New Report Challenges 'Eyes on the Street' Concept

In the fifty years since Jane Jacobs introduced the "eyes on the street" theory, it's become a commonly accepted conceit that a mix of use reduces crime. A new study calls that theory into question.
February 28, 2013, 10am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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"Jane Jacobs 'had it backwards,' according to a report in this month’s University of Pennsylvania Law Review."

Matt Bevilacqua discusses the findings reported by researchers from RAND, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Southern California.

"Focusing on more than 200 blocks in eight high-crime Los Angeles neighborhoods, the report found that areas zoned for mixed-use development had lower crime rates than those zoned for commercial uses only. Areas purely made up of residences, however, had lower crime rates than either."

“[W]e find that residential zoning is associated with substantially lower crime than commercial zoning or mixed-use zoning,” the researchers write, later adding, “With respect to natural surveillance, we find no support for Jacobs’s argument that commercial uses will reduce crime by encouraging a robust street life and ‘eyes on the street.’”

"The report also notes that assaults, robberies, thefts and burglaries decreased when residential housing was introduced into single-use commercial zones," adds Bevilacqua. "These crimes increased, however, when businesses were introduced into residiential-only [sic] areas, backing up the notion, for one, that a 'place of business in a residence neighborhood furnishes an excuse for any criminal to go into the neighborhood.'”

"The authors do stress the need for further research on the built environment before drawing any definitive conclusions about its effect on crime rates," he concludes. "So it will take more evidence before we can heed the suggestion that new urbanists have been mixing it up all these years."

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Published on Friday, February 22, 2013 in Next City
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