Community gardens can be anti-crime agents

Positive garden activity creates safer communities.

Gardens can function as anti-crime agents. A local example of the restorative power of gardening is in Brightmoor neighborhood in northwest Detroit. In 2005, Riet Schumack and her family bought a home on the Rouge River in Brightmoor and began to renovate it. Most of the surrounding homes were in various states of disrepair and abandonment. The same year, Schumack took the Urban Roots Community Garden Leader Training Program that was developed and implemented in collaboration with Michigan State University Extension staff and local partners. Schumack started a youth garden in a lot down the street from her house. She purposely located the garden between a known drug house and a corner frequented by prostitutes. The positive activity from the garden in addition to Schumack calling the police to report illicit activity whenever she saw it eventually drove the bad actors away.

Today, many of the formerly abandoned homes have been purchased and renovated and this Brightmoor neighborhood is well known for its beautiful community gardens and growing number of well-kept yards. People are moving into the neighborhood instead of out.

In the Victoria Hills neighborhood of Kitchener, Ontario, there was a large, vacant corner lot that was full of garbage and a popular site for illegal activity. In 1994, Regional Police Officer Rob Davis spearheaded a successful transformation of the area by applying the standard Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) strategy of placing a safe activity in an unsafe or vulnerable area. Specifically, Officer Davis introduced the idea of a community garden. The effect was impressive. Within the first year that the garden was in place, the number of reported police incidents for the surrounding three apartment complexes dropped 30 percent. The results continued to improve in 1995 and 1996 when year over year, reported police incidents dropped by 48.8 and 55.7 percent.

How can a garden have such a powerful cascade of positive impacts? It is the ability of a garden to draw people together around two common focal points: beauty and good food. When you take a trash-strewn vacant lot that is home base for illegal behavior and turn it into a place of beauty filled with positive activities, you will drive out the criminal element. Everyone eats and everyone appreciates beauty. When neighbors walk by the garden and see their gardener neighbors, they have common interests to talk each other about. And neighbors talking to each other can eventually form relationships, connectedness, safer and more positive feelings about where they live and to the development of a community where people look out for each other and their children.

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