THE BROKEN WINDOW THEORY....A Call to Action for the real estate community.....
I read in the Wall street Journal yesterday of the passing of a great conservative thinker and theorist, James Q Wilson. He was the source of a new theory about crime in the early 60's, which offered up an unusual experiment of sorts and something about his legacy and this experiment in particular, left me wondering...Can and does this theory apply more broadly in society? Can and should we apply this sort of thinking in our own profession, within our own communities?....You be the judge:
SETTING THE STAGE.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's people would have to literally climb over garbage piles in New York City--in the 70's I can remember stepping over 3-4 sleeping bodies in the entry-way to my building in Murray Hill. Crime was a way of life in Manhattan as you fought for your right to maneuver through the streets and subways without being physically accosted or worse yet, mugged on your way to work!
THE THEORY. (A broken window changes EVERYTHING!!!)
A car was left abandoned for days on a street in New York City in the early 1960s; the team who intentionally abandoned it, later broke one of the windows in it and left it for many nights. During the time of abandonment and the window being broken, little attention was paid to the car sitting there unattended. Once the window was broken however, there was a wave of attacks and raids on the car until it sat in utter ruin on the street. Wilson's thinking was that the indication of any criminal activity even in the slightest way, paved the way for an onslaught that could, and did, make a city ungovernable.
This theory was behind the monumental crime fighting efforts in New York City and for the major clean-up of New York by Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the 70's and 80's; an act that made history in the annals of crime prevention and changed the environment of the city to this day. Police Chief Bratton and Mayor Giuliani were the leaders in this effort and they made history as the crime rates dropped. To this day, major metropolitan areas all over the map have used the same theory and in cleaning up the mess that is part of big city life, crime rates are at all time lows in most major cities in the USA.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO US?
Just how does a minor indication of neglect in a neighborhood really affect that particular market? If someone walks away from their home by choice and leaves it sitting there without any sign of life, how long does it take to affect the houses in close proximity?
Without the help of a very interested party or parties, home abandonment can become the abandoned car in a Manhattan street, waiting for the criminal element to do it's job. It has happened here; yes right here in this bucolic and treasured resort area of the "Rich and Famous"!! And it is projected to be an even bigger event if things aren't handled properly and with great dispatch!
In this roving profession called real estate, I see that we need to become a more diverse collection of social advocates---who better to be made aware of the growing problem of home abandonment that those of us who have chosen this career? We have access to more homes than any other profession and we surely see the signs of abandonment before anyone else does.....
- A door, off it's hinges and sitting ajar
- A window cracked and left in disrepair
- Grass left to grow long and well beyond other lawns in an area
- No sign of life; "no one lives here any longer"
- Newspapers piled and strewn across the property
- General unkempt appearance
- A sign posted for "AUCTION"
There-in lies the key to property values, to say nothing of the crime rate in a given area! We all know this, but how much of an impact does the neglect really have on a whole community or even a whole city???
I suggest that we, as real estate professionals, need to observe the way in which an area or a neighborhood presents itself--That we, in keeping with our basic Human Nature and our commitment to our clients and customers, make an attempt to let the authorities know when a house has been abandoned. Take the time to report it to the police, to zoning boards, town officials and to those in charge of city or town clean-up. If we know for a fact that the house next door has been left by the owner and that there is a real possibility of abandonment, let the authorities know right away...All it takes is ONE house to be left abandoned to pull down ALL property values of a street or an area....I have been known to pick up old newspapers piling up on an abandoned doorstep--or clear clutter away on a driveway. It does not take much to help relieve the decrepitude from creeping into a neighborhood!
We are NOT out of the woods yet where foreclosures are concerned and we need to be vigilant like never before---When these abandoned houses first appeared in many neighborhoods, people were taken by surprise! Denial set in and many drove by these houses without even looking at them anymore! We can no longer ignore this fact of life! Now we know that this will happen and we need to be our own best advocates for those areas which we claim to be our areas of expertise!
It IS Human Nature to want to keep civility in our communities---this is the best way to make sure we all remain civil!