I recently moved into the Cape Town city centre, excited to reduce my carbon footprint by walking to meeting and friends. However, I quickly became aware of crime! We all want to live in a safe and beautiful city and have the freedom to walk and live without fear. But building big walls and security systems doesn’t give us the freedom we want.

I became aware of the litter on our streets and how residents literally just walk over it to get into their cars. Do we think we’re too good to pick up litter? Is it not our job? Will it just disappear on its own? It was these thoughts that made me realise that crime and litter are directly related.

How can we expect people to walk through our community and show us respect when we don’t respect our community ourselves? We should be so proud of our environment that we will pick up a piece of litter as we walk past it, not because it’s our job, but because we care and are proud.

I spent the weekend reading about stopping litter and nearly every case study I found linked litter, graffiti and crime.

Oscar Newman, in his 1972 book Defensible Space, wrote that the presence of police authority is not enough to maintain a safe and crime-free city. People in the community help with crime prevention. Newman proposes that people care for and protect spaces they feel invested in, arguing that an area is eventually safer if the people feel a sense of ownership and responsibility towards it.

In March 1982 the Broken Window Theory was published and shortly thereafter New York adopted this theory and the brought crime rate down.

The Broken Window Theory showed how a car left in a community where graffiti, litter and crime is rife was vandalised and parts stolen within hours, while a car left in an “upmarket, clean area” was left untouched for a week until the window was broken. Shortly thereafter, the car was vandalised.

This is exactly what we are doing to our communities and trails, and we are seeing a commensurate increase in crime.

We all complain about crime, but are we doing our bit to stop crime?
It’s time we lose our sense of pride and entitlement. Let’s walk down our streets and pick up the litter; let’s bring our community together to clean the graffiti and let’s educate other about caring for our environment.

It’s time business and individuals got involved and there are some great examples of this.

Keep a close eye on Stillwater Sports, who are hosting City Clean-Up events in Johannesburg and Durban. They host successful sporting events in these cities but understand that they have a responsibility to improve the cities. By picking up litter they will help bring crime down and increase tourism.

I wish someone had told me that by cleaning up litter and removing graffiti I could help to stop crime.

Today 5 June 2017 is World Environment Day. Do your bit. http://worldenvironmentday.global

Here’s my video of what I did for my environment today: