Safer Neighborhoods Start With Trees

Simple neighborhood designs can do more for public safety

In the United States, we often think of crime as a product of individual choice.  In a punitive society, our desire for safety is acted out as punishment—arrest, prosecution, and even incarceration—of the people who engage in community harm. So far, this method has not worked. So what if there were ways to change our cities and make them safer without more policing, prosecution, or incarceration? 

Internationally, it has proven effective to view crime as a symptom of a communal problem and analyze how our environment— the build and design of local communities—can create safety. This does not mean going into a neighborhood, bulldozing it, and starting anew, but simply giving it care, attention, and the best features for a safe community. There is substantial evidence that something as simple as planting more trees in a community can reduce crime.

Analyzing the research below, it seems as though it is the perception of care which creates the most safety—places that seem not just observed, but attended to and looked after have less crime than places that seem abandoned. Indications of care are broadly varied, and comprise everything from trees and gardens to public art, interactive spaces, good lighting, and tidy streets. When the built environment not only suggests it is cared for but also fosters opportunity for community engagement (such as park activities, block parties, and public gardening), the pro-safety power of the built environment is enhanced. Importantly, these effects are largely created through simple changes, and can be implemented in any community with appropriate investment. 

Click below to learn how your community can make smarter investments in public safety.

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