Preventing the Weed of Crime From Taking Root

March 05, 2020

A new review by our Hessam Sadatsafavi, PhD, and colleagues reveals how properly designed and maintained green space can cut down on crime in our communities. Conversely, they found, green space can help crime take root and spread if that space is poorly designed or poorly maintained.

The review examined previous research to discern patterns that can help inform public policy and guide urban design. It came about because members of the research team had been touched by crime in some fashion.

“All of us had some sort of experience, personally or through family members. And we thought maybe we can do something about it,” said Sadatsafavi, of the Department of Emergency Medicine. “How to control violent crime is a polarizing issue. We are interested to see, as designers whose work is to shape the physical environment, if it’s possible for us to contribute to this conversation and to take some actions to see if we, personally, can contribute to reducing crime.”

The review was difficult, he said, because of the scope of the topic and the variety of ways researchers have approached it. “You might talk about community gardens, you might talk about people’s lawns,” Sadatsafavi explained. “People who do the studies might go out and count the number of trees on sidewalks, or examine satellite images. Or look at the number of vacant lots that were turned into green space.”

Still, they found patterns. For example: “There is evidence that greening interventions at the urban level reduces violent crime, specifically gun violence,” Sadatsafavi said.

“By looking at all these studies, we were able to propose possible pathways [to reduce crime and] put together an overall picture of why this is happening, both in terms of gun violence and in terms of overall crime rate.”

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