Green areas are widely recognized as an indicator of development and social wellbeing, but the relationship between nature and crimes is only beginning to come into view. How might natural spaces reduce crime rates?
Green space interventions enhance the visual appearance of an area and motivate movement and participation, which can increase economic development. Also, by raising property values, green spaces foster economic stability and access to credit. Both economic development and real wealth transfer bring work opportunities and financial power to residents, which in turn could reduce criminal activities. One caution about green criminology, however, is that, genuine improvements in built environments may not favor current residents. Instead, existing residents may be displaced by new neighbors arriving in response to attractive urban conditions.
- Marco Gonzalez-Navarro and Climent Quintana-Domeque. 2016. “Paving Streets for the Poor: Experimental Analysis of Infrastructure Effects.” Review of Economics and Statistics 98(2): 254-267.
- John MacDonald. 2015. “Community Design and Crime: The Impact of Housing and the Built Environment.” Crime and Justice 44(1): 333-383.
Green areas can also provide physical or symbolic cues of care and attention that discourage criminal behavior. By promoting the use of outdoor spaces, built environments become places of social gathering. Green areas thus become organized places of surveillance, which discourages incivilities and criminal behavior. They also replace vacant lots and abandoned sites, which constitute attractive places for illegal activities such as prostitution, drug sales and use, or weapons offenses.
- Ingrid Gould Ellen, Johanna Lacoe, and Claudia Ayanna Sharygin. 2013. “Do Foreclosures Cause Crime?” Journal of Urban Economics 74: 59-70.
- Frances E. Kuo and William C. Sullivan. 2001. “Environment and Crime in the Inner City: Does Vegetation Reduce Crime?” Environment and Behavior 33(3): 343-367.
Better amenities can also improve residents’ well-being and thus decrease precursors of violence. Built environments may favor conditions that enhance the pleasantness of pedestrian environments, the convenience of walking for travel or recreation, and environmental safety. Some argue that vegetation promotes better cognitive performance, produces positive emotions and fosters environmental consciousness.
- Shobha Srinivasan, Liam R. O’Fallon, and Allen Dearry. 2003. “Creating Healthy Communities, Healthy Homes, Healthy People: Initiating a Research Agenda on the Built Environment and Public Health.” American Journal of Public Health 93(9): 1446-1450.
- Robert J. Sampson .2003. “The Neighborhood Context of Well-Being.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 46(3): S53-S64.
Habitable spaces and better amenities also shape and enhance the relationships and social initiatives from community members. Green areas provide sites for social gatherings, and facilitate social interaction. Cohesive communities mobilize resources to tackle the underlying social causes of crime, or to encourage commerce and employment opportunities. Connected with surveillance, social cohesion makes residents more willing to step in and directly address criminal behavior, thus improving surveillance and oversight. Cohesive communities also foster well-being among residents and generate better health outcomes by social processes like promoting outdoor activities, participating in organizations, and creating networks of support.
- Patrick Sharkey, Gerard Torrats-Espinosa, and Delaram Takyar. 2017. “Community and the Crime Decline: The Causal Effect of Local Nonprofits on Violent Crime.” American Sociological Review 82(6): 1214-1240.
- Jeffrey D. Morenoff, Robert J. Sampson, and Stephen W. Raudenbush. 2001.”Neighborhood Inequality, Collective Efficacy, and the Spatial Dynamics of Urban Violence.” Criminology 39(3): 517-558.
Situational Crime Prevention
Green areas can also influence behavioral outcomes by eliminating, blocking or restraining access to crime targets and by removing the target itself. They can be designed to minimize the number of entry and exit points and control pedestrian or vehicular access. Therefore, their physical design and layout features can alter criminal routines and targets. Green areas offer physical barriers that effectively obstruct opportunities for crime and modify both the attractiveness of targets and the motivation of potential-offenders.
- Paul Cozens and Terence Love. 2015. “A Review and Current Status of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design.” Journal of Planning Literature 30(4): 393-412.
- Ronald V. Clarke .2005. “Seven Misconceptions of Situational Crime Prevention.” Pp. 34-70 in Handbook of Crime Prevention and Community Safety. Routledge.
Since investment in green areas can impact more people for longer periods of time than individual or lifestyle interventions, creating green places may provide a greater pay-off than traditional individual approaches to reducing crime. This is especially important for lower income communities, where residents may lack individual economic or social resources to encounter crime individually.