Broken Windows theory (Part I)

Broken windows/dirty windows

The “Broken Windows” theory (James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in the Atlantic Monthly, March 1982) says that:

… if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken.

Lack of attention to the “broken windows” sends the signal that no one cares.

While Wilson and Kelling wrote in the context of crime, order and policing, let’s talk specifically about order–or the sense of it.

Would you rather shop, locate your business, invest your money, or engage in any positive activity, in a well-kept and orderly environment or one that’s dirty, dingy and/or dilapidated? I’m afraid the latter is presently the first impression of Milwaukee Avenue north of Logan Square proper. Last weekend I saw an episode of WTTW’s restaurant review show “Check, Please!,” that featured Friendship Chinese Restaurant, a raved about Logan Square place on Milwaukee Avenue just north of Diversey Avenue (technically it’s in the Avondale community). Because of his first impression of Milwaukee Avenue, one of the average Joe reviewers went in expecting Friendship Chinese to be a dive (it’s not, though I must admit I’ve never been there).

That doesn’t bode well for investment in this retail corridor. Right or wrong, if people perceive an area as run down, they don’t feel comfortable there. They don’t see the potential for their business to survive; they hesitate to enter a store; they’re not even comfortable walking the streets.

I’m not talking about sanitizing the city to Disney World-like standards. There’s a draw to an urban edginess that will distinguish Milwaukee Avenue from the experience of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile or suburban lifestyle centers. But cleaning windows, dusting displays and making small repairs send a signal that someone cares and can make people feel safe and comfortable enough to use the street more often.


“Broken Windows” – Milwaukee Ave.

The “broken windows” don’t necessarily have to be “windows” of course. This vacant storefront on Milwaukee Avenue (above) epitomizes run down. Several light bulbs on the sign need to be replaced (1), the metal security gate (unused and thus altogether unnecessary) is wrenched from its track with pieces dangerously protruding (2), and the brick facing needs repair (3). The run down theme continues inside where ceiling tiles need to be replaced (4).

Dirty Windows - Milwaukee Ave.

Dirty Windows – Milwaukee Ave.

The “broken windows” don’t have to be literally “broken” either. This photo was taken in March in the midst of a long, snowy, Chicago winter, but even now, two and a half months later during Chicago’s flower planting season, the windows still need a good cleaning. This is not an isolated example. The white specks you see are residue from the spray of winter salting and snow plowing (1). One business has moved north a few blocks, but left behind a hurried, hand-written sign complete with scribbled over/scratched out spelling mistakes and errors (2), signaling that no one cares.

The “glue” or a few small changes that could help glue this place back together:

keep light fixtures and bulbs replaced and in good working order;

lose the security gates;

replace the brick facing or dab on a bit of brick colored paint until you can get to it;

replace the ceiling tiles (you know you’re going to have to eventually anyway–why not make it look nice right now?)

wash the windows and keep them clean;

if you must post a hand-written sign, write it with care.

2007 Logan Square Farmers Market

Scene in Logan Square:

Logan Square Farmers Market opens its 2008 season on Sunday, June 1, 10:00 a.m., and continues Sundays through October.

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