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Broken Windows In The City Of Glass

Kim Kapri

By only

Friday September 15, 2006

One woman’s vision

A young friend of ours was biking through the Strathcona bike route last week when a frantic male voice yelled out to her: “Hey you! Stop!” Ignoring Mr. Potential Rapist, our friend kept on riding.
That’s when a Vancouver Police Cruiser roared past her, cut her off, and forced her off her bike by driving her into a parked car.
Two cops jumped out screaming, “You’re under arrest!”

“What the hell? Why? What for?” our friend asked.

“For failing to come to a complete stop and fleeing the scene,” said the cop.

“This is because of Kim Capri, isn’t it?” our friend said.

“Broken Windows,” admitted the cop,

Apparently caught out by the Kim Capri reference, the cop merely gave our friend a $109 ticket but didn’t arrest her.

Kim Capri, one of the brand new City Councilors, is a proponent of the Broken Windows theory as argued in the book Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities by criminologists George L. Kelling and Catherine Coles. It’s a law and order argument whose title asserts that if you leave a window broken, the wall will become vandalised, and subsequently attracting squatters who will live there for nine months until they have their babies that will further contribute to the problem. However, if you fix the window, other people will see this and fix their own windows and walls, prosperity will ensue and squatters will sniff out a broken window in a different town.

It’s a great theory for city councilors and cops because it creates lots of non-threatening incidents: harassing jaywalkers, street kids, helmetless bikers and the likes in the bad part of town but it doesn’t require the solving of any root problems–that’s for the invisible hand of the Broken Window to do. Dealing with root problems are expensive and require soul-searching and souls are in short supply at City Council these days.

The idea that arresting jaywalkers on Hastings will ultimately, Rube Goldberg-like, make up for the utter lack of services for mentally disturbed people, the humiliation towards First Nations people, and the crushing poverty that inhabit the Downtown Eastside is ridiculous. In fact, if the rumoured increase in welfare to $800 is true, putting a little bit of cash in people’s hands will positively transform the DTES far more than the baton. The salaries of 100 yet-to-be-hired cops easily gives 2000 people on welfare a $300 per month raise.

Weirdly though, the staff at City Hall and our condo developing overlords loathe Broken Windows. They read the competing book The Rise of the Creative Class by social theorist Richard Florida.

Florida’s theory is so much nicer–for developers and yuppies. It states that cities that have bike paths, eclectic arts scenes, outdoor cafes, and tolerance to the marginalized attract a better sort of folk, the kind of folk who like bike paths, eclectic arts scenes, outdoor cafes, and tolerance to the marginalized. Florida believes they tend to be better educated, have better jobs, and ultimately better incomes to buy the narrow, shimmering tower dream.

Broken Windows people want the Whitecaps stadium. The Creative Class doesn’t care. The Creative Class wants festivals in parks. Broken Windows people want everything shifted to entertainment ghettos like Granville Street or the new High Art district around the Queen E. where exuberance can be contained. The Creative Class just wants to be able to drink until 4am. Actually, everyone wants that.

Where will these two worlds collide? Cops descending on Yaletown or Kitsilano or Coal Harbour to induce people to shape up will result in a quick, discreet phone call to City Hall for an order to back off. Eventually only the Downtown Eastside will be the beneficiaries of enforced civility. If that means constant police harassment and chronic underfunding of social services, well, what else is new?

The Rise of the Creative Class & Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities are just two of the many magical worlds you can find at your local library. Reading is fundamental.