Does vegetation encourage or suppress urban crime? Evidence from Philadelphia, PA

By Mary K. Wolfe and Jeremy Mennis, Temple University

Philadelphia, PA (December 2012) – There is longstanding belief that vegetation encourages crime as it can conceal criminal activity. Other studies, however, have shown that urban residential areas with well-maintained vegetation experience lower rates of certain crime types due to increased surveillance in vegetated spaces as well as the therapeutic effects ascribed to vegetated landscapes. The present research analyzes the association of vegetation with crime in a case study of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

We examine rates of assaults, robberies, burglaries, and thefts in relation to remotely sensed vegetation abundance at the Census tract level. We employ choropleth mapping, correlation, ordinary least squares regression, and spatial econometric modeling to examine the influence of vegetation on various crime types while controlling for tract-level socioeconomic indicators.

Results indicate that vegetation abundance is significantly associated with lower rates of assault, robbery, and burglary, but not theft. This research has implications for urban planning policy, especially as cities are moving towards ‘green’ growth plans and must look to incorporate sustainable methods of crime prevention into city planning.

Source: Does vegetation encourage or suppress urban crime? Evidence from Philadelphia, PA, Landscape and Urban Planning,  Volume 108, Issues 2-4, November–December 2012, Pages 112–122.

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