Flower power helps keep thieves away
Social psychologists largely agree on the Broken Window Theory—first introduced in the United States in the 1980s—that unattended buildings with broken windows exacerbate crime in the neighborhood. The residents of one ward in Tokyo have another theory: plant flowers around your gate and doorway.
“It’s not that flowers stop burglars. But planting and watering them with a group of people inspires communication among strangers,” says Asako Sayama, 60, who heads a volunteer group of 130 elderly neighbors to plant flowers in side streets and patrol the area near JR Koenji station in Tokyo. “I think that enhanced solidarity within the community discourages potential criminals.”
Sayama recalls her elation when a new resident told her how safe she feels to send children to school in the clean neighborhood with people keeping an eye in the back streets.
They live in one of the many districts crammed with houses along narrow streets in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward, once notorious for a high occurrence of break-ins.The ward, with a population of 530,000, had a record 1,711 burglary cases in 2002, but succeeded in cutting the figure by nearly 80% to 385 cases in 2007 and 387 in 2008.
Kiyotaka Oyagi, the ward office’s security manager and an officer at the Metropolitan Police Department, attributes the sharp drop in burglaries in Suginami to multiple crime prevention measures since 2003. They include hiring veteran policemen for neighborhood watch, installing 240 surveillance cameras in cooperative areas, e-mailing the latest crime reports to residents and subsidizing 140 groups of 9,600 volunteer patrol personnel within the ward.
He explains that the “Operation Flower” campaign is one of them. It started in 2006 as the patrols surveyed 100 households that suffered break-ins in the previous year and found that few victims had flowers decked in their doorway or front yard. Oyagi’s office has been promoting the security benefits of flowers since then.
“The basis of crime prevention is to have more people on the lookout,” he says. “Those who tend flowers often spend all day outside, including on previously unmanned streets. People who take a walk could also change their routes to view the flowers. Their presence makes streets safer for the children and the elderly.”
As Oyagi emphasizes that the combination of concerned and active residents, police and surveillance cameras has led to a reduction in street crimes, Suginami Ward has brought a number of municipal officials from as far as Okinawa, Fukuoka and Shizuoka prefectures to study their success.
Meanwhile, Nerima Ward has also been distributing 300 flowerpots to be placed outside houses in each security-conscious neighborhood for its “Flower Town” campaign since 2005. According to security department manager Takeshi Kashihara, the ward, with a population of 710,000, has seen a major drop in burglaries from 1,093 cases in 2004 to 367 in 2008, thanks to the flowers, patrols and other measures.