Monday, June 26, 2006

More from the Conservation Biology Conference: Benefits of Urban Green Spaces and Environmental Justice Implications

Researcher Michael Gavin just presented a very interesting lecture in which he noted that green spaces in cities provide such social benefits as:

1. Increased social interaction in the community - more cohesion in neighborhoods with more green space (likely due to people spending more time outside in their shared green spaces)
2. Less social conflict
3. Reduced stress levels, and faster recovery from stressful events
4. Increased patient recovery from illness and injury - both in the quantity (faster) and quality (to what level they recover) of recovery
5. Kids and Playing: kids play more creatively, and more in general in neighborhoods with more green space.

But there is a problem here, with important implications for environmental justice.

It seems that areas of cities with the most green space tend to be the most affluent and the most white.

There are clear benefits to green space, but they are not equitably distributed throughout society.

This leaves me wondering if given findings like this, it would be a good idea, from a crime-reduction perspective, to target urban poor neighborhoods for greening projects. The results of this talk suggest that not only would these projects green what are currently often the most dismal and violent neighborhoods in cities. But they would also reduce social discord and stress, and increase community cohesion. Could urban greening therefore help to reduce the economic and health costs of urban crime and policing?

Anybody out there with more information on whether such projects are happening and what kind of results they are achieving?


  1. Right after I posted this, the man sitting at the conference table next to me--an intern with the American Museum of Natural History--asked me about the post and relayed a great story in response.

    One about an instance in which greening did indeed reduce the crime rate. I asked if he would kindly post the excellent story to share with our readers.

    If you are reading this again, please do share that story!

    Hope to see you tomorrow and good talking with you.

  2. Hi Jon,
    I am that man. So the paper is by Kuo & Sullivan (2001). Here is a tidbit from the abstract of their paper:

    "Results indicate that although
    residents were randomly assigned to different levels of nearby vegetation, the greener a building’s surroundings were,the fewer crimes reported.Furthermore,this pattern held for both property crimes and violent crimes."

    So what that is the take home point but why did this happen. Well the authors cite studies that suggest children were twice asl ikely to have adult supervision in green inner-city neighborhood spaces than in similar bu tbarren spaces (A.F.Tay-
    lor, Wiley, Kuo, & Sullivan, 1998). Thus, in these settings, higher levels of
    vegetation not only preserve visibility but may also increase surveillance parents outside supervising their children. It seems that certain type of vegitation and within certain kinds of housing structures work well to predict crime reduction.