The Intertwining of Trees and Crime.


There’s been some very interesting research happening in Chicago, and it turns out that trees reduce crime. I don’t find this surprising at all, but I’m a “must be attached to the land” person. When your environment is bleak and desolate, you end up with bleak, desolate, desperate people. We need to be aware of our earth, we need to be connected to our planet. In urban environments, the best way to restore that connection is with trees. Yes, they are a long-term investment, but that’s good, because it means people are thinking the right way, generations ahead of themselves.

In June, the Chicago Regional Tree Initiative and Morton Arboretum released what they say is the most comprehensive tree canopy data set of any region in the U.S., covering 284 municipalities in the Chicago area. Now, that data is helping neighborhoods improve their environments and assist their communities.

“When we go to talk to communities,” says Lydia Scott, director of the CRTI, “We say ‘trees reduce crime.’ And then they go, ‘Explain to me how that could possibly be, because that’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard.’”

In Chicago, where more than 2,000 people have been shot this year, scientists are looking at physical features of neighborhoods for solutions. “We started to look at where we have heavy crime, and whether there was a correlation with tree canopy, and often, there is,” says Scott. “Communities that have higher tree population have lower crime. Areas where trees are prevalent, people tend to be outside, mingling, enjoying their community.”

The map revealed that poorer neighborhoods are often “tree deserts,” areas with little or no tree canopy. Trees reduce flooding, improve property values, prevent heat islands, promote feelings of safety, reduce mortality, and provide other significant social and health benefits. This means that when you live in, for example, the South Side, where trees are scarcer, you lose more than just green leaves overhead.

Never before have researchers been able to look so widely and deeply at this sort of data. The map is huge—it covers seven counties—and extremely detailed. That has allowed Scott and her colleagues to notice some startling patterns. For example, in the North Shore community—an affluent, lakeside, suburban area—canopy cover tends to be 40 percent or higher. On the economically depressed South Side, canopy can be as low as 7 percent.

That last is no surprise, either. As it goes with people, the poorer you are, the less of everything you get, including trees. There’s much more to the article, all the research, how it was conducted, and information about Blacks in Green, who are doing stellar work. Click on over to Atlas Obscura for the full story. Then see if you could help plant a tree. Or just hug one.


  1. kestrel says

    That’s pretty interesting… and yet, humans in the past were apparently scared of trees and in particular dense forests. I suppose that makes sense in a way, they were basically prey animals and being able to see a predator approach was not possible in a dense forest. The Romans, it sounds like, disliked trees and forests because bandits could potentially hide in there so they liked cutting trees down.

    It makes sense to me though that trees would help people. Personally… I have always been happier in amongst the trees than out in the open. I find the shade and the cover deeply comforting.

  2. says

    Well, yes, serious forest is dangerous, always has been, always will be. In ancient times, the forests were massive, it’s hard for us to conceive of such forest now.

    I’m happier amongst trees too.

  3. StevoR says

    This makes a lot of sense I think.

    There is the thing of Nature therapy/ Eco-therapy / Forest bathing (Japanese practice : ) where being outside in nature helps people generally feel happier and more relaxed and healthier. A lot to said for this I reckon and it works from anecdotal experience for me and my family and friends especially a volunteer group that works in the nearby national park.

    PS. Pet therapy is also something that -- at least for me -really helps and I think I owe what shreds of sanity I have to a certain old tortoiseshell cat that owned me as a kid.

  4. JE Armstrong says

    Oh, please, no one likes trees more than myself, but you’ve got two things co-occurring, violent crime and trees, except both correlate to affluence, which makes reasonable sense. But by all means plant more trees.

  5. JE Armstrong says

    Oh, please, violent crime and trees both correlate to affluence, and you think trees affect crimes? By all means plant more trees, but not a conclusion I can support.

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