If  a window is broken, or a wall tagged with graffiti, and it is not fixed quickly within a day or two, it is like a radio transmitter sending messages that as a neighbourhood we’re not paying attention or don’t care – it is a crack in our community.

This broken window theory is explored in detail in the book Defensible Space by Oscar Newman. As far back as 1969 the theory was tested: a vehicle was left unattended but intact on the streets of Palo Alto, California. It remained untouched for a week, until the conductor of the experiment himself smashed one of the windows. Soon after vandals quickly moved in and stripped the car. That one smashed window signalled “open season” to vandals and criminals on those streets.

The perception people have of any area significantly determines crime levels and problem behaviours in that area.

According to Wikipedia, Newman found that “the presence of police authority is not enough to maintain a safe and crime-free city. People in the community help with crime prevention. Newman proposes that people care for and protect spaces they feel invested in, arguing that an area is eventually safer if the people feel a sense of ownership and responsibility towards the area. Broken windows and vandalism are still prevalent because communities simply do not care about the damage. Regardless of how many times the windows are repaired, the community still must invest some of their time to keep it safe. Residents’ negligence of broken window-type decay signifies a lack of concern for the community. Newman says this is a clear sign that the society has accepted this disorder—allowing the unrepaired windows to display vulnerability and lack of defense.”

In Muizenberg one of the more common problems we face is graffiti – not street art which is done with the intent of the property owner! – whether it’s large scale defacing of property like the example pictured here, or small scale tagging.

MID would like to appeal to all property owners to react quickly if your property is defaced: waiting a week or two or three sends the wrong message and starts the downward spiral of neglect and vandalism. It may be a good idea to keep a tin of the right colour paint on hand for fast touch-ups – this one thing does make a difference!

Thanks to the Faircape Group for cleaning up this wall:

About MID:

The Muizenberg Improvement District [MID] is a geographic area where property owners have contracted to pay a levy to facilitate a joint effort by the City of Cape Town and the local community to ensure more effective management of public areas and to promote business confidence.

The MID supplements normal municipal services provided by the City, using its funds to deal with public safety, enhance the environment and address social issues like vagrancy and finding workable solutions for the homeless. The Muizenberg Improvement District is a legal entity established under the City’s Special Rating Areas by-law and also governed by the South African Companies Act 2008.


Chevone Petersen