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Crime & Fear
There are two conflicting outlooks towards city trees and vegetation. On one hand, a natural landscape is believed to promote healing and renewal. On the other hand, the presence of vegetation is implicated as a screen for criminal activity. This article addresses the second perspective and summarizes the research findings on the relationship between urban vegetation and crimes, aggressive behavior, and safety. The science findings are not conclusive and even may appear inconsistent or conflicting, yet certain patterns and relationships appear across many studies.
There are, on average, about 3,800 crime victims per 100,000 population in the U.S. each year.1
Among minor crimes, there is less graffiti, vandalism, and littering in outdoor spaces with natural landscapes than in comparable plant-less spaces.4
Public housing residents with nearby trees and natural landscapes reported 25% fewer acts of domestic aggression and violence.5
Public housing buildings with greater amounts of vegetation had 52% fewer total crimes, 48% fewer property crimes, and 56% fewer violent crimes than buildings with low amounts of vegetation.2
Studies of residential neighborhoods found that property crimes were less frequent when there were trees in the right-of-way, and more abundant vegetation around a house.6,7
In a study of community policing innovations, there was a 20% overall decrease in calls to police from the parts of town that received location-specific treatments. Cleaning up vacant lots was one of the most effective treatment strategies.12
Vegetation can be managed to create a reassuring environment, reduce fear, and increase citizen surveillance and defensible space. Principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) suggest how to achieve safer places.