The impacts of the revitalization of the neighborhood surrounding East Oakland’s Tassafaronga Village go beyond making the area more aesthetically appealing and more energy efficient. Comprehensive green urban planning which leads to increased sustainability and improved sense of psychological well-being may also put a dent in crime.

Prior to the opening of the Acta Non Verba community farm in 2011, Executive Director Kelly Carlisle recalls the grounds being littered with used condoms and Swisher Sweet wrappers. At initial meetings, she says, “community leaders were skeptical we could turn this around. Now those leaders are our biggest supporters.”

As the New York Times reported in 2012, the Oakland Police Department recorded a 25 percent reduction in crime in the Tassafaronga neighborhood over a five-year period, which speaks to the ripple effects of blight reduction.

Numerous studies, beginning with the landmark “Broken Windows” theory (first presented in 1982), have found that urban decay is inextricably linked to crime. These findings are specifically applicable to public housing and affordable housing, as buildings which fall into disrepair can become what sociologists call “problem properties.”

As a 2011 study by the University of Michigan found, “Problem properties may contribute to “hotspots” of criminal activity… their neglect signals a lack of care and concern, which in and of itself invites anti-social and criminal activity.”

The Michigan study details how a reclamation project in Flint, MI, similar to Acta Non Verba, turned blighted, crime-ridden space into a community park, resulting in an even greater drop in violent crime than what Oakland realized – 37 percent within 200 meters of the park, and 56 percent within 100 meters of the park. As researchers noted, “Beautifying and maintaining” vacant or blighted property “can be an effective crime prevention strategy” – one which requires no additional police resources.

Crime is also down in Bayporte Village, a former Oakland Housing Authority project in West Oakland, an area with some of the highest crime rates in the city. Redeveloped by the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation in 2000, in the past year, solar panels were installed on many of its 71 residences by Grid Alternatives.

Real estate website Trulia.com’s crime maps show that both Bayporte Village and Tassafaronga Village are virtual oases of relative tranquility, with low-to-moderate crime, despite being surrounded by moderate-to-high crime areas. Furthermore, a search on crimemapping.com during a six-month period between May and November 2013 found 322 instances of reported criminal activity within a half-mile of Bayporte Village, but only two reported crimes, neither of them violent, in the redeveloped area, an extremely low figure. Similarly, crimemapping.com data for Tassafaronga Village and Acta Non Verba farm over the same period found 282 reported crimes within a half-mile radius, but only 14 within the redeveloped area itself.

“Strong community development does result in a drop in crime,” says Steve Spiker, Research Director at Urban Strategies Council, a non-profit advocacy group based in Oakland. “It can indicate that there has been a positive impact.”

However, he adds, “Affordable housing doesn’t result in crime reduction in and of itself.”

Spiker cautions that hard data is needed to show that crime hasn’t merely been displaced out of the redeveloped area. To effectively analyze crime data, he says, requires triangulating calls to service, arrests, and police reports.

To effect significant reductions in crime, he says, “you need better jobs, better comprehensive community development. When you see comprehensive efforts, then you see long-term results over time.”

THANK YOU!! This work was supported by a 2013 New America Media Energy Reporting Fellowship in collaboration with SoundVision Productions’ Burn: An Energy Journal.

How Green Is the Hood series, Nov. 25 & 26, 2013

Nov 25

Nov 26

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