Neighbourhood places, collective efficacy and crime: Changes over time

by Renee Zahnow, Jonathan Corcoran, Anthony Kimpton and Rebecca Wickes

28 May 2021, 11:44 a.m.
Renee Zahnow, Jonathan Corcoran, Anthony Kimpton and Rebecca Wickes



Neighbourhood places like shops, cafes, and parks support a variety of social interactions ranging from the ephemeral to the intimate.  Repeated interactions at neighbourhood places over time lay the foundation for the development of social cohesion and collective efficacy (Sampson et al. 1997). Thus, urban features and forms play an integral role in shaping the social milieu of neighbourhoods and it is important to consider the implications of changes in the physical urban fabric on social outcomes (Hipp et al. 2014; Wickes et al., 2018). Changes in the presence or arrangement of neighbourhood places, such as shops, schools and parks, may disrupt opportunities for social interactions with implications collective efficacy and crime. Would the addition of a new park or restaurant enhance or interrupt social interaction and collective efficacy? Can the closure of a school impede neighbourhood collective capacity and in turn lead to higher crime? These are important questions to consider as neighbourhoods evolve over time.

After categorising socially conducive neighbourhood places into four broad types based on their social interaction potential (Table 1), we examined the proposition that changes in social conduits can destabilise collective efficacy with implications for crime across a sample of neighbourhoods that experienced varying patterns of growth, decline and stability over the period of investigation.


Table 1. Types of social conduits

Social Conduit Type



Type 1 –Anchoring conduits

Facilitate repeated interactions between the same group of individuals

Schools, public libraries, childcare centres, gyms/health clubs and churches/religious facilities.

Type 2 -Local Exposure Conduits

Support unscheduled encounters with other frequent users (local) at sporadic and points in time.

Neighbourhood parks and single or row street-front shops.

Type 3 – Scheduled Conduits

Facilitate scheduled activities with a variety of local and extra-local users.

Busy at particular times and are associated with a particular functions.

Restaurants, cinemas, theatres and train stations.


Type 4 – Extra Local Conduits

Attract locals and extra-local users at all times; large catchment areas.

Large malls or shopping complexes.



We found that neighbourhood development indicated by fewer vacant properties, industrial and agricultural sites (these features we refer to as social holes), was associated with higher collective efficacy and less crime over time. This is likely because these social holes were replaced by features that contribute to the social fabric either residential landuse or social conduits. Alternately, the introduction of more scheduled conduits – that is restaurants, transit stations or cinemas – was associated with higher theft and nuisance crimes over time, regardless of neighbourhood collective efficacy. This suggests that by facilitating the convergence of people, some types of social conduits can also provide opportunities for crime. This may be particularly the case with the addition of socially conducive places, which may leave neighbourhoods vulnerable to crime at least in the short term until new patterns of sociability emerge and collective efficacy develops.



Hipp JR, Corcoran J, Wickes R, et al. (2014) Examining the social porosity of environmental features on neighborhood sociability and attachment. Plos One 9: e84544-e84544.

Sampson RJ, Raudenbush SW and Earls F. (1997) Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science 277: 918-924.

Wickes R, Zahnow R, Corcoran J, et al. (2018) Neighbourhood social conduits and resident social cohesion. Urban studies 56: 226-248.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.




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