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Trees don't just beautify neighborhoods; they also reduce crime.
"Ugliness is so grim," urban beautification advocate Lady Bird Johnson once said. "A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions."
Though criticized for her efforts (some suggested her projects were merely "cosmetic"), Lady Bird Johnson may have been on to something after all. Trees, according to a new study published in Landscape and Urban Planning, don't just beautify neighborhoods; they also reduce crime.
The study, funded by the Forest Service and the National Science Foundation, compared crime data to tree cover in particular neighborhoods across Baltimore and Baltimore County, Md, between 2007 and 2010. The results, which could serve as a 21st century counterpart of the "Broken Windows" theory introduced in 1982 by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, demonstrate a striking correlation between criminal activity and the number of trees in a neighborhood.
"In the tree world, we call it the 'empty tree pit' theory," said J. Morgan Grove, one of the study's co-authors in an interview with the Baltimore Sun. "If you have trees in the pits ... they're symbols of the fact that the neighborhood is cared about. ... If they see you breaking into someone's car, they're going to call the cops."
Having that tree cover, and the neighborhood presence that comes along with it, can mean striking changes from one neighborhood to the next. In one area, for example, a 10 percent increase in the density tree canopy went hand in hand with a 12 percent drop in reported crime. These statistics are a far cry from comprehensive crime-control strategy. They do, however, deliver welcome support for advocates, like the late Lady Bird Johnson, who saw the compound interest that could be derived from "something that is lovely."
May 20, 2012
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The number of trees in a neighborhood also correlates with yard space and the general affluence of the neighborhood. Wealthy neighborhoods have more trees - and more police protection. So, as earlier - very much earlier studies have always shown the only universal correlation between the number of trees in a neighborhood and crime rates - depends on the number of criminals that the neighborhood hangs in those trees.
This has been an accepted part of good urban planning for decades. It is all part of improving the quality of life in an area to reduce a populations group stress levels and thereby reduce violent tendencies. The planting of trees is generally part of a larger effort that may see streets repaired, parks renovated or created and a host of other quality of life improvements. There is also a strong trend in local government to use enhanced police protection in areas that undergo such urban renewals to protect the citys investment. Once crime is pushed out of an area and the area becomes nice to live in the residents have a stronger personal reason to work with authorities to keep it nice.
The rooster crows and the sun rises, therefore the rooster's crow makes the sun rise. Lower crime and tree planting indicate, as the article points out, that the residents of a neighborhood care more about their environs. Planting more trees in the neighborhoods featured in the TV program "The Wire" isn't going to make people care more about their neighborhood. It's a symptom, not a cause.
- - Wealthy neighborhoods have more trees - - All of the newest and wealthiest neighborhoods built within 100 miles of me during the last 30 years have manicured golf course quality lawns. In many of these communities tree planting is heavily managed because todays elitists may want to save the trees in the Amazon, but they hate leaves on their pretty grass. You are spot on about yard size and building density being a big factor. The tenth of an acre lot my first house was on had barely enough room for a small tree in the back yard. After the housing bust of the 1980s our city demolished dozens of burned out abandoned buildings in the early 1990s. The lots were split up for sale to the abutters. It was a bargain for the abutters to gain a real yard while the city put unproductive property back on the tax rolls. The boost in overall property values in the neighborhood more than made up for the lost building taxes. The top priorities for most abutters was to establish off street parking spaces and plant trees.
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