In 1895, New Zealand entomologist named George Hudson put a formal proposal forward to the Wellington Philosophical Society that would make it easier for him to collect insects throughout the year.
The author proposed to alter the time of the clock at the equinoxes so as to bring the working-hours of the day within the period of daylight, and by utilising the early morning, so reduce the excessive use of artificial light which at present prevails.
It wasn’t met with open arms.
the mere calling the hours different would not make any difference in the time. It was out of the question to think of altering a system that had been in use for thousands of years, and found by experience to be the best. The paper was not practical.
said one commentator.
it would be a good thing if the plan could be applied to the young people,
It never got anywhere. Well, not then, at least.
The idea of a Daylight Savings Time would eventually be put into practice in April 1916 in Germany and Austria-Hungary, after the economic - rather than entomological - benefits became apparent.
Within a year, the rest of Europe fell.The US half-heartedly adopted Daylight Savings Time in 1918, only really buying into the idea in the 1970s - coincidentally after social scientists had become interested in the effect of the amount of light on public safety.
The debate about the impact of light on crime had been struggling for a long time because it was practically impossible to control for just light on anti-social behaviour. There were too many other factors to consider - the economy, demographics, drug abuse. There had never really any consistent, empirically sound research, just hunches that could be thrown into the mix when Daylight Savings was up for debate. Which it was quite a lot.
But then in 2007, there came one of those delightful opportunities that occasionally crop up in research.
This week on the N of Us, we’re wandering around the corridors of social psychology’s spiritual sister - Environmental Psychology - to discover the hidden influences that are baked into the physical world.
In 2007, the US Congress shifted the start of its Daylight Savings Time to the second Sunday in March from the first Sunday in April. It was a political decision that had nothing to do with crime; the time shift was enacted in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 as a way of decreasing energy consumption. For economists Jennifer Doleac and Nicholas Sanders, researchers from the University of Virginia and William and Mary College, it provided a perfect opportunity to test the impact of light on crime.
We use DST as a shock to the probability of getting caught, conditional on committing a crime, and a unique opportunity to investigate the effect of ambient light on criminal behavior. DST varies the amount of ambient light in three ways: (1) in the spring of each year, the sun sets an hour later one day than it did the day before; (2) in the fall of each year, the sun sets an hour earlier one day than it did the day before; and (3) for a three-week period in the spring (a one-week period in the fall), the sun sets an hour later during the same period in 2007 and 2008 than it did in 2005 and 2006.
In addition to all the other confounding factors, it’s difficult to isolate any variation in crime from time-of-year effects: people might commit more crime in the winter than in the summer. So as an additional source of variation, Doleac and Sanders exploited the Daylight Savings Time start and end shift to create a controlled study of the impact of light on crime. What they found confirmed decades of speculation.
Our preferred specification, a regression discontinuity design, shows robbery rates decrease by an average of 51% during the hour of sunset following the shift to DST in the spring. We also find large drops in cases of reported murder (48%) and rape (56%). Effects are largest during the hour of sunset prior to DST (i.e., the hour which was in darkness before but, post-DST, is now light), suggesting changes are due to ambient light rather than other factors such as increased police presence, and we find no changes in crimes where ambient light is unlikely to be a factor.
We know that our social environment has a lot of influence on what we think and what we do - that, after all, is what N of Us is about. But Doleac and Sanders’ research demonstrated that there’s also a link between our behaviour and features in our physical environment.
And one of the most famous - and controversial - theories about the effect of our built environment on incidence of crime comes from a very simple conceit: tackle the little things and the big things will go away.
Just as physicians now recognize the importance of fostering health rather than simply treating illness, so the police—and the rest of us—ought to recognize the importance of maintaining, intact, communities without broken windows.
There had been forerunners to James Wilson’s and George Kelling’s Broken Windows Theory, like Nathan Glazer’s Public Interest article, “On Subway Graffiti in New York”, published three years earlier in 1979. But Kelling’ & Wilson’s catchy description of dealing with visible minor disorder to reduce more pervasive crime became a trendy part of city public policy in the 1990s after New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani adopted the approach to tackle criminal activity in the city that never sleeps (regardless of Daylight Savings Time).
at the community level, disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence. Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.
The theory works at both the personal and the collective levels.
We suggest that "untended" behavior also leads to the breakdown of community controls. A stable neighborhood of families who care for their homes, mind each other's children, and confidently frown on unwanted intruders can change, in a few years or even a few months, to an inhospitable and frightening jungle. A piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up, a window is smashed. Adults stop scolding rowdy children; the children, emboldened, become more rowdy. Families move out, unattached adults move in. Teenagers gather in front of the corner store. The merchant asks them to move; they refuse. Fights occur. Litter accumulates. People start drinking in front of the grocery; in time, an inebriate slumps to the sidewalk and is allowed to sleep it off. Pedestrians are approached by panhandlers.
At this point it is not inevitable that serious crime will flourish or violent attacks on strangers will occur. But many residents will think that crime, especially violent crime, is on the rise, and they will modify their behavior accordingly.
A dramatic decline, described there in Wilson & Kelling’s article Broken Windows.
The theory is not without criticism. For one thing, like the Daylight Savings research, it’s difficult to extract the effect of just a broken window on urban decay or, indeed - a fixed window on urban regeneration. There are, again, other factors that may play a role - like demographics or general social trends. And the greatest criticism of all is that the story of its greatest success - New York City - was anecdotal and only based on correlations. Correlation, as we all know, is not causation.
I still to this day do not know if improving order will or will not reduce crime… people do not understand that this was a speculation.
...but speculation that is increasingly substantive. That was James Wilson, writing in 2006.
Most criticism dates from before 2008. That year, Dr Kees Kiezer at the University of Groningen published the results of his compelling experiments that looked at the rate of acts of antisocial behaviour amongst the general public in places where local rules were flaunted, and when they were not.
In six experiments in the Netherlands, Keizer observed and compared the behaviour of people under artificial conditions of order and disorder. Invariably, he found that disorderly conditions encouraged further and more serious levels of disorderly behaviour. In one experiment, for example, Keizer placed an envelope conspicuously containing five euros in a mailbox. When the mailbox was clean, 13 percent of people who passed it stole the money; when it was covered with graffiti, 27 percent took it.
In his other experiments, he found that littering and theft increased in the presence of graffiti in a “No Graffiti” zone or when people could see other small rebellions of public order.
And even more evidence for Broken Windows came forward that same year; Harvard researcher Anthony Braga and his colleagues published their results, which described a decrease in crime in the areas of Lowell, Massachusetts where local police were implementing Broken Windows-style tactics and no change in the areas where they weren’t. Ethically dubious, perhaps, but evidence nonetheless.
In 2009, George Keller said,
While these studies do not settle, once and for all, the question of the relationship between disorder and serious crime, they do provide a substantial body of experimental evidence that fixing broken windows ought to be an integral part of any community’s response to crime. In fact, it’s hard to think of a policy option for fixing a major social problem that is as strongly supported—by both experience and solid research—as is Broken Windows.”
At the heart of the psychological experience of Broken Windows is what people believe about the social norms of the environment: if it’s OK to live in a place with a broken window, a burned out car, or even a bike chained to a railing with a notice prominently displaying a “don’t chain your bike here” sign, then our illogical logic concludes that other infractions will probably also be overlooked. Why? Because obviously no one cares.
This is exactly why the local resident’s association on my street is in a battle with the council over who owns the empty lot across the street: it’s covered in rubbish. And the more rubbish there is, the more rubbish it begets, and the more we feel like we live in a slum. I don’t want to live in a slum. I might get mugged. I don’t want to get mugged.
See? That’s what happens.
Allow me to get a conceptual for a moment. What happens when communities fall to broken windows is that the homes transform into “houses”, and personal places become public “spaces”.
What exactly do I mean by house and home, or space and place?
Well, to answer that, we have to trawl the well-kept and nicely-manicured annals of environmental psychology research, to one of the discipline’s founding fathers, Harold Proshansky.
I’m going to fess up here: I have a thing for Proshansky. We first met - and by “met”, I mean, I was first assigned an article by him; he’d already departed from this earth by then - when I accidentally stumbled into an EP module during my Social Psychology masters degree. Having been introduced, I will now throw down a bit of Proshansky when anything vaguely related comes up in conversation. I’ve been known to send strangers I met in a pub links to his work, to force design and architecture friends to look him up, to give his name to a lady I met in a doctor’s waiting room. I am liberal with his legacy. He is the father of the distinction between these concepts. And beneath them all is a single conceit: place identity.
First, we have to understand a few things about the self in relation to others.
the development of self-identity is not restricted to making distinctions between oneself and significant others, but extends with no less importance to objects and things, and the very spaces and places in which they are found. If the child learns 'who he is' by virtue of his relationship with those who satisfy his needs by taking care of him, then it follows that contributing to that same self-knowledge are the toys, clothes, rooms, and whole array of physical things and settings that also satisfy and support his existence. There is not only the distinction between himself and 'my mommy', but also the difference between himself and 'my room'.
So, not just other people, but other things. And this is where place-identity arises: the separation between the self and the space in which one occupies.
The room is different and distinct from what he is, but by belonging to him and satisfying him it serves to continually define his own bodily experiences and consciousness as a separate and distinct individual. In effect, the subjective sense of self is defined and expressed not simply by one's relationship to other people, but also by one's relationships to the various physical settings that define and structure day-to-day life.
But this isn’t just about children developing a sense of who they are. Adults experience place identity too.
[Place-identity] is a sub-structure of the self-identity of the person consisting of, broadly conceived, cognitions about the physical world in which the individual lives. These cognitions represent memories, ideas, feelings, attitudes, values, preferences, meanings, and conceptions of behavior and experience which relate to the variety and complexity of physical settings that define the day-to-day existence of every human being.
Places, says Proshansky, are as important as people in the development of our belief in who we are. These vary according to all kinds of things that we’ve experienced in our personal ‘environmental past’ -
the potpourri of memories, conceptions, interpretations, ideas, and related feelings about specific physical settings as well as types of settings
- and they vary according to our age, culture, class, personality and other things that describe us, as well as what other people say about what’s right and wrong about a physical environment or object.
So why is this important? Because place-identity leads to a sense of belonging or purpose that gives meaning to life. Having a “home” - considered to be the place of greatest significance to our lives because it’s the centre of our most important activities - helps maintain emotional well-being. A “house” does not. A “house” is the building. A “home” is the meaning.
Back to those broken windows.
If place-identity represents physical setting cognitions that serve to define, maintain, and protect the self-identity of a person, then it follows that some of these cognitions may function directly as anxiety and defense mechanisms. They may signal threat or danger in physical settings or they may represent response tendencies that defend or protect the person against these dangers.
So broken windows are learned signals that an area may threaten the well-being of the person. It’s an indication that the self-identity of the people who occupy it don’t think much of themselves.
That’s when something has already gone wrong. But at the other end of the spectrum are the people trying to build spaces that foster a positive place identity within their architecture.
Great public spaces are where celebrations are held, social and economic exchanges take place, friends run into each other, and cultures mix. They are the “front porches” of our public institutions – libraries, field houses, neighbourhood schools – where we interact with each other and government. When the spaces work well, they serve as a stage for our public lives.
This comes from the Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit staffed by environmental psychologists, architects, geographers and designers. Their words describe the characteristics of a ‘third place’ - theorist Ray Oldenberg’s description of somewhere that’s important in a person’s life that isn’t home or work.
The challenge is to create a space that becomes a place. And for their part, the PPS as they’re informally known, believe that there are four key qualities to successful public spaces: they’re accessible, people are engaged in activities there; the space is comfortable and has a good image; and finally, it is a sociable place: one where people meet each other and take people when they come to visit.
It certainly shouldn’t have broken windows.
It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people - what is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.
That was William H Whyte, author of The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.
Thanks to this glut of person-hostile spaces, it should be possible to build the perfect place, right?
Well, let’s take one example. A simple design feature.
We know that putting seating areas in a space will encourage people to gather So you put benches in. Already you’re bumping up against a problem.
In the Parc de la Villette in Paris, they did this, but they put their seats facing in different directions, all a little bit too far apart. People can gather, but they’re not able to be sociable.
In a park in Japan, the designers chose benches as their seating arrangements. A great way to get groups together. But they didn’t consider how hot they’d get in summer, and how cold they’d get in winter.
And of course, how do you create a space that encourages the right kind of people - not the ones who’ll muck up the place, but the ones who’ll socialise cleanly, politely and not overstay their welcome?
You put spikes on surfaces to discourage people from sleeping on them. Or you construct benches so that the seat slopes at an angle, forcing people to support their weight with their feet. Or - in extreme cases like in Yantai Park in Shandong, China, you implement a pay-per-minute system that introduces a spike to your bum when time’s up. None of these innovations encourage loitering, but they don’t encourage gathering either.
Windows enable you to look out on the city, but it takes a broken window to look in on our human nature.
This has been the N of Us. I’m Aleks Krotoski. Thanks to Ben Hammersley for editorial and voice support, and to Hannah Whittingham for research. Check out more on broken windows theory, why some architecture makes us feel sexy, more great examples of hostile architecture from PPS, the drama behind Daylight Savings, and my love affair with Harold Proshansky’s mind at thenofus.com
Next episode, we’ll teach you the fine art of persuasion.