Monday, February 13, 2012

broken windows theory and remodeling: wrapping a mid-century

Here is the Valentine's card I am giving Albert tomorrow. 

I have long subscribed to the “Broken Windows Theory” of house cleaning and maintenance.  If I let up for one second about a dirty milk glass on the counter, an open box of crackers, or a jacket on the floor, it will lead to even more problems like an uncapped toothpaste tube, trash cans not brought in, poor grades, no college, and a bad job.

The Broken Windows theory was originally made famous in an Atlantic Monthly article published in 1982, that discussed how broken windows and graffiti are small signs which signal to society that more bad actions are okay. These increasing bad actions signal more trouble and so on and so on in a downward spiral.

An article on describes the Broken Windows Theory well,  “What's fascinating to me is that the mere perception of disorder-- even with seemingly irrelevant petty crimes like graffiti or minor vandalism -- precipitates a negative feedback loop that can result in total disorder."

Quoting from the original Atlantic Monthly article, “We suggest that "untended" behavior also leads to the breakdown of community controls ... 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.”

All my years of fastidious housekeeping have not saved me from the wrack and ruin, not bought about from the construction, but from the fact that I have simply been overpowered by chaos. There are jackets and shoes strewn about the family room with nowhere to really put them, pajamas and underwear in the office, and the guest bedroom has clothes on every available surface. Counters and tables are stacked with mail and magazines. Naked boys and men are walking around the house. Simply put: Broken Windows.

Fish tank, bins of stuff and dirty clothes in living room compares poorly written software code, to broken windows, with one bad piece of code leading to another and ultimately resulting in a big coding spaghetti mess. Their summary comment is also apropos for remodeling, “... if you're not on top of the details, the perception is that things are out of control, and it's only a matter of time before your project spins out of control.”

Last week a neighbor complained about the porta-potty in the driveway and we had to move it to behind the gate (HOA rules say for projects over a month, portable toilets need to be behind a construction fence). I understand. I am not annoyed. The neighbors are only worried about "Broken Windows."

Tulips & cookies left for neighbors as thank you for putting up with  "Broken Windows;"
Valentine's cookies made by my friend for her charity

The remodel is going well, in spite of the anarchy inside the house. The exterior walls are wrapped in Tyvek and chickenwire. All walls are ready for stucco.


The interior is covered in fluffy pillows of insulation and the new bathrooms look like rooms. One of the great pleasures of a mid-century modern remodel is all the walls to be remodeled are required to be brought up to code and insulated.
Insulation master bath
Insulation Alex's bath
Insulation guest bath with big pretty window
In Southern California, most unfortunately, mid-century modern homes were very "economically" built without insulation. Our insulated office from a remodel 10+ years ago is the warmest room in the house, and it isn't heated. That tells you something. 

Postscript: James Q. Wilson, the Pioneer in "broken windows policing," died at the age of 80, about one month after this was published. 

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