Can Parks Help Cities Fight Crime?

The topic has been the subject of academic debate recently.

The topic has been the subject of academic debate recently. WDG Photo/Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The short answer: It depends on the park.

The relationship between parks and crime remains the subject of debate.

Some scholars say parks and other urban green spaces prevent violence. When vacant lots and deteriorating urban spaces are transformed into more appealing and useful places for residents, violence and crime typically decline in the immediate vicinity.

In a study of public housing developments in Chicago, researchers found 52% fewer crimes reported near buildings surrounded by trees and other vegetation. In New York City, neighborhoods with higher investment in public green space see an average of 213 fewer felonies per year.

Similar relationships between green space and crime have been observed in Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia and Portland, as well as in cities outside the U.S.

In many cities, however, people see parks as dangerous – magnets for illicit activities like drug dealing and places for criminals to access potential victims who, while engaged in recreation, may be less vigilant about their belongings and personal safety.

Research supports this idea, too. One 2015 study of multiple U.S. cities found that property crime rates are two to four times higher in neighborhoods near parks. Violent crimes rates were up to 11 times worse.

So do parks make cities safer or more dangerous? The short answer is: It depends on the park.

Green Space Leads to Lower Crime

One reason that evidence on the relationship between parks and crime is so mixed is that most studies on this subject have focused on a single city or location.

In an effort to identify nationwide trends, our team of researchers at Clemson and North Carolina State universities in 2017 began gathering information on crime, green space and parks in the 300 largest cities in the United States.

Unlike many studies that use the terms “parks” and “green space” interchangeably, our analysis distinguished between these two urban environments.

Green space was measured by the amount of grass, plants, tree canopy cover and other greenery on the landscape. We defined urban parks as designated open spaces managed by a public agency – a subset of green space.

To distinguish the impact of green spaces from social factors typically linked to crime – population density, income, education, diversity and social disadvantage – we controlled for those factors when evaluating crime data.

We learned that more green space was associated with lower risk of crime across neighborhoods in all 300 cities we studied.

Burglaries, larceny, auto theft and other property crimes occur less often in greener neighborhoods in every city in our sample. Violent crimes like murder, assault and armed robbery were also less common in greener neighborhoods in nearly all the cities we studied.

Only three cities in our sample did not benefit from green space. In Chicago, Detroit and Newark – all places with notoriously high and stubborn crime rates – more green space was associated with higher levels of violent crime.

Scholars have identified several reasons why the presence of green space may lead to lower crime.

Contact with nature reduces precursors to crime like stress and aggression, making people feel happier and less inclined to engage in criminal acts. By giving people a place to participate in outdoor activities together, parks also promote positive social interactions and neighborly connections within diverse urban communities.

And when people gather in parks and other green spaces, it puts more “eyes on the streets,” exposing criminals to constant community surveillance.

Finally, there’s some evidence that more green space makes nearby areas safer simply by pushing crime into nearby neighborhoods – not outright eliminating it.

Chicago is one of three U.S. cities where more green space does not necessarily reduce violence in nearby neighborhoods. AP Photo/Paul Beaty

Parks: Crime Hot Spots or Safe Havens?

In the second step of our study, we narrowed the focus of our analysis to just urban parks. The results were less positive.

Examining four cities in different U.S. regions – Austin, Philadelphia, Phoenix and San Francisco – we found that violent crime was 28% to 64% higher in neighborhoods adjacent to parks than in neighborhoods located a mile from the same parks. Property crime was 38% to 63% higher in areas close to parks.

The only exception was Phoenix, where proximity to parks had no impact on property crime.

Zooming out from our four-city sample, we found evidence that some parks actually do a good job of deterring crime. Design and maintenance are critical if parks are to reduce, rather than attract, crime.

New York’s Bryant Park, in Midtown Manhattan, was once a notorious haven for criminal activity – a place office workers avoided walking through after dark. In 1985 Bryant Park was closed for a massive renovation effort that included the addition of activities and events there. When it reopened in 1992, police reported a 92% decrease in local crime.

On sunny days, New York’s Bryant Park is full morning to night with office workers, tourists and local residents. Shutterstock

In Los Angeles, a citywide Summer Night Lights program started in 2007 to promote positive activities in parks after dark is credited with reducing crime in nearby neighborhoods by 40% over three years.

And construction of a new elevated trail in Chicago seems to have made the neighborhoods it runs through safer. Between 2011 and 2015, areas on The 606 trail saw 2.8 times less violent crime and 1.6 times less property crime than comparable low-income Chicago neighborhoods over the same period.

Parks that are designed for safety, heavily programmed on an ongoing basis and well maintained tend to attract residents whose presence serves as a crime deterrent.

That means not just amenities like ball fields and cultural facilities but also the active involvement of the local community and sources of sustainable, ongoing funding. When parks are allowed to deteriorate, the decaying infrastructure and bad reputation of parks can turn them into magnets for crime.

Critically, both program and landscape design must also reflect the broader community in which a park sits, creating public spaces where everyone from office workers to local teens can appreciate and enjoy the entire range of social, economic and health benefits that parks offer.

More legitimate park users means increased monitoring and sense of ownership over a public space. This process known as “territorial reinforcement” is a key tenet of crime prevention through environmental design.

Urban parks and green space enhance the well-being of city residents, promoting physical activity, mental health and a sense of community.

Whether they also reduce crime depends on the park, city, the neighborhood and, critically, how well an urban green space is managed.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Lincoln Larson is an assistant professor at North Carolina State University. S. Scott Ogletree is a PhD candidate and researcher in parks and conservation at Clemson University.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Green Infrastructure acts as a bridge for Indigenous reconciliation in Vancouver, BC
W 63rd Ave & Yukon St, Vancouver, BC V5X 2J2, Canada
Using Large-scale Green Solutions to Reduce Overflows and Reinvigorate a Neighborhood
Cincinnati, OH, USA
Community feedback increases 13x in Lancaster, PA with both offline and online engagement methods
Lancaster, PA, USA

NEXT STORY: A City Says ‘No’ to More Police Officers

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.