The bigger significance behind litter, potholes and graffiti

You may have noticed that I have a thing or two about graffiti, potholes and local grot spots. Apart from the merit in itself of resolving such issues, the ‘broken windows’ theory argues that small examples of criminal behaviour, such as broken windows but also illegal dumping, graffiti and so on, encourages more serious criminal behaviour too.

It can be a direct link – people are encouraged to further break the law when they see that it is what other people do – and also an indirect link – grotty areas make people shun them. Either way, it is one of the reasons why ultra-local campaigning on individual issues should be important to councillors and would-be councillors (especially Liberal Democrat ones, bearing in mind community politics – and hence this book). The case has even been made that a similar logic applies to online commenting, with one rude comment in turn encouraging more.

The evidence, however, it should be said is a little nuanced. The chain from broken windows to zero tolerance policing to reduced overall crime rates in one with many caveats along the way, especially as badly applied zero tolerance policing policies can worsen a situation by increasing tension between the police and the community.

So extra pieces of evidence to fill out the sequence of events are always of interest to me – and hence this post caught my eye:

Through a series of stunning real-world experiments, Kees Keizer and colleagues from the University of Groningen have shown that disorder breeds more disorder. The mere presence of graffiti, for example, can double the number of people who litter and steal.

You can read the full post here (and do take a look at comment #2; people who work in offices with shared kitchens will also recognise the symptoms of #9 I suspect).

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