Broken Windows Theory has Led to Cleaner Neighborhoods

A few days ago I came back from lunch, and a co-worker noticed that the front window in our office had been broken. At first glance, the neighborhood looks great, straddling Midtown and the affluent west side neighborhoods, but a deeper look exposes some challenges facing the community. In Reno, the Downtown and Midtown areas have begun revitalization efforts that have pushed crime and blight into adjacent neighborhoods like ours. It is not unusual to see blight around the area- leaving tenants, residents and customers scratching their heads about what needs to change and how to change it.


From the late seventies to about 1990, New York City had far worsecrime problems. Time Square was a cesspool of crime, and honest, hard working New Yorkers would go to the iconic Square only for New Year’s Eve festivities–if that. Then Rudy Giuliani, first as a prosecutor then as mayor of the city, began “getting tough on crime.” The mayor believed in the “broken windows theory,” a theory in criminology that advocated a zero-tolerance policy for small crimes thought to reduce larger crimes as well. The theory states that minor crimes, especially ones that leave a mark behind like a broken window or graffiti, are signs that you can get away with crime in that jurisdiction. These small crimes then invite an ever-increasing criminal element into a neighborhood. Inversely, according to the theory, a neighborhood without broken windows is a sign that laws and order apply, and residents and employers will want to relocate to the neighborhood, increasing the prosperity of the area.

Many communities have put the broken window theory into practice, and I have found evidence in my neighborhood that the broken windows theory, applied in a restorative sense, has increased the quality of life.

Dr. Seuss (through the Lorax) once said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This is unequivocally true, but the equation requires more than caring. Resources are needed, and municipalities (at least the major municipalities in Nevada) have given residents the tools needed to protect their neighborhood from blight if they wish to do so. Both theCity of Las Vegas and the City of Reno have apps that can be used to report such blight issues, leveraging the city’s greatest resource- its people. When I first arrived, my neighborhood was full of graffiti. I was once walking to the convenience store and even noticed a used needle just feet away from a daycare. Just a few months later at a program known as the Reno Citizen’s Institute, I was told about the City of Renosmartphone application and began my personal street cleaning program.

A year later, despite it being graffiti season since teenagers are out of school, and the weather is warm, the neighborhood I live in is doing much better. Graffiti, whether I report it or not, is cleaned up immediately, and I have not seen another outward sign of drug abuse. This experience has led me to advocate for neighbors to take pride in where they live and work. People need to demand the resources necessary to get rid of the broken windows and make their neck of the woods a better place.