08/06/04 — Cleaning up: Broken-window theory might be at work

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Cleaning up: Broken-window theory might be at work

Goldsboro and Wayne County officials have said increased efforts would be directed at making us a cleaner city and county. There could be a crackdown on litterers — those who trash our highways and vacant or unattended areas.

The results could be rewarding beyond the dreams of city and county officials. But first, the unsightly areas must be cleaned up.

Scientific research has proven this, a point made earlier this year by Edwin J. Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, in a commencement address at Hillsdale College. Dr. Feulner noted that some 35 years ago, a Stanford University psychologist deliberately abandoned a car in a rough neighborhood in the Bronx, and another in an upscale neighborhood in Palo Alto, Calif.

License plates were removed and the hoods were left raised.

Within hours, the car in the Bronx had been stripped, smashed and trashed by hoodlums. But day after day, the car in Palo Alto was untouched.

Finally, the psychologist walked up to the car with a sledgehammer, knocked some dents in it and left the hammer there. Thereafter, passersby followed suit — picking up the hammer and taking their turns until that car also was trashed.

Many of these were the same people who had been walking past the car during the previous days!

That experiment supports the “broken window” theory. If a window pane in a building is broken and not replaced, it won’t be long before all the other windows are smashed by rock-throwing passersby.

Researchers explain that the first broken pane, left unrepaired, sends a signal that it doesn’t hurt anything to break another window and the attitude of destruction accelerates.

We have seen this theory played out time and again in our county. Someone throws a bag of trash onto the shoulder of a rural road. Within days, the area is turned into a dump, the original bag joined by more containers, mattresses, stoves, washing machines, etc.

A classic example was at the boating access area on Bill Lane Boulevard. Within a matter of weeks after the first trash was thrown there, it had become an unrestricted county dump. Wildlife technicians doing routine maintenance cleaned it up. Perhaps because of the good example the area then presented, and some public outrage raised by Mount Olive Tribune columnist William Holloman and this newspaper, the area has remained spotless ever since.

Published in Editorials on August 6, 2004 12:16 PM