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.