Perceptions of the built environment may influence health outcomes more than actual crime rates.
Pam DeGuzman’s Center for Design and Health fellowship work is focused on exploring the impact of perceptions of neighborhood crime, as opposed to actual crime rates, on the health of women living in highly urban, low-income United States neighborhoods.
DeGuzman worked with Dr. Guoping Huang, Assistant Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, to analyze basic correlations between Census Block Group health and crime data in Chicago. Their research determined that there is no correlation between actual crime rates and perception of neighborhood crime. This lack of correlation importantly reveals that altering actual crime rates might not actually affect health outcomes in urban areas. Instead, subjective perceptions of crime may have a larger impact on physical and psychological health.
As a result, DeGuzman calls for additional research on the built environment solutions that can address these negative health outcomes. She suggests that solutions could be as simple as fixing broken windows and tearing down chain link fences, or more complex, design intensive interventions, such as greening lots and increasing residents’ exposure to nature.
This research reflects the essential need to scientifically test the influence of specific design strategies on health outcomes. “It’s really hard to test these [health outcomes] – urban planners and architects need to be designing low-income neighborhoods with knowledge of this perception of safety in mind, testing things out over time, asking ‘Does design make a difference?’” As health professionals continue to collaborate with architects, designers, and urban planners to measure outcomes, DeGuzman notes the importance of community engagement. “We all need to be aware that we don’t always talk to the people that live in the communities we work in. We put things into a place and then the people that live there don’t actually like them or want them…instead, we should be asking, ‘what would make YOU feel safe?’”
Following this work, health and design professionals may be more inclined to acknowledge the importance of perception of crime on psychological and physical health outcomes in urban, low-income neighborhoods.
DeGuzman’s fellowship research with CDH found that perceptions of neighborhood crime, determined by urban design and the built environment, may have a larger impact on physical and psychological health than actual crime rates.