Remediating abandoned, inner city buildings reduces crime and violence in surrounding area

July 8, 2015, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Penn researchers found a significant decrease in serious and nuisance crimes in areas around remediated buildings after Philadelphia began enforcing an ordinance requiring owners of abandoned buildings to improve their facades and install working doors and windows in 2011. Credit: PLOS ONE, Branas et al.

Fixing up abandoned buildings in the inner city doesn't just eliminate eyesores, it can also significantly reduce crime and violence, including gun assaults, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Penn's Perelman School of Medicine report in the first study to demonstrate the direct impact of building remediation efforts on crime. The findings were published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

The research team, which included Michelle Kondo, PhD, a former research fellow at the Perelman School of Medicine now a scientist with the USDA Northern Research Station, John MacDonald, PhD, a professor of criminology at Penn, and Charles Branas, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at the Perelman School of Medicine, found a significant decrease in serious and nuisance crimes in areas around remediated buildings after Philadelphia began enforcing an ordinance requiring owners of abandoned buildings to improve their facades and install working doors and windows in 2011. The most significant reduction (down by 39 percent) occurred for gun assaults around remediated buildings in the year following improvements.

"Replacing broken windows and doors is an effective deterrent of crime—and a low-cost alternative to demolishing abandoned buildings," MacDonald said. "During a time when big cities like Philadelphia are looking to tackle issues of crime and , this study points to a potentially effective tactic for municipalities to continue or implement in helping make their neighborhoods safer and ultimately improving health outcomes."

Prior research suggests that vacant and abandoned places have a significant and negative impact on community health and safety. The "broken windows" theory proposes that abandonment sends a signal to would-be offenders that committing crimes is acceptable and will likely go unchallenged or unseen. A sister study of abandoned land, not buildings, conducted by Branas, MacDonald and others in 2011 found an association between greening remediation of vacant lots and reduced risks of neighborhood violence, stress, and sedentary behavior. Other studies have found associations between boarded-up buildings and drug-related deaths and .

"City-wide, we found significant reductions in total crimes, assaults, gun assaults, robberies and nuisance crimes associated with ordinance compliance," said Kondo, lead author of the study. "This could be the 'broken windows theory' in action, with new doors and windows and a newly cleaned building facade signaling to potential offenders that a property is occupied and crime is not tolerated."

To address the 40,000 or so vacant properties tallied up in Philadelphia in 2010 and the issues that came with them, the city started enforcing a "Doors and Windows Ordinance" in 2011.

Researchers found that of the 2,356 buildings cited by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections, 29 percent complied with the ordinance between January 2011 and April 2013. The team then compared the number of reported crimes and acts of violence at these "treatment" sites, where abandoned building owners had complied with the ordinance, to sites that had not complied, within one-half of a mile.

The crime and violence classifications included: all crimes, assaults, gun assaults, robberies, property crimes (burglaries and thefts), narcotics sales and possession, and nuisance crimes (vandalism, illegal dumping, public drunkenness, and disorderly conduct).

Compliance with the ordinance was associated with significant decreases in many of the crime and violence categories. City-wide, in areas around abandoned buildings that were remediated, over the 12 month average follow-up period in the study, there was an estimated 19 percent reduction in assaults, 39 percent reduction in gun assaults, and a 16 percent reduction in nuisance crimes. The size and significance of some of these effects, however, varied by section of the city.

Control sites were not statistically different from treatment sites in terms of the median age of the surrounding residents, their household income, education level, or poverty level.

"This study provides useful evidence that cities can directly impact some of their most pressing public health challenges, like violence, by changing the places within which their residents live, work, and play," Branas said. "These sorts of place-based programs are gaining credibility as practical and low cost, yet potentially high-return, health and safety solutions when compared to other options."

Explore further: Rehabilitating vacant lots improves urban health and safety, study finds

More information: PLOS ONE, http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0129582

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ryggesogn2
3 / 5 (4) Jul 08, 2015
"This study provides useful evidence that cities can directly impact some of their most pressing public health challenges, like violence, by changing the places within which their residents live, work, and play,""

Nothing about arresting criminals and keeping them off of the streets?
MR166
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 08, 2015
Did anyone notice the article's failure to mention the failed government polices that caused these buildings to be abandoned to begin with?

Oh I can hear the answers before they are even typed! Greedy landlords and greedy banks are keeping the poor homeless and out of these fine homes.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Jul 09, 2015
The effect probably isn't so much about the broken window theory, but gentrification.

When you no longer have a rotting shack next door, the property value goes up, which means the poorest people can't afford to live there anymore and are driven to move out of the neighborhoods. With property value on the rise, they sell their places and move somewhere cheaper.

Crime goes away with them.
Eikka
not rated yet Jul 09, 2015
Nothing about arresting criminals and keeping them off of the streets?


It's not feasible or cost-effective to keep so many locked up for such a long time, because for nuisance crimes you'd have to keep arresting petty thieves and stupid teenagers and that would cost you a lot in upkeep, while breeding a new generation of seasoned criminals because the prisons are just a training grounds for thugs and thieves.

MR166
5 / 5 (1) Jul 09, 2015
How about having the punishment for petty crimes consist of fixing up the buildings. I know, by the time all the costs of the supervision required are counted it might even be more costly but at least someone would learn how to do something constructive instead of destructive.
EWH
3 / 5 (2) Jul 12, 2015
MR166: You'll just be taking jobs away from illegal immigrants, which would be un-American. No, according to HUD, the obvious answer is move all the sub-80 IQ hood rats to nice neighborhoods using section 8 vouchers so that the underlying problem of segregation can be addressed. Banks and REITs will buy up the old hoods and get mojados to fix them up, then sell the results for 1000% profit back to the whites fleeing the new hoods created by the integration of vibrant diversity into their formerly nice areas. It's the cycle of life.
zaxxon451
3 / 5 (2) Jul 13, 2015

Nothing about arresting criminals and keeping them off of the streets?


Agreed. Make sure you arrest the right ones. You can usually tell by the way they look. Suit, tie, white, male. Usually have multiple homes, a yacht, no sense of social responsibility, and a complete ignorance of privilege.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jul 13, 2015
Banks and REITs will buy up the old hoods and get mojados to fix them up, then sell the results for 1000% profit back to the whites fleeing the new hoods created by the integration of vibrant diversity into their formerly nice areas. It's the cycle of life.


That was more or less what they did in the nordics between 70's to 90's, with a slight twist.

The zoning laws put some amount of cheap government housing wall-to-wall with the nice upscale apartments in every neighborhood, which diluted the poor among the better folk and quickly resulted in the rich voting for more social services in their areas so they wouldn't have to watch diseased drunks and druggies crawling around their streets.

After that, the new zoning laws have no longer maintained the requirement, so segregation is on the rise and so is income and purchasing power disparity, and the ghettos are returning to Sweden and Norway and Finland etc.
EWH
1 / 5 (2) Jul 13, 2015
Erica, I doubt that that will work so well with the new underclass that the Nordic nations have been importing lately, any more than it does with US Blacks. As a group, they don't have the needed intelligence or disposition for Scandinavian-style culture, and this is due almost entirely to genetic factors.

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