Neighborhoods and CrimeMayor Richard Daley of Chicago is pouring millions into making Chicago the “Greenest city in America.” But his claim is more than hype. For years, Daley has invested in the positive impact of planting trees in neighborhoods, putting perennial gardens in industrial areas and changing out the “color” in planters and street median plantings three times a season.
Several years ago, PLNA president Gregg Robertson was on a tour of Chicago with the then just retired director of the city’s Bureau of Forestry, Robert Benjamin. The Chicago Bureau of Forestry has responsibility for all things green in Chicago. After an impressive tour of an industrial district where street trees, parking-lot median plantings and street-side flower beds were in flower-show condition, Robertson asked him how the city justified spending so much on the city’s green initiatives. His reply, “Because it lowers crime, the test scores of kids in these neighborhoods go up, and the neighbors take ownership of the streets. In the long run, the city saves money, is a better place to live and attracts business and tourists.”
The data bears out Benjamin’s assertion. A study by University of Illinois, Urbana (Kuo, Bacaicoa, & Sullivan, 1998), found that residents in of Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes felt safer if the grass was closely maintained and the tree density was increased. This was contrary to police opinions that increased tree density would provide hiding places for criminals and thus make residents feel less safe. In fact, improved landscaping made the residents feel safer.
In another Chicago study by Quo and Stanley (2001), there were dramatically fewer occurrences of crime against both people and property in apartment buildings surrounded by trees and greenery than in nearby identical apartments that were surrounded by barren land. In fact, compared with buildings that had little or no vegetation, buildings with high levels of greenery had 48 percent fewer property crimes and 56 percent fewer violent crimes. Even modest amounts of greenery were associated with lower crime rates. The greener the surroundings, the fewer the number of crimes that occurred.
Greenery lowers crime through several mechanisms. First, greenery helps people to relax and renew, reducing aggression. Second, green spaces bring people together outdoors, increasing surveillance and discouraging criminals. Third, the green and groomed appearance of an apartment building is a cue to criminals that owners and residents care about a property and watch over it and each other.