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  • Writer's pictureMBF

Mafube and the “Broken Window Syndrome”

This thesis was introduced in 1982 by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. Essentially, the theory suggests that if a broken window is not fixed, then the damage or vandalism becomes the social norm.

An ordered and clean environment sends the signal that this is a place which is monitored and people here conform to the common norms of non-criminal behaviour while a disordered environment which is littered, vandalised and not maintained, sends the opposite signal. The “broken window” is the first step in a neighbourhood or town’s slow decline and deterioration and over time, other evidence of decay would show up, for example: more broken windows, abandoned buildings, lack of upkeep of public spaces, collapse of infrastructure, unrepaired potholes, trash accumulation, graffiti...

The change is slow and for a time imperceptible to the people who live in the neighbourhood or town. People who live in the area start to feel vulnerable and begin to withdraw; building high walls around them. They become less willing to intervene to maintain public order or address physical signs of deterioration and lose their sense of community. Sensing the withdrawal, criminals and those without respect for the law, become bolder and intensify their activities, as allowed by the lowered social norms and the small risk of getting caught violating those norms. Letting the small infractions slip by with no consequences creates an atmosphere that encourages people into believing that those small infractions aren’t a big deal. Pretty soon, bigger infractions are committed and these too are not considered to be a big deal. Residents become yet more fearful and withdraw further from community involvement and upkeep. This atmosphere now attracts new offenders from outside the area, who sense that the neighbourhood or town is a less risky site for crime. The cycle that started with one broken window has spiralled down, resulting in a broken town. Does all this sound familiar?

The little things do matter! “Broken Windows” suggests that stopping the little things will prevent the escalation and the acceptance of bigger and bigger infractions.

MBF would like to hear from you in this regard and what we could do halt the decay.

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