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More Trees, Fewer Jails? The Relationship between Vegetation and Crime: A Philadelphia Case Study

Looking down the street
School & Deparment: 
  • Art, Tyler School of
Start Date: 
Lead Investigators: 
Mary Wolfe
Faculty Advisors: 
Jeremy Mennis
Funding Source: 
CARAS / Office of Sustainability

Longstanding belief suggests that vegetation encourages crime as it conceals criminal activity. Recent studies, however, have shown that urban residential areas with well-maintained vegetation experience lower rates of violent and property crime and host residents who report less aggressive behavior and greater feelings of safety. This research investigates the relationship between vegetation and crime in Philadelphia. We examine rates of violent and property crime in spatial relation to vegetation intensity at the census tract level. Choropleth maps of the city are used to depict vegetation intensity and crime rates by census tract, and regression is used to determine the influence of vegetation on crime while controlling for neighborhood-level socioeconomic indicators. Results indicate that higher vegetation intensity is significantly associated with lower rates of aggravated assault, robbery, and burglary. This research has implications for urban planning policy, especially as cities are moving towards “green” growth plans and must look to incorporate sustainable methods of crime prevention into city planning.

Mary Wolfe, an alumna of the College of Liberal Arts (B.A. environmental studies), received a Fulbright Scholarship for 2011-2012 to continue her research at Utrecht University, one of Europe’s leading research institutions. She will continue her investigation of the spatial relationship between vegetation and crime in cities using satellite imagery, cartography and statistical analysis.