Greening: An innovative strategy for crime reduction

Greening: An innovative strategy for crime reduction


Written by:

Jesenia M. Pizarro, Richard C. Sadler, Jason Goldstick, Brandon Turchan, Edmund F. McGarrell, Marc A. Zimmerman

First Published:

17 Jan 2020, 9:00 am


Greening: An innovative strategy for crime reduction


Criminal justice tactics such as arrest, incarceration, and other types of court adjudications are not the only mechanisms available to reduce crime, nor are they necessarily the most cost effective. Strategies focusing on public health outcomes such as greening might be more effective at reducing aggregate crime rates and cost less. Greening generally refers to the beautification and maintenance of blighted properties by creating community gardens, mowing lawns, and/or planting vegetation.


In the article titled Community Driven Disorder Reduction: Crime Prevention Through a Clean & Green Initiative in a Legacy City, which was recently published in Urban Studies, my colleagues Richard Sadler, Jason Goldstick, Brandon Turchan, Ed McGarrell, Marc Zimmerman, and I tested the effect of greening on neighbourhood violent and property crime rates in the city of Flint, Michigan. Greening included cleaning debris and mowing lawns, planting community gardens or other plants, establishing pocket parks, or decoratively boarding up vacant homes. We conducted kernel density analyses to derive a cumulative greening score for each parcel maintained during 2006 to 2014. We then joined the cumulative greening scores for each year to the corresponding year’s crime density score, and tested the effect of greening on violent and property crimes. The findings of these analyses showed a positive relationship between greening efforts and crime types. That is, areas with more years of greening equated with stronger negative relationships to violent and property crime rates. The more greening the lower the crime rate within neighbourhoods.


Why is this finding important?  The finding provide a practical and cost effective approach to crime prevention. Indeed, cities do not only need to rely on formal social control tactics such as arrest, court adjudication, and incarceration, which could lead to detrimental consequences (i.e., breaking of families, propagating prison subcultures, and further depleting city and state funds). Alternative approaches with measurable evidence of success are available and relatively easy to implement. This is of particular importance for cities experiencing the negative effects of economic decline, resident outmigration and high crime rates, such as Flint. In these types of cities, it is critical to develop strategies that can effectively address the steadily increasing supply of neglected properties in order to prevent the spread of urban blight and crime associated with it with as little reliance on formal authorities as possible. Evidence from our analyses suggest that community-driven greening programs are associated with significant reductions in crime. As it pertains to the continued financial and social health of the city, making the case for greening programs as a worthwhile investment is easily bolstered by the findings of our study.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst: Community-driven disorder reduction: Crime prevention through a clean and green initiative in a legacy city