National County Government Month is celebrated each April by the nation’s counties to raise public awareness and understanding about the roles and responsibilities of county government.
The theme is “Smart Justice: Creating Safer Communities.” There is an urgent need in our world for safer communities, streets, neighborhoods and, as we have seen in our community in the past few weeks, safer homes. But how do we create safer communities?
It takes many programs, services and organizations working together on a variety of issues. Far too often, we take for granted some of those services that create that safety net for us every day. This month is a great time to take a fresh look at the many components that make us safer.
I’m often asked why I became interested in the Keep Liberty Beautiful program. There are several reasons. I do like clean streets and hate litter with a passion, but I also am aware of the many problems far beyond aesthetics that dirty streets and unkempt neighborhoods and business districts can cause.
There are many reasons to become involved in roadside and neighborhood cleanups. One reason is to create and sustain safer neighborhoods and communities. In the 1940s, the first groundbreaking research on the impact of uncared-for streets and communities was written by Dr. George Kelling. His findings are referred to as the Broken Windows Theory.
A series of writings by Kelling and political scientist James Q. Wilson and a book authored by Kelling, “Fixing Broken Windows,” helped to popularize his findings, which have been followed by many studies since the ’40s that have reached the same conclusions. This book is well worth reading if you are interested in understanding the relationship of quality-of-life issues and environmental blight.
The theory is simple: a broken window — or any signs of neglect, like littered areas, graffiti or disrepair — left unrepaired in a building or area sends a message that there is a lack of concern about the place. That broken window left untended leads to more broken windows or more litter or more disrepair in the area. This lack of concern and interest causes a chain reaction. When residents see that this vandalism is ignored, they unfortunately open the door to accepting other negative behaviors. This disorder and the apathy about this disorder lead to increased vandalism and even more serious crimes. Ultimately, this leads to neighborhood and community decline.
It is hard to believe that all that can happen because of a broken window.
Here are some of Kelling’s recommendations for restoring order in communities:
• Residents and communities need to take personal responsibility for their neighborhoods and business and public spaces. That sense of ownership and concern for buildings, roads and public spaces will deter that chain reaction of crime and more crime. The sense of ownership is key for me. If our actions show that we care about our community and that we take pride in its maintenance, we will reduce the occurrence of litter, graffiti, vandalism and more serious crimes.
• Citizens and law enforcement work together to prevent and fight crime from minor violations to more serious offenses.
• Active, well-kept business districts are essential to creating clean, safe downtown areas.
• Civic and church groups can provide active support on quality-of-life issues in neighborhoods and communities.
• Community and environmental courts are developed to deal with enforcement issues.
• The restoration of authority for parents and teachers over children in a community is an important component as well.
• Neighborhoods and streets that are clean and well cared for signal that the community is paying attention to the area where they live.
Kelling and his research are real-world stuff, not some research-lab findings that are meaningless in our everyday lives. Kelling has served as a consultant for a number of urban areas, including New York City. The implementation of his order-maintenance theories led to policies on the New York subway system that substantially reduced crime rates. I figure that if New York City can become more “civil” and safer, then any community can.
Volunteer for an upcoming municipal cleanup or plan your own neighborhood or roadway cleanup.
April 20 — Hinesville
April 27 — Walthourville
April 27 — Flemington
April 27 — Riceboro
To volunteer, call 880-4888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming KLB activities
April 22 — Volunteer for the seventh annual Earth Day celebration. Call KLB at 880-4888 or email email@example.com.