I feel safe now
In an anonymous urban environment with few to no people around, social norms and monitoring are not clear. Hence individuals will look for signals within the environment as to the expected social norms and the risk of getting caught in violation of those norms. One of the signals is the area's general appearance.
Under the broken windows theory, an ordered, clean and maintained environment sends the signal that the area is monitored, and that criminal behaviour is not tolerated.
The theory asserts that the landscape communicates to people.
A broken window transmits to criminals the message that a community displays a lack of informal social control and so is unable or unwilling to defend itself against a criminal invasion. It is not so much the actual broken window that is important, but the message the broken window sends to people. It symbolizes the community's defenselessness and vulnerability and represents the lack of cohesiveness of the people within. Neighbourhoods with a strong sense of cohesion fix broken windows and assert social responsibility on themselves, effectively giving themselves control over their space.
While the theory emphasises the built environment, it also considers human behaviour.
Under the impression that a broken window left unfixed leads to more serious problems, residents begin to change the way they see their community. In an attempt to stay safe, a cohesive community starts to fall apart, as individuals start to spend less time in communal spaces to avoid potential violent attacks by strangers. The slow deterioration of a community, as a result of broken windows, modifies the way people behave when it comes to their communal space, which, in turn, breaks down community control. As rowdy teenagers, panhandlers, addicts, and prostitutes slowly make their way into a community, it signifies that the community cannot assert informal social control, and citizens become afraid that worse things will happen. As a result, they spend less time in the streets to avoid these subjects and feel less and less connected from their community.
At times, residents tolerate 'broken windows' because they feel they belong in the community and 'know their place'. Problems, however, arise when outsiders begin to disrupt the community's cultural fabric. That is the difference between 'regulars' and 'strangers' in a community. The way that 'regulars' act represents the culture within, but strangers are 'outsiders' who do not belong. Consequently, daily activities considered 'normal' for residents now become uncomfortable, as the culture of the community carries a different feel from the way that it was once.
With regard to social geography, the broken windows theory is a way of explaining people and their interactions with space. The culture of a community can deteriorate and change over time, with the influence of unwanted people and behaviors changing the landscape. The theory can be seen as people shaping space, as the civility and attitude of the community create spaces used for specific purposes by residents. On the other hand, it can also be seen as space shaping people, with elements of the environment influencing and restricting day-to-day decision making. However, with policing efforts to remove unwanted disorderly people that put fear in the public's eyes, the argument would seem to be in favour of 'people shaping space', as public policies are enacted and help to determine how one is supposed to behave. All spaces have their own codes of conduct, and what is considered to be right and normal will vary from place to place.
The concept also takes into consideration spatial exclusion and social division, as certain people behaving in a given way are considered disruptive and therefore, unwanted. It excludes people from certain spaces because their behavior does not fit the class level of the community and its surroundings. A community has its own standards and communicates a strong message to criminals, by social control, that their neighborhood does not tolerate their behavior. If, however, a community is unable to ward off would-be criminals on their own, policing efforts help.
By removing unwanted people from the streets, the residents feel safer and have a higher regard for those that protect them. People of less civility who try to make a mark in the community are removed, according to the theory.
- excerpt from Broken_windows_theory