Facade program changes attitude

The city of Tiffin’s facade enhancement program — which provides a 50-percent match of funds up to $10,000 for eligible exterior improvements on residential and commercial structures within the downtown historic district — seemed unlikely when in began in 2014.

After all, spending public funds on private property doesn’t sound like something a Republican mayor would propose. Or like something a conservative editorial board would appreciate.

But over the years, the impact — and underlying logic — of the effort have become obvious. Look at it as a corollary to the broken windows theory of policing.

The broken windows theory was christened in an article titled “Broken Windows” written by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling that appeared The Atlantic Monthly 35 years ago.

In the article, Kelling and Wilson suggested signs decay in a neighborhood — such as broken windows, graffiti, litter — can be a sign the neighborhood is uncared for. They posited that if police departments, city services and residents dealt with vandalism, trash, loitering and petty crimes, perhaps the bigger crimes would be averted.

“Once you begin to deal with the small problems in neighborhoods, you begin to empower those neighborhoods,” Kelling said later. “People claim their public spaces, and the store owners extend their concerns to what happened on the streets. Communities get strengthened once order is restored or maintained, and it is that dynamic that helps to prevent crime.”

In other words, appearance influences attitude.

That’s been the cumulative impact of the facade enhancement program. Look around downtown; it’s a vibrant place. There are buildings with public faces in need of a makeover, but the overall effect is of a community that’s thriving.

Of course, the broken window theory requires more than policing to make it work. It takes community buy-in to restore a sense of order to a neighborhood.

That’s what Tiffin has — more occupants behind those facades reinforce a revitalized attitude in the downtown commercial district. With the new look came a new outlook.

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