Neighborhood parks in urban areas have long been seen as contested spaces. Because they are publically owned, they are at the same time everyone's and no one's. As public resources they have little intrinsic guardianship and thus are susceptible to being taken over for undesirable activities (that is, living spaces for the homeless, markets for drug dealers and delinquent behavior magnets for juveniles). While much has been written about parks and crime, little research exists which empirically examines the topic. The current research examines neighborhood parks in Philadelphia, PA as they relate to crime and disorder that occurs outdoors. We use primary data collection to quantify the number of potential activity generators (recreation centers, pools, playground, night lighting, and so on) and other park characteristics. Land use on adjacent streets is also collected. Our analysis finds that neighborhood parks are associated with increased levels of crime in the surrounding area. However, specific characteristics of parks are associated with lower crime levels.
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A search of the Center for Problem Oriented Policing website (www.popcenter.org) on 11 July 2008 revealed 62 unique references to parks as sources of crime problems.
Many of the larger parks consisted of more than one polygon and were merged into a single polygon for each park. Additionally, many of the identified properties were not parks, but areas of vacant or open land the Fairmount Park Commission was responsible for maintaining. These included center medians and grass areas along major highways in the city, and numerous parcels of vacant land that were publicly owned. They were identified via aerial photographic images and were excluded from the data set.
Field surveyors went to 276 parks but an additional 27 were removed because they were not actually parks. Most of these were small, undeveloped lots that were city owned, while a few others were small grass medians located where three or more streets intersected.
We used a research team of three undergraduate students to survey 200 of the 249 parks. The other 49 parks were surveyed by undergraduate students as part of class activities. These students received the same training as the research staff. We randomly selected 6 per cent of these to be repeated by research staff to verify accuracy. No significant discrepancies were noted. In addition, a subsequent test of the instrument revealed significant inter-rater reliability for all observational items analyzed herein.
Crime and disorder incidents were identified as occurring out of doors by their PPD assigned premise code, which identified the incident as occurring on the highway, in a vehicle, parking lot, in a building, and so on.
All crime incidents were investigated and documented by PPD officers, disturbances were calls-for-services that did not require official reporting but were still confirmed as occurring.
The set of random intersections was developed in an earlier study by McCord and Ratcliffe (2009).
We compare the park environs, rather than parks with 400 foot buffer to the intersection with a 400 foot buffer because they each represent approximately one block from a location (that is, the park centroid and intersection respectively).
Bonferroni post hoc test indicated differences between land use types for disorder crime is due to significant difference between mean values of park environs classified as ‘Residential’ and those classified as ‘Nonresidential’ land use combination.
We thank one of our anonymous reviewers for this suggestion.
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