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Thread: Are green cities safer?

  1. #1
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    Are green cities safer?

    One my favorite books is "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" and I began to think about how it relates to the current Green movement. Here's a very open (theoretical) question, "Do Green cities make for safer cities?" or "Do high standards in environmental responsibility create safer/less crime?"

    Some of my thoughts: Mass transit makes for more "eyes" on the street and prevents many crimes. Same concept with pedestrians. Mixed use buildings also create more life and give streets a near 24 hour life (unlike suburbia which sits relatively unused between 8-5). And people who are eco-responsible are more likely to be socially responsible.

    In theory do you think this is a worthy idea? What about practically? Any real life examples would fantastic (for or against)!

  2. #2
    Crime was the primary focus of Jacobs' work. The critiques of her book when it was published (aside from some very sexist arguments) was that she focused too much on crime prevention and ignored many of the other features of city life. Jacobs herself moderated those views to incorporate economic development not in Death and Life but in her later books.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    'Green' cities are more resilient. Whether this translates into safety may depend upon the society.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    And people who are eco-responsible are more likely to be socially responsible.
    I'm inclinded to agree with this. When's the last time you saw a vegetarian instigating a street fight?

    Conversely, you could argue that if cities were more "green" and amenable, it would induce more of the middle class to move back and in turn create a condition where a smaller % of the population is indigent or has fallen victim to some kind of social ill and has little choice in where to live. That is, if there are more people with stable lives and jobs are enticed to live in cities, it would ultimatly affect the crime rate.
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater View post
    If cities were more "green" and amenable, it would induce more of the middle class to move back and in turn create a condition where a smaller % of the population is indigent or has fallen victim to some kind of social ill and has little choice in where to live. That is, if there are more people with stable lives and jobs are enticed to live in cities, it would ultimately affect the crime rate.
    This is something I hadn't thought of. Stability is a huge part of safety and assurance. I often find people believing that being "green" is a middle and upper class "activity" because of affordability and free time. While the lower class has less opportunity to be "green" due to lack of education and wealth of time and money.

    However, I think that if a city has green transportation, mixed use zoning and recycling (that is seen as a necessity) even the lower classes would benefit. They would benefit most from lower costs of transportation (mass transit/smaller distances) and from the constant eye of streets with residents, business men, retail and hopefully even some form of small scale industry.

    Unfortunately, if this scenario were true the lower class would probably be pushed further and further away from the green epicenter because of rising prices and demand, which in turn would push crime out of the city into the suburbs. Hmm...

  6. #6
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Detroit is plenty green. With all the vacant land and humidity. I don't think its any safer now than it used to be back when we had people here and stuff. The air is a lot cleaner though.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    Detroit is plenty green. With all the vacant land and humidity. I don't think its any safer now than it used to be back when we had people here and stuff. The air is a lot cleaner though.
    By "green" I mean more than just greenery. I mean environmentally responsible in policy, transit, etc. Of course actual trees and open space plays a part but there is much more involved.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    In the literal sense of "green" (more trees and vegetation integrated into the built environment), there are studies showing that violence drops in settings where people can access nature (even a small park). Even seeing a tree outside your window has a positive impact.

    But I think that this question is pretty complex. I think that the nature and vibrancy of the economy has a large impact on crime. It does probably often happen that cities with revenue to invest in the transition to more "green" infrastructure is perhaps doing better economically (thus the extra tax revenue). I suspect this is not always the case, though. A lot of the infrastructure we think of as "green" is also about improving the economy as well as the general quality of life (public transit, energy saving in government buildings or elsewhere, the construction projects these efforts create, etc.). But if those things don't result in improved employment, better wages, permanent jobs, etc., it still may create experiences and conditions more conducive to crime. Living in Philadelphia, I can tell you that there was plenty of crime around certain transit stops, regardless of eyes on the street. But when things are bleak, this is what some people do.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  9. #9
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    If “green” is seen as a component of an overall goal towards sustainability, then yes, green cities can absolutely safer cities. Many cities have jumped on the green bandwagon because it’s seen as trendy, or even just the right thing to do. But if it’s not part of a greater effort that includes, complete streets, increased and varied mobility, sensible economic development policy, housing, targeted neighborhood investment, etc… then you have nothing more than a few extra LEED plaques on walls and new bureaucratic layers from newly created Green Coordinators. The various components of the overall sustainable strategy should each lend to greater stability, which reduces crime, which….

  10. #10
    I heartily disagree with the notion that eco-conscious people are more socially-responsible than others.

    First of all, appreciation and valuation of the environment comes in many flavors. For example, while a hunter may not be "eco-conscious" in the same way an urban trendite thinks he is by planting a community garden, a hunter has a much more intimate knowledge and appreciation of an ecosystem and his own role in it. He may not see cities in the same way an urbanite does, because he most likely does not live in a city, but lives closer to nature. So there are different ways of interacting with nature, and necessarily different means of appreciation. This influences factors of altruism.

    Second, there are many safe communities where environmentalists are unpopular. People seem to forget that the modern environmental movement is very young, and people have been living in communities for, I don't know, a little while longer than that.

    I'm no sociologist, but I'd venture to say that crime has more to do with opportunities for youngsters and access to living-wage jobs than anything else, by far. Really, the notion that you have to be environmentally-conscious to be peace-loving is comical and essentially a gross display of elitism. Again, people appreciate nature in different ways, and just because a person may be politically conservative, does not mean he or she doesn't care for the environment, and even carry out a life of environmental stewardship.

    Crime happens, not when we don't care for the environment, but when there are no opportunities for making a living. And what do you know, when people are economically better off, they turn their attention to the environment and other things that are down the line from their own personal welfare. Maslow's hierarchy of needs, anyone? So looking at "green cities" and saying they have less crime is a false premise, and any correlation is probably spurious, because you're not accounting for economic health.

  11. #11
    Two areas with less environmental activism and more crime:

    The South and the San Joaquin Valley area of California. It would be interesting to see if there were national correlations.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    Two areas with less environmental activism and more crime:

    The South and the San Joaquin Valley area of California. It would be interesting to see if there were national correlations.
    As I said above, this is a highly spurious correlation, if there is any. Research has shown quite clearly that crime has more to do with economics than it does with anything else. If you have an economically healthy community, people will give more attention to other seemingly less important things, like the environment.

    The Central Valley of CA has pretty much the worst poverty and low-income rates in the entire state.

    Really, you'd have to control for so many other social and environmental factors, that any study trying to connect environmentalism and crime would be meaningless.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    Two areas with less environmental activism and more crime:

    The South and the San Joaquin Valley area of California. It would be interesting to see if there were national correlations.
    I agree with CC. The SJV's crime as with most crime imo is due to socio-economics and opportunity versus the correlation of environmental activism. Those that are eco-conscious tend to be more educated than say those folks with simply a high school education working at the canning factory. One could argue that environmental regulation in this region is tougher than the majority of other states, yet is crime affected? No.

    This whole concept of the two is a bunch of BS. Take San Francisco, one could argue a "green city" with viable transit, heavy pedestrian activities, activism, etc. Street crimes, murders, theft, etc occur here just like many other comparable metros throughout the US. Compare the outcomes to a comparable outside the US and you may have a different outcome, but that is not due to "environmental outcome" but rather many other factors including laws, gun control, education, culture, etc.

    This whole argument is hogwash.
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  14. #14
    You are very right about the effects of social and economic factors. However, even controlling for those factors, there are studies that suggest that the South has a higher homicide rate (perhaps because it has a higher gun ownership rate). Controlling for SES factors, San Francisco is a safer city than the average by the way.

    See for example,

    http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murder-rates-1996-2008

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    , San Francisco is a safer city than the average by the way.
    Off-topic:
    Oh trust me, i know. I find it sad that i feel safer in "the city" than say where i actually live (modesto, a city 1/3 its size)
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  16. #16
    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    You are very right about the effects of social and economic factors. However, even controlling for those factors, there are studies that suggest that the South has a higher homicide rate (perhaps because it has a higher gun ownership rate). Controlling for SES factors, San Francisco is a safer city than the average by the way.
    Other factors are family histories of poverty, so that, even if the newest generation isn't that bad off, if they come from a historically poor background some of the negative social effects are still there.

  17. #17
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    I agree with a lot of what you've said Chocolatechip, especially that of their being different flavors of "eco-consciousness" and economic factors.

    I do think that while a hunter and a gardening urbanite see nature differently both ARE interacting with it and make a conscious decision to do so. In my opinion the hunter may be as (or more) eco-friendly as the urbanite. Both have decided how they are going to approach nature and that act, imo, makes them more likely to be socially responsible.

    Economic Factors: (CC, Wahday) Without a doubt economic opportunity is a huge factor in crime. (It'll be interesting to learn more about the current recession and why crime is dropping or keeping level...hmm.) However, I think in many cases being green can stave off the effects of an economic downturn. I'll use Japan as an example, which may be unfair since it has a low crime rate to begin with, but I do think this is partially related to the topic at hand.
    On my street the effect of the global downturn isn't hard to find, but their is still plenty of activity. On the street where I live there is teacher housing, private residences, two industrial buildings, and a restaurant. The next street over there is more of the same mixed use areas. Even though there are two or three buildings that are abandoned on my street safety is still pristine. My thinking (and it may very well be wrong) is that the different buildings and occupants keep the street "honest" and lively. Mixed use and walkable neighborhoods are greener and I think safer too, but maybe they are safer simply because of the eyes and nothing related eco-consciousness/eco-livability.

    Compare this to many American cities where the industry is kept in on the outskirts, residential is lumped together and commercial rests on roads and downtown. If my street were only industrial the whole place would be empty and prone to abuse.

    CPSURaf: I think you have hit the nail on the head that people who tend to be eco-conscious are better educated. And it may be that this whole idea is BS (like you said).
    Last edited by Tvaw; 09 Mar 2010 at 7:39 PM. Reason: Missed something

  18. #18
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by biscuit View post
    If “green” is seen as a component of an overall goal towards sustainability, then yes, green cities can absolutely safer cities. Many cities have jumped on the green bandwagon because it’s seen as trendy, or even just the right thing to do. But if it’s not part of a greater effort that includes, complete streets, increased and varied mobility, sensible economic development policy, housing, targeted neighborhood investment, etc… then you have nothing more than a few extra LEED plaques on walls and new bureaucratic layers from newly created Green Coordinators. The various components of the overall sustainable strategy should each lend to greater stability, which reduces crime, which….
    I am with Biscuit on this topic. A holistic sustainability program will help reduce crime. Any one or two facets of sustainability alone just look pretty. A holistic program should include Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, economic development, affordable housing, yada, yada. Now, try to explain all that to my community.

  19. #19
    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    I am with Biscuit on this topic. A holistic sustainability program will help reduce crime. Any one or two facets of sustainability alone just look pretty. A holistic program should include Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, economic development, affordable housing, yada, yada. Now, try to explain all that to my community.
    Well, if you want your community to listen don't call it a "holistic sustainability program" like so much other "hippie sh*t".

    On a related note, this is really all about ecological economics... unfortunately that paradigm has yet to really catch on.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    This argument (more green = less crime) reminds me of a host of similar such arguments ("if we all went to church more often, we could force the local gangs out of the neighborhood", etc).

    It is overly simplistic and appears to be a stretch to try to force people to adopt eco-friendly principles by implying that crime is somehow linked to the fact that people aren't recycling enough or commuting via mass transit or cycle. It reeks of control by fear.

    Environmental responsibility may or may not produce social responsibility in the sense that you aiming for.

    Someone can recycle, ride mass transit, install solar panels, and still go out and vote to discriminate against the equality of same-sex couples and/or work at a job that is essentially corporate thievery... does the fact that they are on the path of environmental responsibility mean they are socially responsible? Nay. Ok I admit that was a jab based on my personal feelings, but my point remains that one does produce the other, nor is one a marker for the other.

    If a correlation exists after extensive research, which seems improbable, then I would suspect that other factors - such as economic conditions (chocolate chip described) - are not being considered and are somehow skewing your data.

    But, if you feel like investing the time in the research, go for it. Make sure you post your methodology with your results. It should spur interesting conversation if nothing else.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    What I was getting at was that safety could be a side effect rather than a direct result. I didn't see the issue as environmentalists having lower criminal tendencies that the greater population, though it would be interesting to do a study on crime rates among members of major environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and World Wildlife Fund. I would put money on it being quite low.

    One thing I've noticed here in LV is an increase in peope using scooters to commute due to the recession and high gas prices (I'm taking that as obvious, though not scientific, I know). You could argue that scooters are an environmentally better choice, since they get much better mileage than cars. But are they safer? Accidents between them and cars are quite common now, and the scooter riders don't fare too well. There you have an example of an environmentally better choice decreasing safety for the individual.

    Taken in larger terms, what if "going green" decreased your country's need to go to war for oil, and ultimately affecting the level of safety from armed conflict? I know this is hard to fathom from the relative safety from war that the average American city enjoys, but imagine Baghdad if oil were never discovered in Iraq.

    Sorry to take this in a tangent that may seem unrelated, but you really need to look at the totality with these problems.
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  22. #22
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater View post
    I'm inclinded to agree with this. When's the last time you saw a vegetarian instigating a street fight?
    I never quite understood the connection between vegetarianism and environmentalism, besides the fact that most vegetarians are also good environmentalists. Several celebrities and whatnot tout such a claim, even going so far as to make a direct correlation. I just never saw a concrete direct link that wasn't based on marginal evidence or that couldn't also be used to describe any relationship between consumers of corporate food (organic, green, free-range, it doesn't matter ultimately) and the environment. Can someone explain it? The only one I understand is the "eat local" pitch, but that's not necessarily vegetarian-related either.

  23. #23
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    Off-topic:


    I never quite understood the connection between vegetarianism and environmentalism, besides the fact that most vegetarians are also good environmentalists. Several celebrities and whatnot tout such a claim, even going so far as to make a direct correlation. I just never saw a concrete direct link that wasn't based on marginal evidence or that couldn't also be used to describe any relationship between consumers of corporate food (organic, green, free-range, it doesn't matter ultimately) and the environment. Can someone explain it? The only one I understand is the "eat local" pitch, but that's not necessarily vegetarian-related either.
    Off-topic:
    From what I understand raising animals for slaughter is harder on the earth (ecologically speaking) than plants. There are the concerns about disposal of animal wastes, but the primary problem with raising animals is it takes a lot more land to produce the same amount of calories that could be accomplished by growing plants. So ranchers in Brazil and other tropical locations are cutting down rainforest rapidly partly to make $ from the wood harvest but also to increase cattle grazing areas to meet increased consumer demand for meat. The loss of rainforest habitat is difficult for the earth to replace/absorb (but in fairness farmers engaging in 'slash and burn' agriculture also remove rainforest to produce plants).
    Last edited by Maister; 11 Mar 2010 at 3:56 PM.
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  24. #24
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    Off-topic:
    From what I understand raising animals for slaughter is harder on the earth (ecologically speaking) than plants. There are the concerns about disposal of animal wastes, but the primary problem with raising animals is it takes a lot more land to produce the same amount of calories that could be accomplished by growing plants. So ranchers in Brazil and other tropical locations are cutting down rainforest rapidly partly to make $ from the wood harvest but also to increase cattle grazing areas to meet increased consumer demand for meat. The loss of rainforest habitat is difficult for the earth to replace/absorb (but in fairness farmers engaging in 'slash and burn' agriculture also remove rainforest to produce plants).
    So then, environmentally ideally, eat a diet primarily of organic plants, but then an occasional free-range, organically-fed steak or chicken breast is okay, all grown, produced, and/or raised locally? That makes sense. Thanks.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    Well, there's the fact that pound for pound, it takes a lot less energy to grow vegetables than to grow chickens or cattle. "Eating lower on the food chain" they like to call it. The US would need a lot less oil if a greater % were vegetarians. Then you have all the methane produced by those flatulent cows, polluted runoff from hog feed lots, greater land requirements...the list goes on.

    As to the less-aggressive nature of vegetarians, I've heard it explained (now bear with me) that animals secrete a hormone to stimulate agressiveness when they are going through the slaughterhouse. You know, fight or flight response. The meat-eater then ingests this aggressive-hormone laden meat and in turn it makes them more agressive. It builds up in one's system with the more meat consumed. That's the theory at least.
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