The Broken-Window Theory
Neighborhood decay happens at a rapid rate in communities plagued with abandoned buildings and vacant properties. Residents have seen how a few abandoned buildings can quickly spread throughout a transitional neighborhood. Attitudes toward vacant properties and crime and our perceptions of community order have been well documented by public policy experts George Kelling and James Q. Wilson under the rubric of the “broken window theory”: “If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken.” Neglected property allowed to remain in such a condition is a signal to the community that no one cares.
Wilson and Kelling go on to suggest that disorder and crime are inextricably linked with the physical environment at the community level: “[A] lot of serious crime is adventitious, not the result of inexorable social forces or personal failings. A rash of burglaries may occur because drug users have found a back alley or an abandoned building in which to hang out. In their spare time, and in order to get money to buy drugs, they steal from neighbors. If the back alleys are cleaned up and the abandoned buildings torn down, the drug users will go away. They may even use fewer drugs because they will have difficulty finding convenient dealers and soft burglary targets.”