News Brief

Green Spaces May Deter Crime, Urban Studies Reveal

Parks could be the answer for some cities wrestling with drug-related violence, vandalism, and theft.

January 4, 2017

Landscaped urban spaces like this rain garden in Philadelphia provide more than low-impact design infrastructure. They may also fight crime.

Photo: Philadelphia Water Department
Urban trees contribute to higher birth weights and lower asthma rates, and now multiple experiments suggest that green spaces might also reduce crime, according to Citylab’s Julian Spector.

The city of Youngstown, Ohio, was struggling with high unemployment rates and economic decline due to deindustrialization, Spector reports. With 31% of the city’s land vacant, Youngstown conducted a study of three possible treatments for such lots, including:

  • hiring contractors to mow lawns and put up fences, starting in 2010;
  • giving money to community members to plant gardens, shrubs, and trees or install monuments, starting in 2011; and
  • doing nothing (the control group).

The city analyzed data from 2010 to 2014 and found a lower rate of both property crime and violent crime around the lots maintained by contractors and community members. Analysis showed that crime didn’t merely move to a different street corner, as the broader area around the lots saw a decrease in crime as well.

The city of Philadelphia created a program in 2000 to plant roadside areas to soak up rainwater and prevent rainwater runoff. A subsequent study found a decrease in narcotics possession around the 52 planted areas. Despite drug possession rates increasing by 65% citywide, possession fell 18% to 27% in the areas with landscaping upgrades when compared to the non-vegetated control sites.

A Baltimore study, according to Spector, examined 1,000 residential yards around Baltimore City and Baltimore County. The findings indicate a correlation between crime rates and yards that are well cared for. There was a significant decrease in crime in areas with private yards with a lawn, a sprinkler, shrubs, trees, and pervious surfaces. (Read about a similar study in Baltimore from 2012: Urban Trees Curb Shady Behavior.)

The field of research connecting crime and green space maintenance is relatively new, Spector points out, so the exact implications are still being examined.

Nevertheless, because green space has so many other benefits, Spector argues that cities can begin acting on the preliminary research now. “Urban greenery should play more of a role in cities’ plans to reduce crime,” he writes. “A good first step would be increasing public attention to landscaping in high-crime areas and assisting residents in taking care of their own lots.”

For more information:

Atlantic Citylab
citylab.com/cityfixer

 

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