Can We Build Our Way Out of Crime?
- The Olneyville neighborhood of Providence, RI achieves a 53% reduction in crime.
- The Druid Hills Neighborhood of Charlotte, NC achieves a 58% reduction in crime.
- The Phillips Neighborhood in Minneapolis, MN achieves a 90% reduction in drug-related crime
What do these three neighborhoods have in common that enabled them to achieve and sustain such extraordinary reductions in crime? Each has had an intentional, pro-active partnership between the local CDC and the local police department. And according to a new book that highlights these and other success stories from around the country, such results could be achieved throughout the country if more CDCs and more police departments would join together.
Building Our Way Out of Crime: The Transformative Power of Police-Community Developer Partnerships, by Bill Geller and Lisa Belsky, is one of the most exciting books to come along in some time as it demonstrates with hard data and compelling stories the amazing results that have been and can be achieved. Geller and Belsky have worked for decades to foster such partnerships largely as part of LISC’s Community Safety Initiative (which is now run by Julia Ryan, a former MACDC staff person.)
By working together, CDCs and the police can deploy their respective tools and assets in a coordinated way to attack high crime areas. According to the forward written by Paul Grogan and Bill Bratton, “these collaborations work – they reduce crime; replace problem properties with quality, affordable housing; attract viable businesses in previously blighted commercial corridors; make more strategic and efficient use of public and private sector resources; and build public confidence in and cooperation with local government and private organizations.”
How does this happen? Police help CDCs prioritize development opportunities and design new developments in ways that make it easier to prevent crime (e.g. “put eyes on the street.”) CDCs eliminate blighted properties that consume a disproportionate share of police resources. Together, the police and the CDCs advocate for public and private investment that neither could attract on their own. The key, according to Geller and Belsky is to make the relationship intentional and long term. It is not enough for CDCs and police to function in parallel – they must work together and they must stick together for the long haul.
The report also helps to disprove the notion that locating new affordable housing in lower income communities will somehow make those neighborhoods worse. Indeed, what this book demonstrates is that carefully planned and designed affordable housing can not only improve the economic well being of its residents, but the overall quality of life for everyone in the community. Such a strategy will ultimately benefit many more people than simply trying to help a few lucky residents move to higher income and lower crime communities. We need to fight crime in these neighborhoods – not give in to it.
Many CDCs in Massachusetts have also seen the power of such partnerships, so much so that officers from the Boston Police Department recently testified at the State House in support of the Community Development Partnership Act. Boston LISC is supporting these efforts through its Resilient Communities/Resilient Families program.
What this book shows is that those efforts can and must be expanded because Geller and Belsky have shown us that we can indeed build our way out of crime.