Have you ever wondered why some streets have garbage all over the grass, in the bushes and even in the trees while others have ZERO?
You’re not the first to do so. James Q. Wilson and George Kelling proposed the “Broken Window Theory” back in the ’80s and it revolutionized how authorities handle crimes. This concept works for garbage, too. After I explain it, you’ll know the magic formula for getting rid of trash for good on your street. But in some cases it may take hard work, depending on how bad your street’s condition is.
Before I give the magic formula away, let me ask … What is the Broken Window Theory in a nutshell?
The theory has this title because it’s best described by using a broken window as a metaphor. When James and George were doing their research, they studied how a broken window on a street, if left unfixed, would lead to high chances of there being more broken windows soon down the road. Likewise they found that if a street fixed their broken window right away so that virtually there isn’t a broken window there at all, then the chance of more broken windows arising in the near future was much smaller.
They used this theory to great effect in removing graffiti from subway stations. They got a subway that was riddled with graffiti and worked day and night to remove it all. Once there was virtually no graffiti left, the the rate of it appearing again dropped dramatically and now the situation is easily manageable.
How can you use this practice to remove litter from your residential neighborhood?
By taking the effort to clean up all the litter at once, not slowly over time but in a great sweep, will have the desired effect of not only telling people “we don’t litter here” but also “if you litter here it’ll be obvious and people will frown at you.” Littering on a street that’s already littered with garbage is subconsciously not a big deal because who’s going to stop you and say “don’t do that”?
Getting to the point where you can look around and not see a single piece of garbage on the ground may take hard work and some community effort. The faster you get it done, the more powerful your signal to the neighborhood will be. But the people who traffic this area will still have their old habits and of course more litter will continue to fall here. The trick is to pick the litter up, even if it’s not yours, before the effect of the broken window dominoes and the problem becomes unmanageable again.
This is the reason for the subtitle of this post. If left to to sit untouched, a single piece of garbage will giver a subconscious signal to everyone who traffics this street saying “it’s okay to litter here.”
So follow the advice of these brilliant theorists and implement the Broken Window Theory on your neighborhood today!
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