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OWENS: Can maintaining facilities help lower crime?

When I talk about the perks of working in hospitality and tourism, I never miss the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite ones: a beautiful working environment.

Think about it, hotels, restaurants, retail spaces, and even attractions have some of the most beautifully designed facilities in Savannah. Mansion on Forsyth Park, The Kehoe House, Marshall House are stunning. The Telfair Academy is surrounded with breath-taking art inside and out. And, the newly designed Atlantic restaurant and The Grey are both gorgeous properties to name a few.

In hospitality and tourism, business owners and managers know that you live and you die by the environment that’s created in lobbies, restaurants, bars, and rooms. It’s the first impression. It’s the personality of the place. And, it’s often and indicator of how a business is managed.

There is great effort in maintaining those facilities. There are teams of engineers, housekeepers, and contractors who keep the facilities looking perfect.

After my years of working in hotels, I can’t walk into a place without looking at the cleanliness of kick plates or looking for dust in the corners — dirty baseboards and floors are my personal pet peeves. It’s all things you check on a regular basis to keep those working environments pristine.

The idea of keeping facilities looking good extends beyond the aesthetics; it’s also a measure of safety.

We spend a lot of time in Savannah talking about crime. Certainly, there is not one program or fix that will magically make crime go away.

So, we, as a community, can help in ways that are in our control.

In criminology, there is an idea often called the Broken Window Theory, outlined by two professors in the 1980s in The Atlantic. The authors contend that if you maintain order, particularly with your facilities, that it increases the quality of life as well as decreases the opportunity for crime.

The theory goes like this: if a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired, soon the other windows will also be broken — in nice neighborhoods and in rundown neighborhoods. This signals that petty crime is not enforced in this are — that the owner is absent or doesn’t care and that it’s okay to break more windows or commit more petty crimes because no one is watching.

The authors go on to say that petty crimes lead to more serious crimes and even paint a bleak picture of where one broken window can lead, “We suggest that ‘untended’ behavior also leads to the breakdown of community controls. A stable neighborhood of families who care for their homes, mind each other’s children, and confidently frown on unwanted intruders can change, in a few years or even a few months, to an inhospitable and frightening jungle. 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. Pedestrians are approached by panhandlers.”

Nobody in Savannah wants to live like this. And, if it starts with a broken window, then we can do something about this.

We can offer a quick repair on items broken or misplaced. We can attend to our own homes and help with our neighbors’ homes. We can work together to bring about change.

I applaud the City of Savannah’s initiatives for addressing blight where they can, not only for our quality of life but to deter crime. I also applaud those neighbors who are constantly trying to improving the homes and buildings in their area.

For me in tourism, the Broken Window Theory makes sense. I get that if I’m going to attract guests to my establishment, I’ve got to have nice facilities. And, if I’m going to attract the kind of behavior I want to see in my neighborhood, it’s up to me to fix the broken windows.

Michael Owens is president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council, the largest non-profit trade organization that supports and represents the tourism community. Contact Owens at michael@tourismleadershipcouncil.com or by calling 912-232-1223.

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