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Vacant lot to community garden conversion and crime in Milwaukee: a difference-in-differences analysis


Background Vacant lots generate the perception of neglect and are often opportunistic locations for crime. Evidence is building to suggest that greening vacant lots, especially through community engaged approaches, is associated with reductions in some types of crime.

Methods Using a retrospective quasi-experimental approach, we compared the conversion of vacant lots into community gardens (n=53) with a group of matched control lots (n=159) to examine the effect of this intervention on police reported theft, violent and nuisance crime in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Conversions often involved the addition of planter boxes to create a garden, and sometimes included benches, paths, works of art or other landscaping features. Public crime data were used to generate crime rates within 100 m and 250 m around each lot.

Results Violent and nuisance crime rates are lower near treatment lots based on an unadjusted difference-in-differences analysis of means and two Poisson regression models. While no substantial effects were observed among theft crimes, the most consistent crime rate reductions were found among violent crime within 250 m, ranging between 3.7% and 6.4% across analyses.

Conclusions Despite the small number of interventions, community-driven vacant lot to garden conversions were associated with slight reductions in crime. Urban greening initiatives may be a promising strategy to reduce urban crime and warrant further study.

  • geographical / spatial analysis
  • environmental modification
  • violence
  • community

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request. Datasets generated and analysed during the study may be available from the corresponding author, DRB, on reasonable request and with permission granted by Groundwork Milwaukee.

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