Reduce crime and gun violence and stabilize neighborhoods: A randomized controlled study

Residents who lived near vacant land that had been restored reported a significantly reduced perception of crime and vandalism as well as increased feelings of safety and use of outside spaces for socializing, according to a new study at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. Police reports matched these perceptions showing significant reductions in overall crime, including gun violence, and nuisances. The findings are published online in the journal PNAS.

The study conducted in Philadelphia is believed to be the first randomized controlled trial to test inexpensive interventions that restore vacant urban land and reduce and fear among residents.

"Our findings showed that restoration of vacant land helps to deter crime and violence and represents a pragmatic upstream infrastructural investment strategy to address complex social issues in cities," said Charles Branas, PhD, Mailman School of Public Health chair and professor of Epidemiology, and lead author. "We found that police reports accurately reflected residents' perceptions, and revealed significant reductions in overall crime, gun violence, and nuisances."

Vacant land comprises approximately 15 percent of the land in U.S. cities. These areas can foster criminal activity, and urban residents, especially those in low-income neighborhoods, often view vacant land as a threat to their health and safety.

To analyze the relationship between restoring vacant plots and crime in Philadelphia, Branas and colleagues at Penn, UCLA, Rutgers, and the U.S. Forest Service randomly selected 541 vacant lots that were then randomly assigned to receive restoration or as control sites. Crime data were gathered from police reports and 445 randomly sampled residents living near the lots were repeatedly interviewed. These data were analyzed 18 months before and after the restorations were completed. The researchers also placed anthropologists in two select neighborhoods to learn in even greater detail what residents were experiencing and how neighborhoods had been affected by the restorations.

Residents living near treated vacant lots reported significantly reduced perceptions of crime (37 percent less), vandalism (39 percent less) and safety concerns when going outside their homes (58 percent less). More than three-quarters of the residents said they significantly increased their use of outside spaces for relaxing and socializing.

In addition to a significant overall reduction in crime, police reports also indicated as much as a 29 percent reduction in gun violence, a 22 percent decrease in burglaries, and a 30 percent reduction in nuisances for neighborhoods below the poverty line. Nuisances included things like vandalism, noise complaints, public drunkenness, and illegal dumping.

"Given a city like Philadelphia's prior experience with , the 29 percent reduction in crime reported in this trial could translate into hundreds of fewer shootings each year if the vacant land interventions tested here were scaled beyond just the locations of the study," said Branas.

The cleaning and greening of vacant lots included trash and debris removal, grading the land, planting new grass via a rapid hydroseeding method, and maintaining the lot throughout the post-intervention period. This vacant land restoration approach has been shown to be quick, inexpensive, and with a high return-on-investment. Many cities have focused on more expensive responses to the poor living conditions brought on by large inventories of vacant properties. These strategies can have the unintended consequence of displacing people who don't want to move and may not reflect residents' needs and preferences. The vacant land restoration strategy tested in this study was specifically chosen to improve local neighborhood conditions, block-by-block, and encourage to stay in their home neighborhoods.

"Our study shows that direct changes to vacant urban spaces may hold great promise in breaking the cycle of abandonment, violence, and fear in our cities and do so in a cost-effective way that has broad, citywide scalability," said Branas.


Explore further

Adding windows to vacant houses and clearing vacant lots reduces gun violence, saves money

More information: Citywide cluster randomized trial to restore blighted vacant land and its effects on violence el al., "TAINABILITY SCIENCE," PNAS (2018). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1718503115
Citation: Reduce crime and gun violence and stabilize neighborhoods: A randomized controlled study (2018, February 26) retrieved 20 April 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2018-02-crime-gun-violence-stabilize-neighborhoods.html
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Feb 26, 2018
I remember back in the sixties, many schools having gun clubs. Strangely, there weren't mass shootings by students back then. Also, crime rates were much lower. I wonder what's changed between then and now?

Feb 27, 2018
@tblakely1357: Many, many things. Basicly, society in general.

Feb 27, 2018
Zephyr should try to rely on facts.

"There are actually more occurrences of, and deaths from, mass shootings in Europe than the United States, on a per capita basis.

"As the following tables from CPRC show that the United States is in the middle when ranked against European countries that have, for the most part, far more restrictive gun laws."

"the second mass murder wave from the mid-1960s through the mid-1990s consisted of a greater number of mass public shootings"

-And I know that mass-murder by gun casualties per capita has actually gone down since then but haven't yet found those statistics.

Other salient statistics would be casualties per capita from guns vs other methods such as vehicles, bombs, gas, arson, etc.

Are you a hype monger zephyr?

These statistics all need to be considered before drawing conclusions about guns and mass murder since the 60s, both in the US and in gun-banned euro countries.

Feb 27, 2018
I remember back in the sixties, many schools having gun clubs. Strangely, there weren't mass shootings by students back then. Also, crime rates were much lower. I wonder what's changed between then and now?

Maybe the gun clubs of back then are part of the problem the US faces now?

Think about it this way:

a) How much do you trust a stranger
b) How much do you trust a stranger with a gun (or just the perception that any stranger is more likely to have a gun than not)

The difference is that in the b) case you add an element of fear. Fear does not generate trust. Loss of trust leads to loss of cohesion in a society (which basically means the end of a society because cohesion IS what defines a society)

Gun clubs might have made guns 'acceptable'
(Jesus...the very idea of a "gun club" seems totally insane to me. Seriously? Gun clubs?)

Feb 27, 2018
And as statistics show, its not linked to economics as with gang violence.

Mass shootings in Europe are apparently a bigger problem, according to the statistics I presented. Hype mongers would have you believe this is a US problem because they would rather ape what they hear on the news rather than do a little research to vet it.

Feb 27, 2018
Gun clubs might have made guns 'acceptable'
(Jesus...the very idea of a "gun club" seems totally insane to me. Seriously? Gun clubs?)
The depths of the gunphobe disease...

We had a shooting range in our school basement. Practice with .22 rifles was part of gym class. Teams would compete with other schools. And it seems we have far fewer gunphobes here than in eu Disneyworld.

Perhaps this sort of program would help to reduce mass shootings in eu Disneyworld which is 26% higher than here. Per capita wise that is.

Perhaps it could also help to reduce gang violence in inner cities as well.
b) How much do you trust a stranger with a gun (or just the perception that any stranger is more likely to have a gun than not)
and c) how much time would you spend curled up under your bed if you lived in a place where many of the strangers around you have always had guns in their homes and on their persons?

Gunphobia is easily fomented in places without guns.

Feb 27, 2018
The only answer seems to be vacant lot control, take away the vacant lots and all our problems are solved! The 28th-Ammendment should be Vacant Lot Prohibition because prohibition always solves all the problems.

Feb 27, 2018
I remember back in the sixties, many schools having gun clubs. Strangely, there weren't mass shootings by students back then. Also, crime rates were much lower. I wonder what's changed between then and now?

Do you really remember? Did you blot this out of your memory? https://en.wikipe...shooting

Feb 27, 2018
Take away their precious guns and make them face reality like the rest of us.

We do not have to put up with this. Take their guns!!

Feb 27, 2018
For those who tell the lie that crime rates are up:
https://en.wikipe...pothesis

For those who insist that they be allowed to cower in their bunkers fondling their penis-substitute:
Quote me the original, unedited, not redacted Second Amendment. And, which official State Militia do you drill with?

For decades, the altright fairytails loudly screeched to "restore" the "original" Constitution. Now with the senile buffoon as the Bogus POTUS, all those demands have disappeared. Along with the Emoluments Clause, the First Amendment and other embarrassing portions of the Constitution. Embarrassing to the quislings and their fascist ideology!


Feb 27, 2018
Why is it ivory tower academics think the obvious is profound?

Feb 27, 2018
Mass shooting has absolutely nothing to do with gangs - it's recreation activity of unorganized individuals
It's tribalism nothing more and nothing less. When times are hard people congeal into tribes for support and protection. They begin feeding off of the outsiders around them; shakedown, protection rackets, robbing, burglarizing, assaulting, etc.

In tribal law, crimes within the tribe are not considered crimes when committed against outsiders. Reading the old testament makes this obvious.

And no, its not recreation... tribal living is what made us human.

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