Broken windows is the metaphor used to describe disorder within communities. These disorderly acts are, under broken windows theory, markers for more serious crime within the area.
Anybody who knows me will know I don’t view graffiti as an illegal act, for me it is expression and a part of the character of the city. Anyway, as a criminologist (I think I can say that now I’m post grad right?) I have read and encountered many different kinds of theories about different types of crime and the links between the perpetrators and the communities in which crimes are committed. Broken windows, thanks to 1990’s New York police commissioner William Bratton, is probably one of the most well known.
I’m pretty sceptical of this, certain types of crime are linked to poverty, so are certain areas, therefore the two will overlap. A house in an affluent area with a broken window will likely have it fixed, a house with a broken window may not for a number of reasons; absentee landlord, high cost for poor owner? This is not an indication that the mafia are working from the basement.
Graffiti and street art are another set of signifiers for many of a hostile crime riddled area. I accept that there is probably more of a correlation between graffiti and fear of crime, than graffiti and actual crime. This brings me to my morning in the Cordillera area of Valparaiso.
I had planned to do the same as I had done previously in Alegre and conception areas of valpo, basically just wonder around flaneur style and take pictures of interesting things. However, immediately I was warned by a well meaning Chilean lady to hold my bag to my front, don’t carry my camera etc. so I thought I would be more careful and I would be fine.
I climbed these stairs.. No mean feat!
Immediately at the top is some really good art, a little old man listening to traditional Latin music on his radio and people rushing to work. I took some pictures then headed down a side street.
At the end of the street I could see a view I wanted to capture, but before I got there I was interrupted by a very nice gentleman who told me to go back, ‘go back down’. At this point I assume it is obvious I’m a tourist and maybe I’m on private property so I apologise and head back up the Main Street. Here I take a few more snaps of graffiti crew pieces and then I’m stopped by a very concerned looking lady who stops me from her living room window. In broken English she tells me to stop, no further.. I show her my map and she says no, you can’t go there.. She acts out snatching my bag and pulls her thumb across her neck!
I saw this as my third warning and time to go. I’m adventurous but not stupid! The weather was cold and foggy, matching the tone of the day. Everything is different in a sun drenched light. The locals were fearful of crime against me, a tourist. The last lady had bars outsider her windows and doors too. The signifiers for poverty were there in this area. The roads were less well maintained, the schools smaller and exposed, houses missing without replacements. The street art here was tags and crew throw ups, not murals and easy to understand for the tourist stuff.
I don’t think I was in anymore danger there than I am anywhere else in valpo, I just think that poverty mixed with the traditional signifiers of crime, graffiti, led to the locals being fearful for me. A 30 year old woman on her own abroad. It seems the distinction between street art and graffiti here is if it is an affluent area then it’s bohemian, if it is in a deprived area then it is gang affiliated and related to more serious acts of crime. This is sad as street art and graffiti can bring communities together in Valparaiso in ways that other cities could dream of replicating.