Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why Fix a Broken Window

Stroll down any neighborhood in River East and you're bound to find more broken windows than one can keep count. Windows are broken, doors are boarded up, and buildings are abandoned altogether. According to social scientists, the "Broken Window Theory" explains the the mindset of crumbled inner-communities: NOBODY CARES. Of course this is a generalization, because there are many people in River East who care about the welfare of our community. However, researchers say that we don't care as much as we once did, especially in comparison to more affluent communities. In affluent communities, windows are also broken, but the catch here is that residents quickly repair the windows because the outward appearance of a community's homes, businesses, and public buildings is symbolic of their sense of public order.

What thoughts cross your mind when you walk by an building veiled with broken windows like the abandoned Congress Heights School pictured above? Surveys report that many think of drunks, addicts, rowdy teenagers, prostitution, and a number of other fears that negatively affect how we feel about our neighborhood. Then, our feelings manifest into a downward spiral of urban decay: "property is abandoned, weeds grow up, adults stop scolding rowdy children, families move out, teenagers gather in front of corner stores, fights occur, people drink outside grocery stores, drunks and addicts slump to the sidewalk and residents allow them to sleep it off." Some would say that we've reached a point of no return. But as we see with River East, conditions are changing, slowly, but they ARE changing in a positive direction.

So, I'm not saying city government or a group of neighborhood associations need to go fixing random windows! Besides, it is private property, after all - and that's a topic for another blog post. But what we CAN do is promise that we will take care of our own property. Let's treat our windows, homes, cars, and business like we would treat them in Fairfax. Let's raise the bar for ourselves and our neighbors. If you notice that Jamaal's screen is ripped and hanging off the hinges, ask him to fix it! If your car won't start, don't just leave it on Alabama Avenue - have it towed to a repair shop as soon as you can.

Let us not develop River East just for development's sake. Let's fix broken windows and everything they represent.


Charles said...

Great piece Jamilah!

Braveheart said...

Wow! Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate it :)

The Advocate said...

Ahhh!!! You got your first shout out in the City Paper!!! http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/

-The Advocate

Braveheart said...

Yikes! I didn't see that coming! As always, thanks for letting me know :-)

Maureen Benitz said...

Malcolm Gladwell was spot on in the Tipping Point talking about this very issue. Back in the spring time, Chief Lanier held a book club/discussion about Gladwell's two books (Outliers not out yet) and we spent a lot of time looking at this very issue. I live off of H St NE and see this same sort of thing - its sad and agreed, it makes the whole area look bad!! I wish everyone could see it this way!

Braveheart said...


Thanks for your comment! I had no idea Lanier was engaged with the community at that level! Kudos to her! You're in such a great location - can't wait to see what it'll look like in 5 more years!

I'll definitely reread the old Gladwell books and grab Outliers as soon as I can! From the book discussion on CSPAN, it looks like it'll be a fine read.


Braveheart said...

By the way, if anyone wants to read more on the Broken Windows topic, please see George Kelling and James Q. Wilson's article in the March 1982 issue of The Atlantic at http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/198203/broken-windows

The quoted pieces in the blogpost came from that article.



Maureen Benitz said...

I, too, was impressed that the Chief hosted that book club. It was at the new Target in CH - maybe about 100 or 150 people. I think that the TP is a fantastic commentary and has so many ideas that after you read them seem like common sense! As a plug for the DC library, I requested Outliers right after Thanksgiving and it was at my branch a few days later. I thought the waiting list would be much longer, but it only took me a few days to get it.

I can't wait to see H St in 5 years! Its changing every day it seems!