New Zoning Strategies Reduce Crime Rates

Two new studies are helping to explain how zoning can actively play a role in creating safe communities. We summarize and provide links to details including how adding residential housing to commercial areas can dramatically reduce crime

What Happened?
A recent study indicated increased residential zoning on commercial blocks may successfully reduce crime in urban areas. Single-use commercially zoned blocks tend to have 45 percent higher crime rates than residential or residential and commercial zoned blocks.

So What?
The study published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review explained how modern urban planning strategies are using land-use law to lower crime rates by examining the relationship between the use of land, the built environment and block-level crime data. The research studied crime activity on 205 blocks in eight high-crime areas of Los Angeles to see how new zoning practices could reduce incidents.  The study revealed:

  • Blocks zoned for both residential and commercial use (mixed) report lower crime rates than commercial-only blocks
  • The lowest crime rates were found on blocks zoned for residential-only use despite how crime intensive the areas was prior
  • Introducing commercial activities into high-crime areas does not lower incident rates
  • Residential development is a driving force behind successful crime reduction

Barriers and Solutions
Cornell University and the American Planning Association conducted a survey to determine the role of urban planning and zoning in the creation of family-friendly, thriving communities. The survey revealed site planning, zoning and community participation are all key in launching successful action plans to keep communities safe and sustainable. Challenges to planning family-friendly communities include active resistance from the community, as well as a lack of knowledge or awareness. The survey found specific roadblocks:

  • Public blocks to multi-family housing (76 percent)
  • Public blocks to mixed-use development (54 percent)
  • Public blocks to affordable housing (65 percent)
  • Lack of financial support (68 percent)
  • Developer participation (68 percent)
  • Regulatory hindrances (45 percent)
  • Families not speaking up (65 percent)
  • Lack of political interest (63 percent)
  • Lack of community interest (57 percent)
  • Complexity of issue (66 percent)
  • Unsure how to start (56 percent)
  • No authority (53 percent)

To overcome these barriers, researchers recommend increasing planning and zoning efforts, as well as providing information and launching discussions in the community to drive awareness. Planners can promote family-friendly communities by campaigning for a variety of housing types, improved transportation and mobility options and connecting with school districts to encourage development of residential regions. To fund these programs and efforts, consider using fees to subsidize parks, schools, public transit and child care. There are also local, state or federal funding projects in place to pay for streetscape improvements, affordable housing, park developments and child care services.

Site planning and zoning can also reduce crime and support family interests with residential developments and sites for child care centers. Zoning and development regulations require certain areas have parks and playgrounds to force diversification, while transportation and mobility policies mandate sidewalks, street connectivity, bike lanes and other needs of pedestrians. Communities designed with safety in mind offer traffic calming measures in family-dense areas, lighting guidelines to enhance safety, policies to encourage neighbor interaction and street infrastructure to monitor public safety.

How Zoning Matters
EfficientGov has followed zoning efforts across the US, including new methods to promote walkabilityurban farming and non-car mobility.


About the author


Barry Greenfield

Barry Greenfield is the founder of