Redevelopment, Land Use, and Crime

A compelling new entry on the Smart Growth Around America blog suggests that smarter land development (i.e. livable, walkable communities) may help curb violence within a neighborhood. Charles Branas of the University of Pennsylvania is currently researching if there is a significant link between vacant properties and crime levels. His latest findings indicate that high vacancy rates are often linked with a higher rate of aggravated assaults. Mara D’Angelo, of the blog, reports: “In fact, total assaults in a given set of blocks increased by 18.5% for every additional vacancy in a given area.”

Branas plans to now examine the ways in which stabilizing vacant property can have an impact on health issues and crime. His research reminds me of a criminology theory put forth by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling called ‘Broken Windows’:

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.

Wilson and Kelling argued that curbing vandalism and crime will involve, in part, fixing the initial (often overlooked) issue. It may be the case that by addressing vacant property (indeed, much of the work behind brownfield redeveelopment projects), crime rates can decrease in some neighborhoods. What are your thoughts on this?

About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on November 18, 2009, in Health, Neighborhoods, Public Infrastructure, Trends, Urbanism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Coming from an environmental psychology background, I can attest that this is very true. People drastically underestimate the environmental cues that they pick up and the impacts those cues have on the way people think and behave. A broken window tells me that people don’t care about this building, so why should I? Same with vacant lots.

    I’m not sure, though, that this relationship between vacant lots and crime is a linear one. It is probably more parabolic and increases exponentially. This has to do with what Malcom Gladwell calls the “tipping point.” One vacant lot probably won’t cause much crime. Two won’t cause much more. But once you hit a certain point, it begins to snowball.

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