Well-Kept Vacant Lots May Mean Less Crime in Urban Areas

Well-Kept Vacant Lots May Mean Less Crime in Urban Areas

Maintaining the yards of vacant properties, a movement known as “greening,” may help reduce crime rates in urban neighborhoods, according to a new study at Michigan State University. The findings show that higher levels of greening are tied to less crime in general, including victimless crimes, property crimes and even violent crimes.

Previous research has shown that greening and gardening programs are linked to less stress, depression and hopelessness for residents, as well as lower crime rates, including assaults, burglaries and robberies. But an in-depth space-and-time analysis of these correlations has not been explored until now, say the researchers.

For the study, the researchers analyzed nine years of crime statistics in Flint, Mich., using data from a greening program where thousands of abandoned lots in various neighborhoods were regularly mowed and maintained.

Today, more than 42 percent of the properties in Flint are either publicly owned or otherwise vacant.

Dr. Richard Sadler, an urban geographer and the study’s lead author, assigned each neighborhood a greening score based on how many vacant properties in the area were being kept up. Using a method called “emerging hot spot analysis,” which identifies patterns or trends of events over space and time, he applied crime data from 2005 through 2014.

“Generally speaking, I found that greening was more prevalent where violent crime, property crime and victimless crime were going down,” said Sadler, an assistant professor of public health in the College of Human Medicine.

The idea for the study was born when the Genesee County Land Bank Authority began its Clean and Green program 13 years ago to help maintain vacant properties throughout the city. They discovered that over the years, the program seemed to produce another benefit — crime appeared to be declining.

“We’ve always had a sense that maintaining these properties helps reduce crime and the perception of crime,” said Christina Kelly, the land bank’s planning and neighborhood revitalization director. “So we weren’t surprised to see the research back it up.”

Flint has one of the highest crime rates in the nation. The city’s population of slightly more than 100,000 is half what it was in the 1960s when it was the world headquarters for Buick. But once the auto industry pulled out of the city, Flint lost 41 percent of its jobs. This led to a concentration of poverty in the city as well as a decrease in the number of police officers.

Sadler said investments in eliminating blight and encouraging community buy-in can pay off in a number of ways for urban areas across the country and be less expensive to sustain.

He indicated that programs such as Clean and Green not only make the properties more attractive for development and stabilizes neighborhoods, but alert potential criminals that residents are keeping an eye on things.

“It’s people looking out for their own neighborhoods,” he said. “If you know somebody’s watching, you’re not going to go out and vandalize something. It’s the overall change in perception created by cleaning up blighted property.”

The study is published online in the journal Applied Geography.

Source: Michigan State University

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Posted by Patricia Adams