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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Findings Dispel Notion That Parks Attract Crime

From The Birmingham News:  "There is some interesting research going on at the University of Illinois. Scientists there are investigating differences in crime rates and the social interactions of people who live in areas adjacent to parks and green spaces.  The study looked at crime rates for urban apartment buildings that have varying amounts of vegetation around them. The participants in the study had similar demographic characteristics such as race and income and also lived in similar apartment complexes. The results were striking.  The study found that 48 percent fewer property crimes and 56 percent fewer violent crimes were reported in buildings with high amounts of vegetation surrounding them. In buildings that were surrounded by medium amounts of vegetation, there were 40 percent fewer property crimes and 44 percent fewer violent crimes.

These findings somewhat dispel the idea that parks and green spaces might attract the criminal element. It appears that overall, they shield against it. Earlier studies have shown that urban residents who live in areas that are landscaped, experience less littering, less graffiti, and fewer incivilities like noisy or disruptive neighbors. Studies have also shown that people reported feeling safer in residential areas that were green. Researchers in Austin, Texas, found that neighborhoods that had fewer plants on average as compared to other neighborhoods had more crime.  What do these statistics and numbers mean for the average citizen and policymaker? It seems that green is indeed good. No one is naive enough to think that crime will altogether disappear with landscaped communities, but it does seem that crime will be reduced. Is it worth the investment?  Ultimately, that may be for the number crunchers to decide. I think most psychologists and mental health workers would say that landscaping our communities would be a wise investment if they looked at the research.  In a study recently published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, researchers compared two groups of people who were given attention-demanding tasks to perform. One group was allowed to walk in a nature reserve after the test. The other group walked in an urban setting. A follow-up test showed improved results for the group that walked in the nature reserve. The urban walkers performed lower on the follow-up test and showed a higher degree of anger. Based on their studies and research, the University of Illinois scientists concluded that park-like surroundings increase neighborhood safety by removing mental fatigue and feelings of violence and aggression that result. They believe that time spent in nature and landscaped areas, helps to relieve that mental fatigue. Those of us who know the benefits of a walk in a park, down a shady street, or in the woods would whole heartily agree.

Botanical gardens, parks, and neighborhood green spaces must be maintained properly to bring out the best in people. A well maintained park or neighborhood shows that people care about the area. This sends a message to those who visit or pass by - this is an area that is appreciated and good people live here. Involving residents, garden clubs and beautification boards helps to establish a sense of ownership and stewardship of the community. Together, we can make our cites safer, more livable and more beautiful by landscaping them. At least that is what the research shows."  [Mark Godsey]

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