Is There a Link Between Green Cities & Lower Crime Rates?

It is no secret that South Africa has significantly high crime rates and is a global crime hotspot. South African residents are constantly implementing measures to ensure their homes are well-protected. Protecting homes does not have to involve home security, and a new study suggests that green cities could be the answer to lowering crime rates, but is there a link between these two things?

Green cities have adopted climate-focused legislation to cut emissions and combat global warming. Mobility, urban design, and resource management are the three primary categories into which we divide the standard components of a Green City.

Large cities and transportation networks are typically needed to move people around large spaces. Countries have been building cities to accommodate cars for the past 100 years. Green communities are setting the standard for reducing reliance on cars. Instead, alternative modes of mobility, including cycling and public transportation, are becoming more popular. Urban green spaces look nice, offer recreation, enhance air quality, promote physical and mental health, and control stormwater flows. They reduce urban heat islands and generate employment.

Nevertheless, some neighbourhoods are against urban greening initiatives because they believe that street trees and green spaces serve as hiding spots for criminals. These anxieties are not exclusive to South Africa; they have been reported from wealthy and developing nations’ cities.

Much research has been conducted internationally about how green spaces, such as public parks, could reduce crime rates. They can increase community cohesion and mental health; however, could this also apply to South Africa?

The University of Pretoria’s Department of Geography, Geoinformatics, and Meteorology’s Professor Gregory Breetzke was a member of a research team that conducted the first study of its kind in the Global South on the impact of urban green spaces on crime rates in South Africa.

According to the study, property crime was reduced by 1.3% and violent crime by 1.2% for every 1% increase in total green space. To determine the true impact that green cities have on crime and eliminate the possibility that lower crime rates in the vicinity of greenspaces are merely a coincidence, the researchers took into account variables including income disparity, unemployment, land use, and property value.

The researchers recorded all the greenspaces for each location while compiling ten years’ worth of crime statistics data from more than 1000 police stations. The researchers also used advanced statistical methods to show a reduction in the risk of violent and property crime with an increase in green cities. The study’s results also indicated that having more trees in areas would increase property crime rates.

In another study to investigate the idea that having green cities leads to lower crime rates, researchers used ten years’ worth of station-level crime statistics from South Africa. Researchers carefully examined the relationship between urban greening and crime because South Africa has one of the highest rates of crime in the entire world.

The findings of this national-scale study, which used total green space as the widest measure of greenness, support other earlier studies from the global north that show much lower rates of violent and property crime in greener neighbourhoods. As a result, even in a relatively high crime rate like South Africa, the association documented in other settings and countries seems strong.

Researchers used a variety of crime classifications, national analysis, and urban greenness indicators to evaluate the association in South Africa.

The South African Police Service provided crime statistics per police station (1,152 police stations) between 2010 and 2019. We combined them into property, violent, and sexual offences (expressed per 100,000 citizens for each police station).

The overall amount of green space per area, the proportionate (percentage) cover of trees, and the typical distance to the nearest formal or informal park was then determined using remote sensing.

Researchers discovered that more vegetation locations had lower violent and material crime rates. However, there was no connection to the frequency of sexual offences. When focusing on tree cover specifically, a more contradictory picture emerged, with increased tree cover it led to higher rates of property crime but lower rates of violent crimes.

However, areas with more trees and those close to public parks reported higher rates of property crimes were reported . There was no correlation between the rates of violent or sexual offences and proximity to parks. Property crimes tend to be concentrated in neighbourhoods with more trees and parks since more affluent homes tend to be found there.

However, well-maintained public parks, those with fences, lighting, playing fields, and some form of security, as well as those with these features as opposed to parks without these necessities, exhibit lower crime rates in surrounding regions.

These findings strengthen the need for more proactive and ambitious inclusion of urban green areas and trees in urban developments by urban planners and decision-makers in South Africa (and other contexts).

Due to the perception that such requests are being made by an environmental lobby and the assertion that there are more urgent needs for economic and social development, planners and authorities frequently ignore such requests.

This study demonstrates how urban greening has advantages far beyond environmental concerns. Along with the well-known public health benefits, they also support social inclusion and sustainability.

Therefore, urban greening needs to be one of the nation’s top urban planning and development priorities. To support the regular tree and green space upkeep that makes them valuable and appealing to neighbourhood residents, it is also necessary to allocate budgets, skills, and tactics outside the planning phase.



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