Big Trees May Make Communities Safer, Says Study

Original photo: this lyre lark / CC

They might not be too effective when it comes chasing down vandals or spooking away would-be burglars -- but it turns out that our humble city trees may be apt crime-fighters, nonetheless. According to the findings of a new report, data suggests that there's a relationship between the size and presence of trees in a neighborhood and a lower rate of criminal activity. Not bad for such a stationary life-form that's literally all bark and no bite.
According to a report from Science Daily, the study conducted by researchers from the U.S. Forest Service revealed that some urban trees may actually reduce incidences of property crimes and acts of violence. The findings are the result of an unprecedented look into the relationship between trees and crime -- using neighborhoods in the city of Portland, Oregon as a case sample.

Geoffrey Donovan, one of the researchers who worked on the study, is encouraged by the results which show that trees indeed offer communities much more than a place to hang a hammock.

We wanted to find out whether trees, which provide a range of other benefits, could improve quality of life in Portland by reducing crime, and it was exciting to see that they did. Although a burglar alarm may deter criminals, it won't provide shade on a hot summer day, and it certainly isn't as nice to look at as a tree.

To arrive at their theory that trees reduce crime, Donovan and his team poured over two years worth of police reports for property and violent crimes while noting various neighborhood characteristics, including the quality of tree-coverage where each incident occurred using aerial mapping and on-the-ground observations. When analyzed, the data suggests that areas with large trees, both in front and backyards, had lower levels of crime.

"We believe that large street trees can reduce crime by signaling to a potential criminal that a neighborhood is better cared for and, therefore, a criminal is more likely to be caught," says Donovan.

While large trees tend to be associated with reduced crime rates, some trees in a neighborhood actually had the opposite effect. Smaller trees run the risk of being "view-obstructing," says the researcher, which can make criminal acts like vandalism or burglary less easy to detect.

As if we needed another reason to love big, towering trees in our communities, it turns out that they may be making us safer, too. It seems only fair then, that in return, we continue to cherish and protect them -- and sure, a little hug now and then never hurt either.

More on Ways Trees Improve Our Lives
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Low tech Tips: Be Cool and Plant A Tree
Want to Feel More Alive? Study Shows You Need to Go Outside

Tags: Communities | Oregon | Urban Life | Urban Planning

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