Not So Hidden Fences and the Broken Window Theory

Nearly every day I walk past a neighborhood that appears to be some form of low-income public housing. I am sure when the units were first built that they were attractive and clean, and people were excited to move into them.

Now, the units are starting to show their age, and it’s become more obvious, if one was not already aware, that these units are public housing.

It’s wonderful that cities fund the building of such projects, but I think it’s just as important that they devote as much effort to keeping the units looking reasonable. Certainly part of the responsibility of keeping the units looking nice rests with the residents, but for the common spaces, the city should be more proactive about keeping those sapces looking up-to-date.

This really struck home today as I walked past the units. I saw a work crew out in front of one of the houses and I thought they were replacing the metal fencing that was in front of each of the units. The fences were rusted, peeling, broken, bent, etc. In other words, many of the fences were an eyesore.

And since the fences are right next to the sidewalk, that’s what the thousands of people who walk past the units every day notice. And it leaves the impression  that this is a part of the city, and these are people that are not a high priority, for city government.

Alas, as I continued on my walk I noticed that the work crew was there for something else, and the fences would be staying the way they were.

This out of sight out of mind attitude that often seems to accompany public housing was the polar opposite of what I saw while walking in a different part of town today.

We were strolling through the Royal Boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, home of multimillion pound housing units. And while on our stroll we came upon a crew of a few men who were taking care of the fences on one street. From my view point, the fences looked fine. But these workers were out there with wire brushes and other cleaning tools to make sure the fences looked as good as new.

So yes, I understand that if you love a in a wealthy part of town, you want and expect the fences in front of your property to be kept clean.

But doesn’t everyone deserve that kind of treatment, no matter which part of town they live in?

And I think if the fences were replaced at the public housing units, I would guess that would create an incentive for most of those living there to try and take care of their property with renewed motivation.

Maybe the guys working up in Kensington could come down this way one day a week and work on these not so hidden fences that are seen by thousands of commuters every day.

This idea os nothing new; it’s similar to the broken window theory that has been around for decades. The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking, and turnstile-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening.

I’m suggesting that by taking care of some shared parts of a public housing unit, then this would provide enough incentive for the residents to want to take greater pride in their individual units if they know the city is going to keep its end of the bargain. It would seem to be a win-win for everyone.

*Please note that the two images in this post are not specific to the fences I saw on my walks today, but are an approximation of what I saw.

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