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Is Density Incompatible With Safety?

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There's a thought-provoking post over at ULI's blog, The Ground Floor, that takes up the question of whether denser developments breed more crime.

The story is in response to a new study that shows that "residents of high-rise apartments are much more likely to be victims of crime -- specifically street crime. The effect remains similar after statistically adjusting for poverty, demographics and public housing: It's the height of the building itself that matters." The report was featured in a Washington Post story.

So what are the best ways to design compact, densely populated, walkable communities which are attractive, safe and lively? One thing clearly needed is enough housing so people live in the community; this is what creates the "24/7" communities which have been shown to be most successful over time. What are the best ways to do this while reducing crime and enhancing public safety?

Population density brings "eyes on the street" which generally reduces crime. It is better to walk around at night where other people are also walking, not down lonely alleys. More population density also supports more stores and activities -- movies, restaurants, and the like -- which bring lights, life and more people. One of the biggest mistakes of many new suburban town centers is the failure to include enough housing, with the result that there are not enough people to support the stores and restaurants needed to keep the center economically and socially vital.

The only way to bring in population density is to build up. Single family homes, even town homes lined up side by side with party walls, do not give the density in a walkable range to support stores and services and have eyes on the street. It takes apartments and condos to do that. This means at least mid-rise construction, and in some places true high rise buildings.

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Elaine Misonzhnik

Senior associate editor Elaine Misonzhnik has been writing for National Real Estate Investor since June 2006 and has covered commercial real estate for more than 12 years. She first became...
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