Friday, September 23, 2005

Broken Windows

The broken windows theory has become an accepted explanation of how a neighborhood goes from good to bad.

The theory states that signs of decay (accumulated trash, broken windows, graffiti) remain in a neighborhood for a long period of time. People who live and work in the area feel more vulnerable and begin to withdraw. They become less willing to intervene to maintain public order or to address physical signs of deterioration. Sensing this, teens and other possible offenders become bolder and intensify their harassment and vandalism. Residents become even more fearful and withdraw further from community involvement and upkeep. This atmosphere then attracts offenders from outside the area, who sense that it has become a vulnerable and less risky site for crime.

The theory suggests that community leaders must maintain the outward appearance of the neighborhood in order to prevent poverty, crime, and anarchy. Examples of maintenance include quick replacement of broken windows, prompt removal of abandoned vehicles, fast clean up of illegally dumped items, quick paint out of graffiti, fresh paint on buildings, and clean sidewalks.

It works. The New York City Transit Police experienced a significant decline in crime once it starting removing graffiti from its subway trains on a daily basis. The city of Atlanta wanted to decrease its number of burglaries on one street. So, the city hired a weekly landscaper and it also conducted daily clean-up of parking lots and sidewalks. Order went up, crime went down.

The broken windows theory can also be applied to businesses. A business with no order eventually finds itself in peril. The first signs of trouble begins when turnover begins to rise. A good business owner recognizes the problem and addresses it. A bad business owner doesn't listen to his employees and keeps going about his business. Next, customers start complaining and he loses their business. Eventually, the company's culture is so negative that it's impossible to motivate an employee to make a customer happy.

Maintain the little things. Look for subtle changes in your business so that you can avoid big changes in the future. Listen to your employees, keep positive energies flowing, talk to your customers, and fix problems as soon as they occur.

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