The idea behind the name Broken Window Theory comes from a real social theory called the Broken Windows Theory.
The Broken Windows Theory was introduced in a 1982 The Atlantic article titled, "Broken Windows: The Police and neighborhood safety" written by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.
These authors basically theorized that social disorder is caused by petty crimes like panhandling, vandalism, graffiti, public drinking etc., which lead to more serious crimes like burglary, robbery, drug selling and use, assaults, and any other serious offense imaginable.
Kelling and Wilson's premise was simple, when individuals see crimes being committed in neighborhoods or areas, society starts to believe that area is an acceptable place to commit other crimes.
Kelling, while working as a consultant with New York's Metro Transit Authority (MTA), invoked the Broken Windows Theory when he played a part in a system-wide total clean up of all graffiti on NYC's trains in 1985.
While there is nothing wrong with the MTA wanting to clean all of its subway trains, their thought that graffiti was the cause of societal problems in New York City was misguided. The mid to late 80's and early 90's were the height of the crack epidemic in the United States, and NYC was hit as hard as anywhere.
The MTA's desire to clean all the graffiti off the subway trains only pushed these young graffiti artists to paint more and adapt. Without realizing it, the MTA was almost encouraging the growth and development of this young art movement.
Since then, the graffiti/street art movement has become more mainstream, but the Broken Windows Theory construct remains attached forever to the art form.
Given our background growing up in 1990s Atlanta, graffiti captured our imagination from a young age. Graffiti taught us that beauty can indeed grow in dark places, how to translate themes or ideas into art, the importance of being able to think on your feet, and to not be afraid to break preconceived rules about art.