As an environmentalist working in South Central L.A., I have often encountered the same misconceptions about trees, animals, and well, just nature in general over and over again. “I know this area and if you build a park in this neighborhood it will just be a magnet for people doing drugs or attract more crime!” or “If you build this park near this school it will attract birds and other animals that will bring disease to the children!” or the classic “who’s going to provide security detail for this green space?!” are complaints all too familiar to my ears. In fact, looks like I’m not the only one to be so stubborn in my refusal to just unquestioningly accept that trees are somehow inherently “bad”- just read the “Visions of a lush, green South L.A.” OpEd that was written by Toni Ann Johnson (a member of the Southwest L.A. neighborhood council) and that recently appeared on the Los Angeles Times.
Yet, I understand their concerns because of the experience they come from: most people’s perception of “green” or “natural” things has been negative because, just like anything else in South Central, parks have been associated with gang violence, crime, drug use, or worse. When peole bring up these kinds of concerns during neighborhood design workshops (to open more green space in the area so the community at large can enjoy it), my usual course of action is to explain that aside from the multiple benefits of opening more green space in an area as unjustly deprived of green healthy spaces as South Central is, the strategy to keep undesired activity away is an investment of community involvement and a constant flow of community activity (festivals, educational events, recreational competitions, etc.) in the planning and building phases of these communal green spaces. It’s all about community and that’s how it should be.
Yet, the pesky lingering question of whether or not trees attract crime still bothered me. Well, last month I had the fortune of attending a workshop at the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative‘s Annual Community Forum and was pleasantly surprised to hear from the Tree People, who quoted a study that actually argues that vegetation can and does function as a deterrent of crime.
Just check this out:
In a 2001 study in one Chicago public housing development, there were dramatically fewer occurrences of crime against both people and property in apartment buildings surrounded by trees and greenery than in nearby identical apartments that were surrounded by barren land. In fact, compared with buildings that had little or no vegetation, buildings with high levels of greenery had 48 percent fewer property crimes and 56 percent fewer violent crimes. Even modest amounts of greenery were associated with lower crime rates. The greener the surroundings, the fewer the number of crimes that occurred.
To review this study and others related to how vegetation can help better the overall health of a community visit: http://www.lhhl.uiuc.edu/