Painting Broken Windows

‘There is as much lying and crime in the world as there is a lack of art.’ Rudolph Steiner

George Kelling and Catherine Coles’ book, Fixing Broken Windows, (Kelling and Coles 1997) following on from groundbreaking work by Wilson and Kelling (1982), discusses the importance of keeping a neighbourhood in good order, with the underlying suggestion that if a broken window is not fixed, another is more likely to be broken. Soon a neighbourhood is riddled with crime and litter, and resembles the uncared for place it has become. ‘If a factory or office window is broken, passers-by observing it will conclude that no one cares or no one is in charge. In time a few will begin to throw rocks, to break more windows. Soon all the windows will be broken, and now passers-by will think that, not only is no one in charge of the building, no one is in charge of the street on which it faces. Only the young, the criminal or the foolhardy have any business on an unprotected avenue, and so more and more citizens will abandon the street to those they assume prowl it.’ (Wilson 1997) Ultimately, this not only encourages crime, but it divides society. Once our streets are populated by lawbreakers, they have been lost and their appearance will only deteriorate. Wesley Skogan (1994) looked at crime in 40 cities in the USA and found that disorder was the first step in ‘the downward spiral of urban decay.’(Harcourt 2004) If we have something of beauty we have something to love. ‘If you love something, you want it to stay around and stay close, and keep radiantly well . . .it makes the world desirable, gives you the feeling that what is here is to be treasured and not misused or harmed, and certainly not to be regarded in terms of functional usefulness or economic return, for such is to look at the world as a slave or a whore.’(Hillman 2006: 192) The phrase Broken Windows Policing evolved, to describe a zero tolerance approach, which yielded success, notably under Mayor Rudy Giuliani in New York, where murder rates fell from 2245 in 1990 to 494 in 2007 (Allen-Mills 2008: 9), and Mayor Ray Mallon of Middlesbrough in the UK, where crime levels were also reduced drastically. More recently a stronger approach has been taken with litter in some boroughs of London. Southwark was renowned for being one of the most litter strewn and dirtiest boroughs in the capital. A ‘Zero Tolerance’ approach, including on the spot fines and a great deal of cleaning up, has turned things around. Locals who have come noticed the difference, realise their area is now cared for and care for it more themselves as a consequence. It is disappointing to travel between boroughs in London and realise that other councils have not followed suit, despite the evidence. If architecture cannot be altered it can be improved with the addition of art. Photographs of blue skies and fluffy white clouds defeated vandalism at the Old Lion and Unicorn pub, on the Tarner Estate in Brighton. Pictures were placed in the windows and doors of a disused pub, which had become a target for drug dealing and criminal damage. Police and council officials believe they make passers-by think of warm and sunny climes, images even vandals want to preserve. Inspector Laurence Taylor, of Sussex Police, said: ‘It must have a calming effect. Clearly those intent on wanton vandalism have thought twice about lobbing stones at the building or squirting aerosol paint at the walls and windows. This is improving the quality of life for people in the area and we are most impressed. We will be watching the situation closely to see what we can learn for future campaigns against vandalism.’(Bauldry 2008) The pictures were created by Brighton artist Stig Evans who, importantly, consulted local residents before deciding on the designs. ‘Residents said they wanted something uplifting and liberating and this works in several ways. People looking at it usually have a double-take – they think at first they are looking at a reflection of the sky. It also makes you think there is something beautiful inside the building. It is escapism, really.’ (Bauldry 2008) The pub sits in an area specifically chosen for a national trial aimed at giving residents more say in the provision of services and community services. It is a success story that has not been ignored. In London Road, St Albans in Hertfordshire there are a few empty shops that fell into disrepair. The windows have been boarded up, but there was pressure to tidy them up. St Albans City and District Council worked in coordination with a local art college and the ugly ply-board has now been painted beautifully to show the inside of shops, cafes and even an art gallery, offering the public something far better to react to. There has been criticism of Broken Window theory, from different quarters, including a book by Bernard Harcourt entitled Illusion of Order; the False Promise of Broken Windows Policing (Harcourt 2004). Other changes in society are suggested as the reasons for falling crime. However, there is still a great deal of evidence and support for the idea that people behave very differently in an area that appears cared for, especially when that place offers something of beauty to passing eyes.