Dec 29, 2008

On Broken Windows

I came across a broken window last night at a restaurant in southwest Detroit known as El Zocalo, located in the heart of the city's Mexicantown district. I am sure the window has probably been repaired by the time of this posting, as the restaurant is well maintained, but my mind mulled over the various possibilities for the shattered pane of glass.

The door that holds the glass provides access for both employees and guests, and likely sees its fair share of delivery personnel passing through. My first guess would be that a two-wheeled dolly with a metal ledge struck the window, creating the spidered effect radiating from the concentrated force at the impact point.

My next guess would be that the door was kicked by an impatient or angry person, as the center of the damage was about 18 inches above the ground, perhaps just the right height for a swift kick or an inadvertent boot. In my old retail business - which was not a home business - I replaced more than a few of such door windows after burglaries, thrown rocks, or freak accidents, like when one of the panes cracked when a kid opened the door on the handlebars of his bike.

Or perhaps this was a simple act of vandalism caused by a projectile thrown by a local miscreant. Certainly in my younger days I knew such destruction-minded types, and - truth be told - I remember when I was about 12 chucking shiny steel ball bearings through a few windows of an abandoned industrial building in my old neighborhood. I'm not sure what possessed me to join in on the vandalism - whether peer pressure, boredom, or a touch of sociopathy - but the sound of breaking glass has its own lure, and I am sad to report that I was responsible for at least a half-dozen of the hundreds of broken panes.

I also began to think about what is sometimes called the broken window theory. This school of thought argues that fixing small problems like broken windows ultimately deters more crime, and that ignoring the problems leads to an increase in crime. Certainly an important factor in the success of Mexicantown has been the influx of hardworking entrepreneurs who invested in a previously blighted neighborhood and whose efforts at community improvement spread outward, like the cracks in our tempered commercial glass.

Sure, it would have been simpler to just ask the hostess or manager what happened to the window, but sometimes these introspective diversions are worth the detoured minutes. Now, if I can recall the address of the building I helped mar, perhaps I can make belated restitution for my contribution to its industrial decay. If not, I'll choose a neighborhood group to donate some shekels, and get rid of a minor-but-persistent source of guilt.


Middle Aged Woman said...

Kerry Smith sent me flowers once when I was sick and I never really said Thank You properly. What do I do to make up for that 30 year old guilt, Michale-the-guru-of-forgiveness?

P.S. Did you read Jim's guest post on my blog on 12/11? Right up your alley, I think.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the thoughtful and interesting comments on El Zocalo's broken glass door (and for the free advertising). Victor assured me that it was not an act of vandalism, but an accident that is too silly to repeat. All is fixed and you are welcome to return for another fine meal. (Yvonne will even tell you what happened!) Feliz Ano Nuevo!

historymike said...

M.A.W. -

I sugest that you consult with Bill Atsinfreed. As I fuzzily recall, he once had the solutions to all dilemmas.

historymike said...


Glad to oblige. El Zocalo has always been one of my favorite restaurants, and it is our #1 stop in Mexicantown.

Small world, though!