Improving Street Walkability Reduces Crime

Every city has at least a few streets where you won’t feel completely safe from crime. This might be due to several factors, such as the time of day, who you’re with or the reputation of the area. Research has shown that ‘fear of crime’ affects urban walkability, but now a new project has shown that the reverse may also be true: that improving the walkability of a street can reduce the number of crimes in an area.

Un-braking windows

Since the 1980s the ‘broken window theory‘ has been widely debated in criminology and government policy. The theory suggests that the quality of the urban environment, such as the presence of broken windows, may encourage vandalism and escalation into more serious crime. Now a new project in the Netherlands could be about to provide some much needed proof for this theory.

According to a recent BBC report, the Rotterdam police department decided to try an experimental project called ‘The Neighbourhood takes Charge’. Police encouraged local residents to draw up a list of things that they wanted to see improved to make their community safer and happier. The police then spent 16 hours per week solving the issues that were most important to local tax-payers.

Police officers were expecting local citizens to identify the more serious crimes, like burglary or drugs, as top of the list. But to their surprise, local residents top three areas for improvement were:

  • Street cleaning;

  • Dog mess;

  • Reducing traffic speeds.

Nearly all of the most popular suggestions involved improving the street environment and making streets more walk-friendly.

More walkable streets = less serious crime

So police started focusing on making streets cleaner, removing graffiti, speed gunning motorists, increasing police visibility and improving the public realm. But rather than neglecting serious crimes, they actually saw some dramatic reductions in all sorts of crime over a two year period, including:

  • Drug crime dropped by 30%;

  • Burglary dropped by 22%;

  • Vandalism dropped by 31%

  • Traffic offences dropped by 19%

  • Theft dropped by 11%;

  • Violence dropped by 8%.

These are impressive results and add even more evidence to the case for walkable streets. In fact the project has already caught the attention of the UK government, who recently sent the Policing Minister to Holland to see if this new approach could work in the UK.

Images courtesy of Lianhao Qu.

Update: For a detailed study of the Rotterdam ‘Neighbourhood Takes Charge’ project see this report, it’s in Dutch so may need to be translated using Google!


  1. Please be careful in implying that walkable streets play a causal role in declining crime rates. From what I can tell, the independent variable in this study is the increased police presence. Walkability and crime rates are both dependent on the increase in policing. At best, they can be correlated with each other, but you could just as easily say that the relationship goes the other way, i.e. decreasing crime rates increase walkability. I’d be hesitant to call this evidence that walkability leads to decreasing crime rates.


  2. Thanks for your comments, for a detailed study on the Rotterdam Police project, take a look at: (in Dutch, may need to translate using Google)

    Also see: (in Dutch, may need to translate)—veiligheidsindex-2012 (in Dutch, may need to translate)

    You can follow the Dutch Police Officer who started it all on Twitter:


  3. Pingback: Manasa Majumdar

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