Broken Window

Everyday my bus passes by a slowly crumbling house on 11th Street, between S and R. An interesting house architecturally, it’s from a different era than the others surrounding it. That particular block is a melange of Federal houses, odd 1960’s duplexes, and a few hybrids being rebuilt from a fire that claimed parts of several houses a few years back. The house is a dirty shade of white, with a peaked dormer and an appearance vaguely Victorian by way of the Munsters. As houses in the block are rapidly bought and sold and fixed up, it remains resolutely untouched, seemingly abandoned. I’ve watched it progress from just empty-looking to the day a second floor window was broken. At first it was a small break, the size of a rock, then half the pane, then the entire window.

There’s a famous and much debated theory of criminology called the “Broken Window Theory,” which in a nutshell supposes that small evidences of neglect lead to larger crimes in a neighborhood. So I began to wonder as I watched the window pane disintegrate over a few weeks whether or not this would lead to more vandalism. And indeed earlier this week I noticed a scrawling graffitti tag on the first floor window.

It’s a shame. I have no idea what the background of the house is, whether it’s truly occupied or not, though I suspect not. The house’s neglect in the middle of so much renovation is a reminder that our much vaunted economic boom doesn’t reach everyone. Today’s bus ride greeted me with the sight of the upstairs window completely busted out, but a support beam crammed in. From another window I could see the back of the house has gaps. Perhaps someone is starting to work on it. Perhaps it isn’t entirely lost.

After all, for years I watched as the beautiful mansion of #1 and #2 Logan Circle fell further into neglect, only to see it restored to its former glory (well, if cutting it into condos can really replicate the glory of President Garfield’s son’s two-house original design).

So I can only hope for the house on 11th Street that your broken window was a wake-up call from the sleep of neglect, not a sign of more crimes to come.

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