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The Broken Window Theory

Updated: Dec 29, 2021

When the end of July rolls around and off-campus apartment leases are up, Temple University students move in and out of them. For those of you that moved in or out this summer, you may have noticed Temple set up large dumpsters on corners surrounding blocks of campus to help minimize the spread of furniture, clothes, and other trash that overflows onto the streets amid the moving process. Since it is unrealistic for Temple to put dumpsters outside of all the apartments, students find it more convenient for themselves to throw what they no longer want or need onto the streets rather than walk or drive it over to the nearest dumpster. Most students no longer believe the trash is their problem, but rather the city's problem.

Many Temple students have heard the spiel time and time again; the North Philadelphia neighborhood is a community on its own. It has importance separate from being near a college. As you come here to study for a short four years, and usually not even the twelve months out of the year, you should respect this community that you are entering into. Throwing loud parties, allowing trash to take over the streets and sidewalks, and so forth is not respecting the community the way it deserves to be. Families grow up here and spend their summers here. Most Temple students are only a part of the community for a fraction of that.

In the 1960s, psychologist Philip Zimbardo developed a theory he coined the “broken window theory." Zimbardo’s study included placing two abandoned cars, one in an affluent neighborhood and the other in a crime-ridden and poor one. The car hoods were up, license plates stripped, and, only in the wealthier area, was the window smashed. Both cars were very quickly vandalized and dismantled for parts. Symbols of disorder, such as broken windows or graffiti, convey that the area is uncared for.

A prime example of this theory is clearly displayed in the photo above. While this may not be an example of furniture out in the open on sidewalks like you typically see, it is still very visible to anyone passing by. This was located on North 18th and Monument Street. It hits all of the points Zimbardo makes. You can see this abandoned couch, outdoor lounge chair, graffiti, and trash littered. All of it adds to the idea of “uncared for”.

North Philadelphia and Temple’s surrounding area has historically been crime-ridden and less affluent than other parts of Philadelphia. Part of this issue is that Temple students contribute decay to the neighborhood without actually having the burden of claiming it as their own. North Philadelphia is not their permanent home, but they increase the severity of the broken window theory and then leave for the summer without a second thought.

Things like the broken couch you did not want or last night's beer littered on the sidewalk will let any passerby inherently think in terms of the broken window theory; the neighborhood is uncared for.

It is crucial for you, as a Temple student, to do your part for the community. Especially on days like a move-in or move-out day. Try selling that furniture on Facebook Marketplace, or your unwanted clothing to local consignment shops or on second-hand sites such as Depop. And more importantly, download the app Philly 311.

Philly 311 is the City of Philadelphia’s non-emergency contact center with a free app that allows citizens to submit service requests to the local government. Requests can be anything from potholes to noise complaints. But, more importantly, you can submit a request for excess trash, like what you may have seen on move-out/move-in day. TU-AMA's Social Impact committee works to do monthly block clean-ups in North Philadelphia, surrounding Temple's campus. This app is vital since monthly block clean-ups are barely enough to scratch the surface of the trash that accumulates here in the community.

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