Fixing the windows

Published 9:25 pm Friday, November 4, 2011

A well-known theory of criminology places a significant emphasis on the little things that take place within a community. The “Broken Window Theory,” introduced in the early ‘80s by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, writing in an article in “The Atlantic Monthly,” holds that little things like untended broken windows in a community can lead eventually to serious crime and the general deterioration of that community.

Quoting from the March 1982 edition of that magazine:

“We suggest that ‘untended’ behavior also leads to the breakdown of community controls. A stable neighborhood of families who care for their homes, mind each other’s children, and confidently frown on unwanted intruders can change, in a few years or even a few months, to an inhospitable and frightening jungle. A piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up, a window is smashed. Adults stop scolding rowdy children; the children, emboldened, become more rowdy. Families move out, unattached adults move in. Teenagers gather in front of the corner store. The merchant asks them to move; they refuse. Fights occur. Litter accumulates. People start drinking in front of the grocery; in time, an inebriate slumps to the sidewalk and is allowed to sleep it off. Pedestrians are approached by panhandlers.”

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Such situations do not inevitably lead to flourishing crime and violent communities, the authors stated, but the detachment that comes from living in declining conditions also makes a community more vulnerable to an influx of crime.

The key to avoiding the downward spiral is to tend the broken windows right off the bat. And that’s just the kind of intervention College Square residents Inetha Rogers and Crystal Cradle will be making in their own community today.

After moving to College Square three months ago, Rogers said, she realized how serious the litter problem was when the streets flooded during a rainstorm because the drains were blocked by trash. So she and Cradle plan to do something about it, having set up a clean-up day to which they’ve invited the neighborhood’s children. By the end of the event at 1:30 p.m., they hope to have involved up to 150 people in the effort.

Whatever shortcomings the Broken Window Theory might have, it’s clear that our communities will only be improved when the people who live in them step up to take responsibility for them and pride in them. Rogers and Cradle are setting a wonderful example of that responsibility for the youth of College Square and for the people of Suffolk.