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.



Thanks for posting this, Joe. I look forward to reading the book.

We have seen a transformative impact of our latest housing development, Holcroft Park Homes, in Beverly, Massachusetts. This development will include 58 units in six relatively contiguous buildings in the heart of the Gloucester Crossing neighborhood in Beverly, a community adjacent to downtown Beverly which has historically had high rates of poverty, crime and properties not properly kept up.

North Shore CDC has been involved in this neighborhood as a community developer for over 10 years. In 2007, we acquired the sites involved in this development and went through a 9-month community planning process to guide the redevelopment of the properties. We averaged 30+ attendees at each of what became over a dozen community meetings in a relatively small neighborhood. This process led to a successful friendly-40B application for permitting, and we were eventually funded by DHCD and others to build the project in two, 29-unit phases. The first phase is nearing completion and leasing up as I write this, and the second will begin construction this spring.

In our first week of owning the development, we immediately initiated basic property management tools such as locking front doors, installation of mailboxes, and coordinated volunteers to clean up the exteriors and common areas of the property over a period of several months. Beverly Police Department was centrally involved in this effort, opening up a direct line of communication between the two organizations. Mill Street, which had the highest number of police calls in the City of Beverly and includes 80% of the subject properties, has seen a 90% decrease in police calls between 2007 and 2009, maintaining that level since then.

When the first families moved into the first new buildings recently completed, neighbors who are long-time neighborhood residents and homeowners established a welcoming committee working with our community engagement staff and delivered welcome-baskets to all new families. The new residents of the development were extremely appreciative and pleasantly surprised at the gesture. One resident in particular stated that no one had ever done something like this for her before. This would have been unimaginable just five years ago.

We welcome anyone to come to Beverly for a tour of the development for a local example of how this work is happening.