Safe, Clean & Green

How safe and pleasant people perceive a residential area to be is arguably the most important factor in the neighborhood's health. Perception and reality sometimes differ, and a neighborhood with relatively little crime but an unsafe image will experience problems with attracting new residents and in motivating current residents to stay, buy homes, and invest long-term.

Attracting neighborhood-serving businesses to what is perceived as an unsafe neighborhood will also prove challenging. Dealing with crime and cleaning up unsavory and unsafe features in a neighborhood is a critical first step in changing the area for the better.

Neighborhoods with higher than average incidences of crimes — particularly violent crimes — will face even greater challenges. Crime breeds fear and isolation, instability, disinvestment, and transience in the residential population. This provides a breeding ground for increased criminal activity, thereby contributing to the challenge of revitalizing a neighborhood.

Another facet of neighborhood safety is movement to and through the area. Through urban revitalization programs or traffic reconfigurations, some cities have become geographically cut up by road layouts through residential neighborhoods. Areas where street crossing, walking, or biking is dangerous often characterize resulting impacts. Ensuring safety in a neighborhood includes the provision of safe routes for children to walk or bike to school, for residents to access commercial developments, and for recreational activities.

Cleanliness is the bridge between safety and greening. Littered vacant lots and illegal dumping areas often present venues for criminal activity. Additionally, a filthy, untended neighborhood has been shown to signal apathy on the part of community residents, thus leading to increased discord, petty crime, and eventually more serious crimes and systemic disinvestment. Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities, by George L. Kelling and Catherine Coles, further dissects this.

Greening is relevant to a neighborhood's image, appearance, and health issues. Landscaping, trees, and other plantings impact the visual appeal of both residential and commercial streets, with mature trees and healthy, maintained landscaping elements creating a consistent, cared-for appearance. Additionally, a recent Wharton School of Business study found that investments in greening and vacant land management can increase property values by as much as 30 percent.

A neighborhood that is struggling with clean, safe, and green issues is likely to have:

  • Higher rates violent crime than the surrounding region.
  • Prevalence of graffiti and barred windows and doors.
  • Higher percentage of vacant buildings and lots.
  • Abandoned cars.
  • Inconsistent trash pickup and surface cleaning, evidenced by refuse on sidewalks and in parks and other public realms.
  • Trash dumping on vacant lots or alleys.
  • Failure to maintain equipment and landscaping in parks and public spaces.
  • Higher rates of pedestrian-car or bike-car accidents.
  • Poor lighting on major through-streets.

Efforts to improve neighborhood cleanliness and safety might include:

  • Community policing and block watch programs.
  • Cooperative agreements with local governments for increased trash pickup, police patrols, graffiti removal, and public space maintenance.
  • Resident/volunteer clean-up efforts to remove graffiti, install and maintain public plantings, and clean up public spaces and sidewalks.
  • Full or partial grants for landscaping elements, or giveaways of trees, bulbs, and other resilient plants.
  • Community gardening projects.