Monday, April 16, 2018

Fix Those Broken Windows; March 22, 2018

Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a sunny, cool, and breezy week on the Blog.  We have news. First, there was the joint United States, France, and United Kingdom missle strikes on Syrian targets this past Friday.  The strikes targeted air and military bases used by forces loyal to President Bashr al-Assad to conduct lethal gas attacks on his population.  The strikes did their job--sort of--enough for Mr. Donald Trump to tweet Mission Accomplished.  Well, no.  Mr. al-Assad is still in power and free to conduct heinous attacks on his own people.  Second, food and beverage retail giant Starbucks is in major damage control mode following an incident that took place in one of their Philadelphia stores.  Two African American gentlemen entered the store on Thursday, to meet a business colleague.  One of the gentlemen asked to use the toilet, without ordering anything.  The men were waiting for their colleague before placing their order.  The (now former) employee got anxious about the presence of two African American men and phoned the police, who arrested the men for trespassing.  The whole incident was recorded by another patron and went viral.  Blogger is having trouble formulating the right words because it is personal. Needless to say, Blogger's non-Starbucks app on her phone will be getting a good work out.  On to today's subject.

Broken Windows is a very popular approach to safer neighborhoods.  The theory, originally put forth by James Q. Wilson in 1982 and gained a lot of traction in nineties and early 2000s; as well as a lot of infamy for its uneven application, often directed at African American and Latino men.  However, Marc A. Zimmerman writes about a different approach to safer neighborhoods in his CityLab article, "Forget Broken Windows: Think 'Busy Streets.'"

The concept is actually simple, "Neighborhoods struggling with physical decline and high crime often become safer simply when local resident work together to fix up their neighborhood."

Mr. Zimmerman and his colleagues at the University of Michigan of Public Health Youth Violence Prevention Center (; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018) spent nearly a decade studying the reasons why (; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018).  The team conducted research on cities across the U.S. demonstrating "how small changes to urban environments--like planting flowers or adding benches--reduce violence."

The result is a nascent crime prevention theory the Zimmerman Team call "busy streets."  This is how it works.

""From broken windows to busy streets"

Busy streets upends the rationale of broken windows (; Nov. 1, 2016 date accessed Apr. 16, 2018)--"a controversial criminological approach to public safety (; Mar. 1982; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018)--on its head."  Supporters of broken windows "see urban disorder in U.S. cities--graffiti, litter, actual broken windows, and the like--as a catalyst of antisocial behavior."  They direct police to crack down on quality of life offenses (; June 28, 2016; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018) such as: vandalism, turnstile jumping, and public intoxication.

In contrast, supporters of busy streets, believes it is more advantageous for neighborhoods to clean up and keep their city streets clean.

The Zimmerman Team conducted research in Flint, Michigan--a onetime prosporous manufacturing center near Detroit that has become synonymous with industrial decline, unemployment, and crime (; Jan. 26, 2016; date Apr. 16, 2018)--tracks this process in action.

The current median income for Flint "is less than $26,000, and more than half of families, with children live in poverty.  It lost 27 percent of its residents since 1990, U.S. census data shows (; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018)." Right now, almost 1 out of 5 homes stand vacant.  Crime follows on the heels of abandonment and decay, in a similar manner it does in postindustrial cities througout the Rust Belt (; Apr. 16, 2018).  Flint currently has the second highest homicide rate in American cities with populations under 100,000 (; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018) right behind Gary, Indiana.

In 2012, a group of residents, businesses, and two local colleges came together to form the University Avenue Corridor Coalition (; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018) in an effort to prevent crime by fixing up a 3-mile portion of University Avenue through the Carriagetown neighborhood of central Flint (; May 2016; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018).  Marc Zimmerman and his team began measuring the results in 2014."

The Coaltion started holding frequent neighborhood clean days to repair vacant lots and abandoned structures (; Mar. 13, 2017; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018), "symbolically 'owning' them by adding lighting, sidewalk repair, benches, and plantings."  The owners were usually amendable to their neighbors to repair their property for free and even helped out.

Marc Zimmerman writes, "Those changes, we observed, inspired other homeowners and business on this flat, three-lane road to spruce up their properties (; Apr. 2015;  date accessed Apr. 16, 2018)--what one local resident called the 'spreading effect of pride."  One Coaltion member said,

I think that people really just needed to see that, hey, somebody does care about this other than just,....

The Coaltion was also successfully in getting the local liquor store ignominiously dubbed the Stab 'n'Grab because of the frequency of fights, transforming it into Jimmy John's sandwich shop.  This may sound like another chain restaurant setting up shop in a neighborhood in need of business revenue and a place to eat.  The new sandwich shop was a major development.

The vacant across the street from Jimmy John's, a favorite drinking spot, has become into a park named University Square.  It has become an event space complete with food trucks and lawn games.

Marc Zimmerman reports, "When people drive by this once derelict intersection and see a block party underway, a community organizer told me, their jaws drop."

"Busy streets have less crime"

The street-level envirnomental changes (; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018) have yielded "profound economic and societal effects on this part of central Flint."

The Zimmerman Team surveyed the residents in 2014--prior to intervention--returning in 2016 and 2017.  They are currently preparing updates on the Flint study for publication in an academic journal, but offer a preview of their conclusions.

He writes, "Over time, community members reports fewer mental health problems, said they'd been victims of crime less of often, and felt less afraid."  This due to the fact that crime did go down along the University Avenue Corridor: "According to the coalition's lates report (; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018), assaults decreased 54 percent, robberies 83 percent and burglaries 76 percent between 2013 and 2018."

To test the link between The Coalition's initiatives, the Zimmerman Team compared this area to a control group of Flint neighborhoods that incurred similar levels of disinvestment and urban decay.  They learned that "places where empty lots were being maintained by the community had nearly 40 percent fewer assaults and violent crimes than untouched vacant lots."

This result is similar to information from other cities.  "From 1999 to 2008, for example, the city of Philadelphia cleaned up 4,436 vacant lots  signaling 'ownership' (; Nov. 11, 2011; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018) with fencing, benches, plantings, and the like."  Gun assaults in communities where interventions occurred fell by 29 percent over three years (; Jan. 26, 2018; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018).  Quality of life crimes like loitering and public intoxication decline by 30 percent.

Philadelphia also experienced economic gains from maintaining vacant land and repairing abandoned properties.  "According to an economic analysis published in the American Journal of Public Health (; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018) in 2016, for every dollar spent reoccupying an abandoned building, taxpayers saved $5 in potential criminal justice costs.  Cleaned-up vacant lots saved the city even more: $26 per dollar spent.

There is even a health and well-being benefit to cleaning up and maintaining neighborhoods.  Philadelphians with newly greened lots exercised more and experienced less stress, possibly from feeling more comfortable being outside.

"Resilient cities"

One possibly reason that crime declines following joint neighborhood interventions is community engagement.  "Residents in the University Corridor intervention area (; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018) reported participating more in neighborhood watches, block associations an community events than in the area where residents didn't undertake improvement projects."

In short, when neighbors work together to clean up their communities, they not only eliminate the dark empathy places that create havens for criminal activities (; Oct. 27, 2011;date accessed Apr. 16, 2018) but also create collateral effects.

Obviously, nicer public spaces encourage people to spend time there, where helps everyone get to know members of their communities.  When people know each other, they look out for each other, and monitor activity in their neighborhood more closely.  In essence "Streets get busy."

The Zimmerman team also found that public space improvement projects along University Corridor generated a modest economic recovery.

Prior to the 2013 intervention, few businesses were open in the area. Between 2015 and 2017, seven new enterprises opened.  The greater the commerce, the busier the streets.

"Role of the police"

Marc Zimmerman reports, "Based on our survey, University Corridor residents were also more willing to report crimes to the police after the 2013 intervention began."

This was particularly critical in the predominantly African American community, where many residents expressed mistrust in local law enforcement.  They told the Zimmerman Team that officers were never around when you need them.

This is a true statement because the Flint Police Department is overworked and underfunded--declared broken in a February 25, 2018 article in the New Yorker (; Feb. 25, 2018;date accessed Apr. 16, 2018).

Therefore, when Kettering University, one of the partner colleges in the University Corridor Coaltion, received a grant that paid for more police presence in the community (; Jan. 22, 2018; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018),many of the community members were grateful.

Police can build the foundation for community revitalization to succeed.  The goal is not to inundate high crime areas with law enforcement--as New York Cit (; Jan. 13, 2004; date accessed Apr. 18, 2018) and Newark (; June 28, 2016; date accessed Apr. 16, 2018) did during the heyday of broken windows--rather increase foot patrols.

However, law enforcement is not the sole reason why "busy streets" works to prevent crime.  Marc Zimmerman concludes that "Rather, after years of studying community resilience, I believe that locally driven revitalization projects make troubled neighborhoods safer because they recognized residents not as victims but as agents of change."

On the surface of things, it almost sounds like Marc Zimmerman is making a case for gentrification.  Indeed, safer neighborhoods do attract more affluent people, seeking less expensive places to live.  However, that does not always have to be the case.  The University Corridor Coaltion proves that you do not need galleries, artisanal food establishments, and yoga studios--the hallmarks of gentrification--to thrive.  Simple things like neighbors getting together and cleaning up a vacant lot or fixing up decaying property can do more good than converting an old building into high end lofts. 

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