Tulane study: Does clearing blight reduce teen violence?

November 4, 2018 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The federal government is providing $2.3 million to study whether clearing up blighted property in New Orleans reduces teen and family violence.

Tulane University researchers from the schools of architecture and of public health and tropical medicine will work closely with the city and community groups to clean up 300 blighted properties across the city, the university said in a news release. In half of them, vacant lots will be cleared and maintained. In the other half, buildings will be fixed up, too.


Researchers will compare crime rates in those neighborhoods with similar areas where blighted lots and buildings are left untouched, lead investigator Katherine Theall said.

“To our knowledge, no other studies have examined the impact of blight remediation on youth and family violence, specifically,” said Theall, who holds the Cecile Usdin Professorship in Women’s Health. “However, research on other forms of neighborhood disorder suggest that it could have a substantial impact.”

The team’s hypothesis is that clearing lots and fixing buildings could both leave fewer places to store illegal weapons and will reduce stress among neighborhood residents and improve their sense of community and social control, which may reduce social isolation and potential family violence.

“Disordered communities have been shown to have more violence,” Theall said. “There are a couple of theories as to why that is. One is that with greater disorder, there is less social control or eyes on the street that could potentially prevent some forms of violence. In the case of intimate partner violence or child maltreatment, if there’s less cohesion, neighbors may be less likely to intervene.”

The team will work with Columbia University epidemiologist Charles Branas, who has reported that gun assaults in Philadelphia dropped 9 percent in the 18 months after vacant lots were cleared in high-crime areas.

Youth crimes being tracked for the study include incidents of violence, property crimes, school arrest rates and violence-related injuries and deaths. For family violence, they’ll look at reports of child abuse and neglect and intimate partner violence.