NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Smart Growth" is a Dumb Idea to Lower Crime

April 22, 2004

Author Douglas Morris and other "smart growth" advocates claim that suburban sprawl contributes to increased violent crime rates. But a comparison of crime rates among cities characterized as "smart growth" and "sprawlers" reveals a different story, say the National Center for Policy Analysis' H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., and Pamela Villarreal:

  • In 2002, Los Angeles' violent crime rate of 1,349 per 100,000 was more than double that of the Riverside-San Bernardino metro area, considered the country's most sprawling area by Smart Growth America.
  • Portland's violent and property crime rates of 828 and 7,127 per 100,000, respectively, were much higher than sprawling Raleigh-Durham, N.C., with rates of 455 and 4,416.
  • Seattle's violent and property crime rates of 705 and 7,298 per 100,000 outpaced sprawling Denver's rates of 534 and 4,994.

In addition, both violent and property crime rates in Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles are much higher in the central city than in the wider metropolitan area including the suburbs. In fact, according to FBI crime statistics there are no suburbs in the country with a higher murder rate than their associated central city.

Smart growth policies have produced mixed results at the neighborhood level as well:

  • A Raleigh, N.C., study showed that street robberies were less likely in neighborhoods with sprawl-associated features like cul-de-sacs, high rates of home ownership and single family homes.
  • In New Bedfordshire, England, neighborhoods designed using Europe's equivalent of CPTED averaged more than twice the number of crime and disorder incidents per year (5,200) as traditional neighborhoods of comparable size (1,800).

Even in the face of high impact fees, suburbs continue to grow and develop - because consumers demand them. Market forces, not bicycle paths, create villages, say Burnett and Villarreal.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., and Pamela Villarreal, "Smart Growth = Crime, Congestion and Poverty," Brief Analysis No. 473, April 22, 2004.

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