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Targeting Area Crime Lets Residents Enjoy Local Parks

Public parks are valuable community assets, but crime in the area can “lock up” their value. A new study reveals that crime directly affects the use that people get from their local parks, and when crime is reduced, the park’s environmental value can be brought back.

The findings are published in the Journal of Public Economics.

“Our research is the first to rigorously quantify this effect, which turns out to account for nearly half of the total value of parks in major U.S. cities,” said Dr. Peter Christensen, environmental economist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I), and one of the study’s authors.

Previous studies have failed to account for the importance of safety in parks, and therefore, some have concluded that public parks provide little value to a community.

Christensen explained that “several studies estimate amenity value using city-wide samples that include both safe and dangerous parks. This is like taking the average of an amenity and a dis-amenity. It can produce noisy estimates and the appearance of zero value, which may not actually reflect the value of any park in the sample.”

“These kinds of results can fuel the misconception that people in some inner-city neighborhoods, often minority communities, do not value their parks. Our study shows that in fact they do. And that value goes up as neighborhood parks are made safe,” Christensen said.

While it’s challenging to directly estimate the value of public goods such as parks, economists have developed methods that estimate the value of environmental amenities — those that residents will pay to live near. The housing market also captures the losses from disamenities such as landfills or, in this case, crime.

For the study, Christensen and co-authors David Albouy and Ignacio Sarmiento-Barbieri analyzed housing prices from Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York over a 15-year period.

Through statistical analysis, the research team was able to rule out other factors and isolate the relationship between property values and changes in crime rates within a half mile of the more than 1,300 public parks in the sample.

The researchers found that housing value increases by 5% within a half mile of a park if the area is safe. As you get further away from the park, the effect diminishes and ultimately disappears.

If crime levels are double the average rate, there is no premium value in housing prices near parks. And if crime rates are higher than that, there is a negative effect of up to 3%.

In other words, parks may make crime (already a “public bad”) worse, Christensen says. “A park can actually become a disamenity in the sense that you would pay to the live away from it.”

In many of the study locations, crime has been reduced over the 15-year period, while in other areas it has remained constant or increased.

The findings show that where crime has gone down, the inherent housing value of parks has been unlocked. And this unlocked value is much larger than you might expect, the researchers note. They estimate that reductions in crime have “unlocked” almost $7 billion in property value near urban parks in the Chicago, Philadelphia and New York and calculate another $10 billion of potential value that is still locked up.

“The first implication is that policymakers need to consider the considerable potential to unlock amenity value through increased safety. The other side of this coin is that terrific parks will lose value if a neighborhood becomes unsafe. This has happened over the past several decades in a number of neighborhoods in the sample,” he noted.

A second implication is that allocating resources to reduce crime near parks through targeted efforts such as hotspot policing might be an important first use of public funds. The value of enhancing park features, such as building a new playground in a dangerous park, may be limited by the crime risk.

Christensen cites a spike in homicide risk in Chicago. “A number of those shootings that are in our data have involved children caught in the cross-fire in neighborhood parks. These are tragedies for families and communities that can also affect a neighborhood’s use of public space in the aftermath,” he said.

“It is well-documented that open space is in short supply in many urban areas. For communities that are already housing-constrained and may not be able to commit additional land resources to open space, policymakers and parks departments can consider ways of unlocking value through complementarities like public safety,” he said.

“Complements like this [between safety and parks] are attractive because they can provide larger returns to public investments. Tax dollars that reduce crime near parks produce benefits from the overall reduction of risk and also because the park is now a much more valuable place.”

Source: University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

Targeting Area Crime Lets Residents Enjoy Local Parks

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Targeting Area Crime Lets Residents Enjoy Local Parks. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 16 Apr 2020 (Originally: 16 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 16 Apr 2020
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