American Sociological Association

Broken Windows as Growth Machines: Who Benefits from Urban Disorder and Crime?

Using interview data from two groups in the Woodlawn neighborhood on Chicago's South Side—mothers of young children and neighborhood merchants—this paper suggests a way of connecting two dominant ways of conceiving of physical disorder in urban spaces, one of which focuses on physical disorder as a root of social disorder and another that focuses on physical disorder as an economic prerequisite for gentrification. Specifically, elites can deploy signs of disorder in moral and reputational terms in the urban political arena to gain economic advantages for themselves. While people in the neighborhood might suffer serious consequences because of their neighborhood's bad reputation and the attendant ecological contamination, elites can exploit it. This new paradigm, in which broken windows enter the service of the growth machine, is called the opportunistic disorder paradigm.


Jeffrey Nathaniel Parker





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