick up the phone and put someone to work.  You don't even have to get up off the couch to do it.


Unsociable behaviour is a community-wide concern and is not restricted to public paths and other public spaces. It is important that all public spaces be presented as ‘cared for spaces’. That way the community perceives them as wanted and looked after areas and not waste zones. The maintenance of public spaces is an important issue world wide.

James Q. Wilson and George Kelling2 developed the `broken windows' thesis to explain the signalling function of neighbourhood characteristics. This thesis suggests that the following sequence of events can be expected in deteriorating neighbourhoods. Evidence of decay (accumulated rubbish, broken windows, deteriorated building exteriors) remains in the neighbourhood for a reasonably long period of time. People who live and work in the area feel more vulnerable and begin to withdraw. They become less willing to intervene to maintain public order (for example, to attempt to break up groups of rowdy teens loitering on street corners) or to address physical signs of deterioration.

Sensing this, teens and other possible offenders become bolder and intensify their harassment and vandalism. Residents become yet more fearful and withdraw further from community involvement and upkeep. This atmosphere then attracts offenders from outside the area, who sense that it has become a vulnerable and less risky site for crime.

The "broken window" theory suggests that neighbourhood order strategies such as those listed below help to deter and reduce crime.

 􀂚 Quick replacement of broken windows

 􀂚 Prompt removal of abandoned vehicles

 􀂚 Fast clean up of illegally dumped items, litter and spilled garbage

 􀂚 Quick paint out of graffiti

 􀂚 Finding (or building) better places for teens to gather than street corners or ‘waste land or creating spaces for physical, creative and productive activities

 􀂚 Fresh paint on buildings

 􀂚 Clean footpaths and gutters 

This explanation of the "broken window" theory was written by Henry G. Cisneros when he was US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. It was published in a series of essays titled "Defensible Space: Deterring Crime and Building Community" - January 1995.

In suburban areas such as those bordering the easements, another action would be regular maintenance of public and private gardens3

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