New study links urban trees to lower crime

Many people have personal experience with the crime-fighting potential of urban trees.

Photo courtesy of Baltimore Brew.

Just ask the New Jersey Tree Foundation – recognized with an Arbor Day Award in 2011 for their tree-planting initiatives in some of the state’s toughest neighborhoods.

Now, a new study conducted in Maryland’s Baltimore County and City, provides numbers to back up what neighbors have already seen for themselves.

According to the study in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, the frequency of crime in both the City and County decreased as the number of trees increased. Overall, a ten percent increase in tree canopy was associated with a 12 percent drop in crime.

The State of Maryland has been pioneering in its support of urban forestry, due in large part to the leadership of Governor Martin O’Malley.

While proving a direct causation is nearly impossible to do, Baltimore officials and the study’s authors have speculated that the shading effect of a robust tree canopy both encourages neighbors to spend more time outside and offers the impression of a community where people take care of their surrounding and each other.

Both factors would be expected to push away gangs, drugs and other criminal activity.

Data like this offers yet another reminder of the importance of professional and well-funded urban forestry programs. According to the Baltimore Sun, the city arborist’s budget has been cut from $4.4 million to $2.9 million the last two years. Baltimore has recovered some of the money through the help of other agencies and non-profits, but imprudent budget cuts can easily lead to greater costs down the road.

In awarding the New Jersey Tree Foundation last year, we told the story of long-time Camden resident Sheila Roberts and the changes on her block that resulted from newly-planted trees.

“My neighborhood is now one of Camden’s most desired places to live,” she said. “People ask me all the time: ‘how did you do it?’ I always say the same thing: it all started with the trees.”

The Baltimore Sun has more about the study, which was co-authored by an ecologist from the U.S. Forest Service.

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