thoughts on criminology #2

I have not troubled myself to re-read my blog posting on criminology, but I have that nagging feeling, that it is not quite right.

I suppose that I should change my perspective. Crime is not an issue that can usefully be understood on a personal/individual basis.

What we need to do is to create social environments in which people can prosper. Not everyone will do well, but there should be the capacity there for people to do well. It is easy enough to look at social environments that seem to work well, or point to ones that do not work well.

An underlying problem is that, in science your first instinct is to lock down all the variables, and then just work with one, and see how it impacts on your system. Within a social environment, you cannot lock down the membership. On the one hand you are working with free individuals, they are free to leave when they want to. If someone has done well for themselves, and they want to leave your area, then you cannot forbid this. On the other hand, if people are coming into the area, similarly you have little scope to vet them either.

However, although you are dealing with different individuals, you might well have a steady state, with the population staying within certain broad definitional parameters. By making positive changes, would it be possible to encourage the population towards a different equilibrium. More people staying, different people coming.

Is the key to simply create attractive places to live, that then become so popular that not just anyone can get in. Is exclusivity the answer?

While that might work for one area, does it just do so at the expense of another area. Is this just a zero sum game, where you chuck more resource at one area, attract the mobile and choosy, beggaring another neighbourhood, that has not had the money spent on it.

Maybe the key is to create an attractive neighbourhood, but one which has not arrived there on a cost free basis. You can live in the neighbourhood but the cost of doing so is ....
volunteering and participating
being neighbourly
donating money, if you cannot donate time
keeping your garden tidy, and maintaining your house

Perhaps it is possible to extrapolate a list of activities that contribute to the local community, and those that detract from the community. That is not to say that the virtuous never do anything that detracts from the community, or that merely doing certain activities makes you an asset to the community.

Activities that contribute to the local community
using the local shop
using public transport
using local amenities, such as schools, community centres, parks
walking a dog
maintaining your house
maintaining an interest in what goes on in your street
being open and accessible
speaking to neighbours, smiling at strangers
getting involved, attending, joining, helping to run local organisations
tidying up things a bit
looking out for people
keeping an attractive front garden
getting involved in local issues
knowing the prominent people in your local community

On the flip side, there are activities that detract from the community
parking a car in the street - everyone does it, but if everyone parked three cars in the street there would be no street
untidy front garden
dropping litter
not engaging in the local community
basically the negatives of all the positives.

There are time banks, which count up all the time people put into some activities, so that you can then draw upon other people's time and expertise, there is also peer pressure where people feel compelled to behave like everyone else. I think the latter might be a more productive way of encouraging behaviour.

Stepping back, how do you encourage a community to shift from one that is not working, over to one that is. How can you achieve this sort of social engineering, is it something that government can do, can anyone do it?

Alternatively, maybe the lesson is that you need to fight hard to keep neighbourhoods working, where they are working, because once they are broken, it is near impossible to fix them again. Like the broken window, once broken, it does not easily fix.