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Can Trees Actually Deter Crime?

Believe it or not, a new study of canopy coverage in Baltimore suggests maybe they can.
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Silly as it may seem to the public, there's an intense disagreement among scholars about the impact urban trees have on a city's crime rate. Some are convinced urban greenery increases crime — arguing that low trees and shrubs, in particular, create a natural hiding place for criminals. A 2001 case study of auto thieves in Washington, D.C., found that offenders often target areas near dense vegetation because it can "reduce effort and risk by offering concealment."

Others are convinced that urban trees have exactly the opposite effect. This crowd argues that trees actually decrease crime either by attracting more people to public places (Jane Jacobs' "eyes on the street" theory) or by signifying to criminals that people care about their neighborhood (James Q. Wilson's "broken windows" theory). Another 2001 study, this one of public housing in Chicago, found that "the greener a building’s surroundings were, the fewer crimes reported."