The Echoes of the “Broken Window Theory” in Thunder Bay: A Tale of Two Downtowns

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Understanding the Impact of Urban Neglect Through Litter and Disorder
Uncared for May Street South - February 25th 2024

Understanding the Impact of Urban Neglect Through Litter and Disorder

THUNDER BAY – NEWS – Attending events at Fort William Gardens for the Ontario Winter Games over the past weekend was a sad commentary on how our city looks.

The downtown Fort William streets in many places are littered with lots of garbage, along with the empty shops and broken dreams.

Even the Pride Crosswalk at Donald and May Street South is a mere shadow of it’s former vibrancy.

The Pride Crosswalk at Donald and May Street South - A worn out spectacle of former vibrance
The Pride Crosswalk at Donald and May Street South – A worn out spectacle of former vibrance

Even the windows at 500 Donald Street East are splattered in bird excrement.

City Hall used to be a showcase of our city, now even removing the bird excrement seems too much? Why?
City Hall used to be a showcase of our city, now even removing the bird excrement seems too much? Why?

It is like downtown Fort William is being for the most part left as a greying elderly old appendage of its once vibrant presence and sadly awaiting an end.

Back in the day, before our community was amalgamated into Thunder Bay, the two cities were in healthy competition. Today the downtown Fort William BIA appears as if the idea of cleaning up is gone.

Remember “Don’t Be Trashy”? Certainly there is an annual clean up. Sadly however no such effort seems to have interested anyone for a long time this winter at least.

Imagine a visitor to Thunder Bay heading to City Hall from Fort William Gardens from some of the amazing Ontario Winter Games Events? Seeing the decay and litter, well what impression does that leave?

Today, sadly it is many parts of Thunder Bay that are “broken”. While there is good news in the north-side of the city – the downtown Waterfront District is for the most part kept clean. New businesses are opening up, along Red River Road, perhaps a sign of the power of a clean downtown.

The “Broken Window Theory,” a concept introduced in the early 1980s, posits that visible signs of disorder and neglect, such as a broken window left unrepaired, invites further vandalism and crime.

This theory, which played a pivotal role in reshaping New York City’s approach to urban decay, finds a contemporary parallel in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The stark contrast between the cleanliness of Downtown Port Arthur and the litter-strewn streets of Downtown Fort William offers a clear illustration of this theory in action, emphasizing the importance of maintaining our urban environments to foster safer, more vibrant communities.

Thunder Bay just saw at the Ontario Winter Games the power of our city in its volunteers? Perhaps it is time for that kind of effort in keeping our city cleaner needs to have a start?

A Contrast in Cleanliness

Downtown Port Arthur, with its relatively pristine streets, stands as a testament to the positive effects of collective effort and civic pride in urban upkeep. In contrast, Downtown Fort William, characterized by litter and neglect, not only detracts from the area’s aesthetic appeal but potentially exacerbates social issues, echoing the “Broken Window Theory’s” warning that neglect can lead to a cycle of decline.

Implementing Change: Tips for a Cleaner Downtown

1. Community Involvement Programs: Encouraging volunteerism through community clean-up events can foster a sense of ownership and responsibility among residents. Thunder Bay can draw inspiration from successful initiatives in other cities where regular, organized clean-ups have significantly improved urban areas.

2. Public Education and Awareness: Educating the public about the impact of litter and neglect on community well-being and safety can motivate individuals to maintain cleanliness. Campaigns can focus on the broader implications of litter, linking personal responsibility to urban health.

3. Strategic Placement of Waste Disposal Bins: Ensuring that trash and recycling bins are readily available and conveniently located can reduce the incidence of littering. Research indicates that people are more likely to use disposal facilities if they do not have to go out of their way to find them. Along Red River Road there are numerous trash cans. Along May Street far less so.

4. Enforcement of Litter Laws: While education and voluntary compliance are preferred, effective enforcement of existing litter laws can serve as a deterrent to neglectful behaviour. Fines for littering, if consistently and fairly applied, can reinforce the importance of maintaining clean public spaces.

5. Beautification and Urban Renewal Projects: Investing in the physical environment through beautification projects can invigorate neglected areas, making them less attractive for vandalism and crime. Simple measures, such as planting trees or creating public art, can transform the character of a downtown, as seen in the more cared-for areas of Thunder Bay.

6. Engaging Local Businesses: Businesses play a crucial role in maintaining clean and inviting downtown areas. Incentives for businesses that contribute to the cleanliness and beautification of their surroundings can spur collective action towards a cleaner downtown.

The contrast between Downtown Fort William and Downtown Port Arthur in Thunder Bay serves as a real-world reminder of the “Broken Window Theory’s” lessons.

By adopting a proactive and community-oriented approach to urban cleanliness, Thunder Bay can bridge the gap between its two downtowns, creating a unified cityscape that reflects the best of its community’s values and aspirations.

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