Birmingham and a broken window

Free cash withdrawals?! Yeah right.

The Saturday was spent getting acquinted with Birmingham. The weather was on our side and we walked around for some 4-5 hours. The city is nice, much nicer then it seemed to be when we were here in July for the interviews. Back then we drove in to the city from east through the industrial area and the first impression was kind of…bleak. But it has changed. Walking around in the sunshine in the centre of the Birmingham, the impression was much better. The Birmingham Science Park next to the Aston University campus is also a very nice and the overall picture of the city is very positive.

As I said, the weather was nice so we decided to walk back to our home in suburb called Moseley. Just as we departed the city centre, we ended up in some really dodgy neighbourhood. Abandoned houses with broken windows, a smashed car window, lot of graffiti and some homeless or at least very tired people sleeping on the pavement. But the oddest thing about that neighbourhood was the amount of garbage on the street. There was so much garbage that is was pretty sure that it was not produced in a day or not even in a week. The simple conclusion I made was that the authorities do not bother to have this part of town cleaned on regular basis. And this is rather thoughtless, I would say.

A very tired person.

Rudy Giuliani, the previous mayor of New York City, who managed to turn the city from one of the most criminal cities into one of the safest (crime rates dropped some 70% during his tenure) describes in his autobiography how he used to fight crime starting from the very small things, such as graffiti and illegal street vendors. Each morning, the city police would erase all the graffiti from the subway and streets and each night it would appear again. Of course, removing the graffiti is much more expensive and time-consuming than applying it at the first place so the illegal artists definitely had an advantage over police. But when they saw that the graffiti was indeed erased each single morning, they would finally give up. The rest of the “small crimes” recieved similar treatment. Giuliani’s bet was that small crime causes bigger crime, something called as “broken windows theory”.

A drug deal in progress

Broken windows theory explains that when there is a house with one broken window and in a couple of days nobody repairs it, soon there will be couple of broken windows on that house. This window essentially communicates that there is no-one in charge, thus it feels “okay” to smash another one, and then the rest, and then maybe steal the radio from that car standing in front of that house. And then maybe set that house on fire. This phenomenon is also described in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller The Tipping Point and several other influential books.

Sure enough, the number of homicides dropped more than threefold (from over a 2000/year to less than 600/year) after Giuliani took over. The amount of garbage on some streets in Birmingham might give some hints on how to reduce the possibility of future riots happening in Birmingham. It seems to me that cleaning these streets would be an inexpensive way of not only making the city aesthetically more appealing, but also safer.


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