CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A new study suggests that the widely held belief that cutting down trees in urban public housing offers increased safety overlooks an important element in the equation: the perceptions of the people who live there.
When 100 adult residents of Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes were surveyed by peers who had been specially trained in data collection by University of Illinois researchers, they gave a clear message that green grass and trees were highly desirable.
In the study -- detailed in the January-February issue of the journal Environment and Behavior -- the residents viewed 40 different pictures of the three 16-story buildings and a courtyard in the complex, located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation. The photos showed the area as it is, and, with computer simulations, how the area would look with varying amounts of grass and trees.
"The residents were asked how they felt about the spaces, and how safe they would feel in them," said William C. Sullivan, a professor of landscape architecture in the U. of I. department of natural resources and environmental sciences. "The more trees, the more they liked the space. But most surprisingly, the more trees, the safer they would feel.
"This is really contrary to the opinions given us by police and housing administrators, who said, 'You can't do that,'" he said. "It looks like the residents envision what the area would be like with grass and trees, and they see it as a place someone cares about and is willing to invest in."
The study, funded by the USDA Forest Service North Central Forest Experiment Station in Chicago, was conducted by Sullivan and Frances E. Kuo, co-directors of the U. of I. Human-Environment Research Laboratory, and Magdalena Bacaicoa, a landscape architect now working in France.
The researchers also interviewed police and housing administrators, and
they reviewed previous literature on law enforcement concerns that trees
Contact: Jim Barlow
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign