Green space and crime

Mardelle Shepley

New research finds that well-designed and -maintained urban parks can reduce gun violence, improve safety and keep residents healthier, while poorly-designed and -maintained parks lead to more crime.

The research review, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, combined data from 45 research papers to develop a clear understanding of the complicated relationship between public parks and criminal behavior.

“With the increased prevalence of gun violence in the United States now, our team of researchers was trying to think of some ways that design could intervene,” said Mardelle M. Shepley, professor and Chair of the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis and the paper’s lead author. “What can we do to enhance the quality of health and well-being?”

Shepley partnered with a team of multidisciplinary colleagues from Cornell and the University of Virginia to create the most comprehensive analysis to date on how green space affects crime rates. The team identified patterns they hope will help guide urban design and ultimately lead to safer, more pleasant neighborhoods.

“Just because you create a park doesn’t mean it’s going to be effective,” Shepley said. “The community should be involved in the design process. This will lead to a more user-friendly design and also encourage a feeling of ownership that results in better maintenance.”

The research review found several other design elements that are important to reductions in violent crime: accessibility, so that community members can reach the park easily; visibility, so that there are not hidden spots where criminal activity can take place; and proper maintenance.

“There needs to be activity and life there,” Shepley said. “When you maintain something and it looks cared for, it tells a potential threat that this area is meaningful to people. If a community supports the presence of a park, that is going to push off people who are not wanted.”

Shepley’s team has applied for funding for a second stage of the project, where they hope to develop specific design guidelines that communities can use when creating or renovating urban green spaces.

Contributors to the research review include Cornell landscape architect Naomi Sachs, Hessam Sadatsafavi of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, Cornell librarian Christine Fournier and Kati Peditto, a post-doctoral student in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis.

Photo & Illustration: Cornell University Marketing Group. Freepik

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