Can Planting More Trees Reduce Urban Crime Rates?

Environmental advocates often wax poetic about the power of trees to create a better world, but the effects of a thick tree cover are usually intangible at best. According to a new study [PDF] published in the June issue of the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, however, there may be a direct correlation between the number of trees in your neighborhood, and how safe you feel there.

The research was a case study of the city of Baltimore, a metropolitan area so riddled with crime, it’s spawned its own cop drama, The Wire. Scientists used high-res satellite imagery to compare crime locations throughout the city with the number of trees in the area. Although we may have a perception that “bad guys” like to hide behind trees and bushes, waiting to jump out and attack us, the study showed just the opposite.

According to the study, a 10 percent increase in trees roughly equaled a 12 percent decrease in crime. “It’s really pretty striking how strong this relationship is,” Austin Troy, director of the University of Vermont’s Transportation Research Center and lead author, told Grist. “When we broke down tree cover by public and private ownership for the spatial model, we found that the inverse relationship continued in both contexts, but the magnitude was 40% greater for public than for private lands,” the authors went on to say.

However, the author’s do acknowledge that “there was a negative relationship between crime and trees in the vast majority of block groups of the study area, there were a few patches where the opposite relationship was true, particularly in a part of Baltimore City where there is an extensive interface between industrial and residential properties. It is possible that in this area a significant proportion of trees is growing in abandoned lands between these two land uses.”

Although it’s only one city, the results from Baltimore are both interesting and encouraging. Trees are the only things on the planet that can absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, clean the soil, prevent erosion and control noise pollution, using only free water and solar energy. These things have a direct impact on our quality of life, but rarely do we acknowledge it. This study, however, draws a statistically significant line between us and trees that can’t be ignored.

Trees do have a positive role to play in our lives, and it’s not just to provide shade or look pretty. Hopefully, this study will help to encourage tree planting in urban areas, and not just in parks or residential areas.

Related Reading:

Deforestation: Fast-Tracking Our Own Extinction

Trees: Why You Should Care

Forget Trees: The New Lorax Speaks For The SUVs


Pat A.
P A.2 years ago

Plant more trees!

Pat A.
P A.2 years ago

Plant more trees!

Connie T.
Past Member 3 years ago

There are parts of the world with vast areas of deforestation, a crime on its own.

Wendy Schroeder
Wendy Schroeder4 years ago

Detroit had a lot of trees back in the '60s and '70s and still there were a lot of crimes. Still, having trees can't hurt, can it?

Mary B.
Mary B.4 years ago

Hey, lets plant a bunch of trees on Wall Street and put great BIG potted plants on the trading floor. A nice large fountain would be good too, and a recording of bird song and frogs and crickets. Remind those criminals that they live on a real planet.

Carl Oerke
Carl O.4 years ago

What a great study. So plant a tree it will help the environment and may well lower the crime rate.

Anita Wisch
Anita Wisch4 years ago

Planting trees is ALWAYS a good idea. The trees take in CO2 and give us oxygen....

Looks like a win-win situation to me.

Pamela H.
Pamela H.4 years ago

The forests and the oceans are the lungs of the planet. Without one of them we would not be here. I for one would never live in a place where there are few or no trees. There is nothing worse than a concrete jungle which leads to extremes of temperatures in both summer and winter. It also creates wind tunnels which increases the amount and speed of wind in all seasons.

Isabel A.
Isabel Araujo4 years ago

Trees are needed everywhere, and they are so beautiful! Thank you.

nicola w.
Jane H.4 years ago

Parks and play areas are certainly good for those ADD kids that need to get dirty and worn out by activity..