I want to talk to you about design in a crime fighting policy. Why? Well, I’ll tell you but it takes a bit of set up - so hang with me.
Now, you may not believe it but my most controversial instagram post is a design that says “Skin Doesn’t Matter.” It’s a sign of our times that this obvious statement garners so much praise from fair-minded people, and so much anger from the “woke.” It shouldn’t even be controversial but here is what the woke people always end up saying: They argue that because skin matters to some people it therefore matters generally. This is wrong on many levels. You may as well say that because some people think unicorns are real, that unicorns are real. I might say that fortune telling doesn’t matter, but as far as their argument goes, the existence of “fortune tellers” proves that it does. However, the woke are so desperate to prove society is racist that they will go to irrational lengths to make race a relevant factor in life when it isn’t.
One person took it even further this week and told me that they had a bulletproof example that proves society is racist. They said I should educate myself about Michael Bloomberg’s police policies as mayor of New York City, which she referred to as his Broken Window policy. What she meant was Bloomberg’s “stop and frisk’ policy, a flawed derivative Rudy Giulliani’s ‘Broken Window” policy. That she lumped them together reflects ignorance and a longstanding pattern on the left of attacking the Broken Window policy as racist. Well, I happen to know a bit about this from studying geography in college so I’m here to tell you that Broken Window policies are not racist. They are a good design answer to a bad design problem of Democrat-run inner city housing.
Everyone that I know thinks that the idea behind Broken Window policies is that if you catch and convict criminals for petty crimes, you will keep them from escalating to major crimes. To the woke person this translates as, “the more black people you put in jail, the better, since we know black people are just a bunch of criminals.” But that’s not really the concept behind the policy. The policy is really premised on physics, particularly the law of entropy - that all things tend toward disorder - and advises that the way to combat great disorder like you find in a completely lawless neighborhood is to reduce the incentives that allow disorder to multiply. Already you can tell that this policy aligns with the principle that design is a force for order in the world.
The Broken Window policy has a fascinating origin. A Stanford researcher named Philip Zambardo left two abandoned cars in a high and low crime neighborhood, and checked to see how well they survived. The car in the high crime neighborhood was stripped and vandalized almost overnight, while the low crime neighborhood ignored the car for days. I read that, and I thought well obviously - the one neighborhood is better and that’s why the car was ok. However, Zambardo then bashed in the second car’s windows and it too was torn apart overnight. As the Atlantic reported in 1982, this indicated that if the car looked uncared for, then it would be further abused no matter what neighborhood it was left in. A little bit of disorder invites more and more.
The phrase “Broken Window” comes from the inference that a neighborhood with obvious neglect will seem like an opportune place for more serious criminal activity. To a law-breaker the question will always be, “if the police don’t care about a bit of vandalism, what else can I get away with?” Better neighborhoods are the ones that have built up community respect for private property, which is what delayed the second car’s destruction so long. But in communities suffering from long decades of neglect it tends to be open season. The question was how to reverse that tendency and rebuild a sense of care for the community.
The answer the Broken Window policy provides is that police should show criminals and vandals that a neighborhood is cared for by patrolling it more often. Woke people may interpret this as a racially-motivated decision, but that is only because the most neglected neighborhoods happen to be those predominantly-black welfare ghettos managed by Democrats for decades. Given that the 1969 study reported that vandals were predominantly well-dressed whites, including full families, shreds any argument that Broken Window policies were tailor-made for black neighborhoods.
You should notice that this theory is decidedly not racist, since it implies that wherever you are there is a certain proportion of people who will commit a crime of opportunity. Race be damned, income be damned. George Kelling and James Wilson, the criminologists who defined the policy, wrote in the Atlantic, “Once you begin to deal with the small problems in neighborhoods, you begin to empower those neighborhoods… People claim their public spaces... Communities get strengthened once order is restored or maintained, and it is that dynamic that helps to prevent crime.” This doesn’t sound like racism to me. It sounds like a reasonable policy to help neighborhoods ravaged by neglect under Democrats get back on their feet. It is a policy of empowerment rather than oppression.
Nay-sayers like to point out that we can’t really know with certainty that the Broken Window Policy led to a decrease in crime because it was implemented at a time when crime rates fell across the country. It’s true that these concurrent events muddy the data a bit, but that shouldn’t be treated as an excuse to chuck logic out the window and discount the policy’s merit. In fact there’s a really good reason to believe that the Broken Window policy is the answer to a fundamental design flaw in public housing ghettos that was identified by the sociologist Jane Jacobs eight years prior to the study which led to Broken Window policies.
When Jane Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities she conducted a series of studies on neighborhoods throughout major metropolitan areas. She paid particular focus to the transformation of poor inner city communities as they were torn down and replaced by public housing, eventually becoming the modern ghettos. She wasn’t a fan of the transformation.
Jacobs identified several specific architectural flaws in public housing developments and documented how they directly altered the social fabric of inner city neighborhoods. Prior to public housing, these neighborhoods featured vibrant streetlives. Older residents spent their time on porches facing the street, while parents monitored their children who played in the street from street-facing windows in their houses. Neighbors knew one another, and they also knew when strangers were around. This helped to keep communities in order, with good social ties, and discouraged crime.
Public housing turned everything inward and away from the street. Rather than seeing your neighbors over a yard fence, they were sealed off behind an apartment wall, with interior squares overlooked by small apartment windows. Those interior squares were ideal places for illicit activities because they were hidden from the sight of the street. Ultimately, the entire streetlife of inner city neighborhoods was eradicated, and all the attendant social structure dissolved. What took its place was the territorial government by gangs that is described by Eldridge Cleaver in Soul on Ice.
These became neglected neighborhoods, which Jane Jacobs blamed almost entirely on the bad architectural design of public housing projects. She indicated that the growth in criminal behavior was not a result of the general poverty in the neighborhoods, but the restructuring of life to an area out of public view. What Democrats had done was to unravel the social fabric of inner city neighborhoods literally by boxing up their residents into brick and mortar boxes. As soon as they were out of sight, the Democrats put them out of mind. That made these neighborhoods truly dangerous.
Kelling and Wilson also had this to say about the perception of how dangerous a neighborhood is: “we tend to overlook another source of fear—the fear of being bothered by disorderly people. Not violent people, nor, necessarily, criminals, but disreputable or obstreperous or unpredictable people: panhandlers, drunks, addicts, rowdy teenagers, prostitutes, loiterers, the mentally disturbed.” Anyone who lives in Los Angeles or San Francisco knows that this is true. Democrat negligence is why you can’t go anywhere without confronting a hobo - be that walking down the street, inside a convenience store, or that one freaky dude always coming up to your car window at stoplights. I’ve called the police multiple times after seeing a hobo wandering, clearly out of his mind, waving a large kitchen knife around. During the black lives matter terrorist riots, Los Angeles declared that the police would not pursue theft up to a value of $900. Guess what? A lot more petty theft and vandalism occurred.
In other words, Democrat policies have made a perfect storm of bad design that sets up the conditions for community destruction, then they allowed that destruction to occur through neglect. While the case studies from Zambardo and Jacobs are landmark exhibitions of this problem, we can see examples of it in our everyday lives as major US cities implode under the same policies. Jacbos studied Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, and Baltimore - all formerly great cities ruined by Democrats. She also studied New York, which was temporarily revived by Broken Window policies under Giuliani. Unfortunately, we are now seeing the same decline in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland - proving her right once again. The question is whether Zambardo’s findings will be ignored out of wokeness, or applied to revive these cities as they were in New York.
The Broken Window policy is one of the few systems that is appropriately designed to counteract the effects of bad design in Public Housing. The reason it is so embattled is that it directly contradicts the merits of a major Democratic staple: black dependence on government support. That is why its opponents are so keen to paint it as a racist policy. I hate to state the obvious, but it is inevitable that many black Americans would be arrested for crime in any policy aimed at cleaning up these neighborhoods. But who is to blame for that? It’s the architects of the system that destroyed the communal values which previously tied inner city neighborhoods together. They created the circumstances that in turn created criminals and vandals. Attacking a policy that seeks to not only reduce crime but empower the community to fend for itself because doing so would highlight the mess Democrats made is just another in a series of their pernicious acts. Anyway, I don’t know why anyone would value the input of the very architects who ruined these neighborhoods in the first place through bad design and then neglect. It is very, very rare when a perfect design solution presents itself. We know from Jacobs, Zambardo, Kelling and Wilson that the Broken Window policy is one of those fortunate times and it would be a shame to waste it.