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The Suburbs and Crime
Photo: Lonnie Bradley
Gory movies and computer games, large numbers of guns and high divorce rates have all been associated with increased levels of violence in our society. A new book releases research that says it may have more to do with strip malls.

Entitled It’s a Sprawl World After All, the book presents evidence that suburban sprawl is causing a loss of community which results in more violence. “I challenge anybody to find a sense of community in a strip mall,” says Douglas Morris, the author. “Sprawl negates the possibility of community.” It undercuts traditional American communities and, as a result, children predisposed to violence slip through the cracks and grow up as violent criminals.

The research shows “how our rates of loneliness, depression, suicides and violence all escalated dramatically with the development of sprawl.” Many European nations and Canada have the same high standards of living and popular culture as does the U.S., “all the same things that experts say cause our violence. But they don’t have our rates of violence,” Morris reports.

It’s a controversial idea. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry link violence in the media to violent crime. But, Morris’ research is gaining some acceptance among urban studies and community development experts.

The Loss of Community

“We have really lost the sense of accountability,” says Chad Emerson, law professor at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. “If there is no connection within your neighborhood, there is no one to help the parents out and let them know if something good or bad was happening with their child.” He was quoted in a Montgomery newspaper.Morris points out that suburban sprawl began in earnest following World War II and rates of violence began to spike at the same time. The majority of Americans shifted from living in central cities and rural areas to the suburbs in the post-war era. The result was alienation from community, Morris observes.

Emerson points out that development which focuses on building community will go a long way toward solving these problems. Morris proposes that we rip out highways and reduce “office ghettos” to encourage more people to use mass transit and live in more compact neighborhoods. He concedes that these moves will not automatically reduce violence, but it can “recreate neighborhoods in which you can easily interact with your neighbors.”

Book: Its a Sprawl World After All

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By Monte Sahlin. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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