A GIS Analysis of the Relationship between Criminal Offenses and Parks in Kansas City, Kansas

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Most urban green space research focuses on the social benefits of parks and recreational areas. However, in areas with high levels of resource deprivation and physical disorder, parks may function as criminal marketplaces. Parks in such areas may cease to provide net benefits to the surrounding community and instead serve as a vector for criminal activity. Parks in eastern Kansas City, Kansas, are examined in terms of the probability of criminal marketplaces and beneficial social contribution. Variables for resource deprivation and social disorder are calculated for the study area and compared to national aggregates to identify which parks may behave as criminal marketplaces. In such cases, parks should exhibit an inverse relationship between distance from a park and number of criminal offenses per acre. Evaluating the incidence of crime near parks using geographic information systems (GIS) buffer analysis, proximity analysis, and spatial statistics demonstrates that parks in areas of extreme resource deprivation do not serve beneficial social roles, and some parks contradict conventional criminal justice and urban economic theory.

KEYWORDS: Urban green space, parks, criminal offenses, criminal marketplace, Kansas City


Research into the impacts of urban parks often demonstrates many positive social benefits associated with the presence of urban green space and recreational areas. Among the social benefits are higher real estate sale values, lower incidence of mental fatigue and increased public safety, picturesque places to raise children, recreational opportunities, accessibility of nature in an urban environment, and esthetic beauty. A range of research demonstrates these claims of social benefit.

Bolitzer and Netusil (2000) demonstrated that proximity to green space in Portland, Oregon, increased property values of homes within 1500 feet of an open space and increased sales prices by $28.33 per acre of green space. A study conducted by Geoghegan (2002) suggests people value permanent green space over developable green space, given they are willing to pay more to live near permanent green space. Kuo and Sullivan (2001a) established a connection between breakdown in cognitive processing mechanisms, irritability, and impulsivity associated with aggression and the presence of green space. This study demonstrated that individuals living in public housing facilities barren of greenery experience significantly higher incidences of aggression against an adult partner than those living in areas with more greenery. This pattern also held true for psychological aggression, mild violence and, to a lesser extent, severe violence (Kuo and Sullivan 2001b). Additionally, the presence of more people on the streets is also shown to serve as a deterrent to crime (Kuo and Sullivan 2001b). The greater number of people on the streets increases the likelihood someone will see an offense taking place, increasing the risk factor to perpetrating a crime, and thus serving as a deterrent. Parks by their very nature encourage people to spend more time outdoors, thereby providing natural surveillance to the neighborhoods they serve. Parks with trees are utilized more often than parks that are relatively barren of vegetation (Kuo and Sullivan 2001a).

Research demonstrates that resource deprivation and physical disorder are indicators of the presence of criminal marketplaces (Ehrlich 1996; Ousey and Lee 2002; Sampson and Raudenbush 1999). Urban green space research is often conducted in communities attempting to quantify the benefits of parks and recreational green space. It does not generally take into account socio-economic conditions of the residents living in the vicinity of a given park. In addition, while the impacts of urban green space on violence and aggression have been studied, the relationships of criminal activity and proximity to a park have not been specifically researched. …