Schenectady County

Jerry Burrell Park still in good shape

The city is putting the “broken window theory” into practice at Jerry Burrell Park, keeping the park
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The city is putting the “broken window theory” into practice at Jerry Burrell Park, keeping the park clean and well-maintained to discourage vandalism.

New mulch piles are cushioning play areas, old equipment has been repaired, the fences are under construction and new equipment is about to be installed.

Workers also tripled the size of the pavilion, creating a shelter big enough to house every child during the free summer lunch program. Children finally have a working water fountain, too. And unlike past efforts, none of it has been wrecked.

“I think the better job we do in maintaining, making it presentable, the better luck we’re going to have in the long run,” said Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen. “It goes back to the broken window theory.”

The theory holds that vandals are more likely to damage property if they see previous damage has been ignored. In essence, one broken window will encourage more. Alternatively, if residents quickly remove graffiti, fix windows and repair any other damage, vandals hesitate to mar the spotless property.

Olsen isn’t sure whether that theory can be applied to a park that is temptingly empty every night. But there has been one indication that he may be on the right track.

The $3,000 water fountain, which had been broken so often that city officials swore they’d never replace it again, has now gone a month without even the slightest damage.

Residents got the city to replace the fountain at Jerry Burrell Park in June. Olsen predicted it would be broken immediately.

But it still works and it hasn’t been hit with graffiti, despite this being the busiest time of the year at the park. Summer programs run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., keeping children active and thirsty. And at noon, dozens of children converge upon the fountain when a free lunch is provided there by Schenectady Inner City Ministry.

During the day, children said the fountain is mainly used to cool people off.

“The little kids play in it. They don’t really drink, they throw it at each other,” said Diamond Pettway, 14.

But at night, when basketball tournaments go on for hours, thirsty athletes line up to drink.

“That’s really needed,” Olsen said. “It’s there for children who are playing and need a drink. Hopefully the neighborhood will continue to respect that.”

But he’s not waving the victory flag yet.

“Let’s talk a year from now and see if it’s still there. Then we can say we’ve successfully reduced vandalism in the park,” Olsen said. “We are pleased with the fact that no one has broken it or vandalized it and hopefully no one will . . . but it’s early yet.”

The city isn’t relying solely on the Broken Window Theory to fight vandalism. A security camera has also been installed near the park and the city is adding more lights.

Olsen isn’t sure if any of it will work.

“We’ll cross our fingers and hope for the best,” he said, adding that he needs help from neighbors to call police when vandals approach.

“The community can do as much if not more than the city,” he said.

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