Boarding over the Broken Windows Theory

Look closely at the picture above. Those aren’t real windows. A local Cleveland judge is testing a new method of dealing with the abandoned, dilapidated property that is plaguing the city: simply cover it up. Housing Court Judge Raymond Pianka secured a $20,000 grant to install fake doors and windows on 22 abandoned properties. The service is provided by a Chicago man who has artistically boarded-up over 1,000 homes in 10 cities. Check out the Plain Dealer article here.

This all centers around the broken windows theory, a core tenet of urban theory that is nonetheless often overlooked due to its pure simplicity (in short, that property neglect fosters an environment in which social norms or rules are more easily broken). “Nobody will care if I tag this wall because the window is already broken” leads to “nobody will care if I sell drugs on this corner because all the buildings around here are tagged,” etc. If you’re interested, read the 1982 Atlantic Monthly article that introduces this theory. Anyway, in short, studies all indicate a direct correlation between property maintenance and reduced petty crime.  Chris Toepher, the Chicago installer, has capitalized on this point, and sums it up perfectly to the Plain Dealer reporter:

It’s not so much that it looks like a window but that it looks like someone has really invested time and energy into it and is probably keeping an eye on it.

Toepher has set up a company, NeighborServe, to provide this boarding services. The before/after pictures are pretty impressive, and the results (as reported by the press) seem positive. Still, I can’t help thinking of an airplane cemetery. Imagine walking down a street where all the houses are boarded up like this.


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