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Fighting Broken Window Theory

fighting broken window theory

For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, the “broken window theory” is the idea that by working to prevent small crimes like vandalism and other misdemeanors, neighborhoods will be sparred the larger and more serious crimes that are likely to follow.

The theory, which is very much based on real experience, uses broken windows on a home as an example. A house with no broken windows (abandoned or occupied) will likely keep its windows intact. But once that first window is broken (and left broken) the others windows will quickly fall prey to additional acts of vandalism.

This is very true in cities with an abundance of abandoned houses like Detroit and other rust belt cities that have yet to fully recover from their loss of industry. Neighborhoods in these cities fall prey to little acts of vandalism all the time because either no one is around or no one cares about the condition of them. This starts them down a path toward bigger crimes like burglary, arson, drugs, and murder that they would have otherwise been spared.

How Can We Stop Broken Window Theory?

Broken window theory is like a snowball rolling down a hill. The effort to stop it early is minuscule compared to the huge effort to stop the downward spiral once it has metastasized into the larger and more destructive crimes we inevitably see in these neighborhoods.

Be Aware

No one expects regular citizens to be out fighting crime, that’s the work of local law enforcement, but vigilance in your local neighborhood is a place to start. Starting a neighborhood watch is a great way to support your neighborhood. Be aware of events and strange people in your neighborhood. Remember the little things DO matter. The more attentive to the condition of your neighborhood you are, the more you will spot the first signs of metaphoric broken windows beginning to happen.

Do What You Can

Everybody is a specialist at something. For me it’s restoring old houses. You might be a hair dresser, or mechanic, or accountant, or underwater basket weaver. Whatever it is, you know how to do give a little of it back to your neighborhood. None of us have the time to help a whole city or state, but if each one of us could do a little something in our own neighborhood, then we could help every town in the country.

[socialpug_tweet tweet=”It has to start somewhere and local is the best place.”]

A friend of mine has a company that installs window flower boxes in dangerous neighborhoods. These window boxes are like the antithesis of broken windows. Seeing beautiful flower boxes on houses throughout a neighborhood gives you a feeling that even though there may be bars on the windows, people live here and care about their neighborhood.

Maybe you can go spend a day working with Habitat for Humanity to fix up houses for low income people to give them a hand up instead of a hand out. If you’ve got an able body, there is no skill needed to spend a Saturday with Habitat. What can you do?

Talk to Your Neighbors

With the demise of the front porch, we have retreated into our homes and we can turn into prisoners in cells of our own making. You may be the only one for a while, but get out on the front porch and talk to people who pass by. Say hello even if you don’t know them. This has the added benefit of letting potential bad guys know that people are here and they are watching.

Getting to know those you live near also creates a sense of community so that when bad things do happen, we can lean on each other and find strength in our community.

What I’ll Do

If I’m going to preach helping local neighbors, I guess I should step up and be more prominent in the fight. So, I’m going to do two things this coming year.


Starting this May Austin Historical will be donating 4 days a year to fixing broken windows in the run down neighborhoods of Central Florida. We will replace the broken glass, reglaze and touch up paint in homes and buildings that have been neglected for whatever reason. We will take care of the broken windows in our city and I’m hoping that you will help us by taking care of the broken windows in your city.


I can’t leave the rest of the country without window help as well, so starting today, The Craftsman Blog will donate 1 gallon of Sarco glazing putty to any registered 501c3 non-profit who is willing to help fix broken windows in their community. We buy the putty and pay for shipping, you just have to fix those windows! Are you up for it? Send us an email at contact@thecraftsmanblog.com with “Broken Window Theory” in the subject line and we’ll get you your putty.

It may sounds cheesy, but together, we can make a difference. Neither of us has the free time to be out playing Mother Teresa every weekend but to spend one day a year to make your town a little safer? That’s not too much to ask, is it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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8 thoughts on “Fighting Broken Window Theory

  1. A poorly governed community adjacent to where I live now (and one that I lived in myself for 13 years) has been in an economic and crime crisis for several decades and has a troubling proportion of neglected and even abandoned older homes. In some blocks derelict properties outnumber occupied ones 3 to 1. There are several organizations working within it to recover some of the properties (I volunteer when I can) and they have made some progress. In some cases they have placed plywood over the windows to prevent break-ins and occupation by squatters and to preserve the homes from further deterioration from weather incursion. This doesn’t look great in a neighborhood though since it advertises that a house is abandoned. So one local artist has taken it upon himself to paint the plywood that has been put up over the windows of these homes with colorful domestic scenes: curtains, flower pots, lamps, pets. To me it sends the message that “this house could be a home again someday.” And it also shows that someone noticed and cared about the house and the people who live around it. While it’s not a directly constructive step in recovering old housing stock I think it adds a tiny bit of color and hope to struggling neighborhoods.

  2. Excellent post, sir. My neighborhood is approaching the 50-year-old mark, the oldest house having been built in ’69. It is a joy to help neighbors with their exterior renovations, landscaping, car repairs, and such — or to simply chat outside at every chance — and the sentiment is mutual. We aren’t the “ritziest” of neighborhoods, but we’ve also never had a crime problem. We are visibly cohesive; we take pride in our upkeep; and yes, we are vigilant. Anecdotal evidence that you are spot-on with this blog post? I’d say it’s more than that: it’s darn-near scientific! [Side note: Bastiat’s “broken window fallacy” is a good read as well, albeit on a purely economic-philosophy level. 😉 It’s the first thing that came to my mind when I began reading the title of your post.]

  3. Very inspiring words Scott and the information you provided rings true. However, what would a person do if there isnt any non profit organizations around locally? I am in a small rural community that could use some help.

    1. Nathan, check with churches. Sometimes they have mens’ groups that get together to do repairs for people who can’t otherwise afford it; they might be interested in a project like this. Also, check the nearest Habitat for Humanity, even if it’s in a different county. Their director might know of resources you aren’t aware of.

  4. This is an amazing gesture and the start of a movement. I have referred the link to a non-profit in one of my communities (saint joseph, mo) who has likely already contacted you.

    My company Phoenix Preservation & Consulting has volunteered countless hours to lower-income families in the past with minor home repairs, and will continue to do so. While many of us love old houses, sometimes we lose sight of the fact that many people live in them not because of their love for the character and craftsmanship, but because they were inexpensive and often times the only thing they could afford. In those instances, chances are the owners are living with a long list of neglect issues that they simply cannot afford or do not know how to remedy. As old house enthusiasts and tradespeople, we need to step up and help those individuals, even if it is just to have a teaching moment so they can better care for their homes on their own. Kudos to you for everything you do.

  5. Love this! Just told someone about the broken window theory las week. This is vey convicting. I know how to use Abatron, scrape, and paint.

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