Saturday, June 21, 2008

The "Broken Window" Theory

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

James Q. Wilson and George Kelling developed the `broken windows' thesis to explain the signaling function of neighborhood characteristics. This thesis suggests that the following sequence of events can be expected in deteriorating neighborhoods. Evidence of decay (accumulated trash, broken windows, deteriorated building exteriors) remains in the neighborhood 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 neighborhood 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

  • Fresh paint on buildings

  • Clean sidewalks and street gutters

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