While forestry is often perceived as an activity that is based solely in rural areas, it has recently been recognized in urban areas. Many know the importance of green space in the city for purposes such as creating recreational areas, aesthetic value, and ecological flourishing; but the public’s knowledge of the importance of trees is small in comparison. Although I touched on the role of trees in street enclosure during my first post Discovering Successful Neighborhood Elements in South Minneapolis, trees have been recently said to add another critical social value: the lowering of crime rates.
The first study to research the relationship between trees and crime rates was The Effect of Trees on Crime, in Portland Oregon (2011). The U.S Forestry’s study concluded that:
- "Trees may indicate that a neighborhood is more cared for" and under surveillance by authorities;
- Residential areas with tall trees had less crime because trees made the area look more attractive and livable;
- Streets with more trees and bigger tree canopies were associated with less crime; and
- Not all trees are crime-reducers. Shrubs and short trees that are located next to the first-floor windows or are next to a house create hide-outs for criminals.
This study extracted information from 2,813 single-family homes, where 394 property and thirty-seven violent crimes were committed. While this study gives no conclusive evidence that trees are a solution for crime and violence, it does indicate the role of ecological design in urban planning, and moreover how community building can impact social constructs. As Brighton West, program director for a Portland nonprofit that advocates tree-planting called Friends of Trees, said, "It's not only the trees, but the physical act of planting trees and people just getting together that can affect how safe people feel in their own neighborhood."
It seems that the placement of trees in our neighborhoods not only provides amenities such as oxygen and stormwater abatement, but also increases property values, shades buildings to decrease the need for air conditioning, provides a noise barrier from traffic, and decreases the occurrences of property and violent crime. With the recent surge of crime happening at the University of Minnesota, causing many students to demand more public safety measures, it poses the question - should ecological design be part of our precautions for crime in the city?
What additional attributes do trees add to a neighborhoods characteristic? In terms of crime, how do trees and green space affect how safe you feel in a neighborhood? What is the designer’s role in creating spaces that afford positive social activities?
Credits: Images by Abbey Seitz. Data linked to Sources.