The benefits of mixed-use neighborhoods abound! Now we know they also lead to less crime.

We here at first tuesday have long been advocates of progressive zoning reform. Contrary to the popular belief promulgated in the 1950s that urbanization equals decay, we believe expansive zoning (height and density) is necessary to the future health of the California real estate market.

Mixed-use neighborhoods — neighborhoods that are comprised of residences, retail spaces, work places and recreation facilities — serve the community by:

  • encouraging people to walk more;
  • cutting down on traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions;
  • fostering communal spirit; and
  • acting as hotbeds of innovation and economic growth.

It comes as no surprise then that mixed-use neighborhoods are also safer than strictly commercial or residential zones. According to a new study published by the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, commercial-only blocks had a crime rate that was 45% higher than comparable blocks that also included residences. The study also concluded commercial neighborhoods experiencing a change in zoning to allow for residential real estate construction saw the crime rate drop by seven percentage points.

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Relaxing zoning laws facilitates economic growth. People want to live where they work. They want ready access to culture and good education. A location that offers a wide array of services and amenities (including housing and employment!) attracts people. People, in turn, create demand for goods and services, which sparks greater development. And the fringe benefits emerge in the form of greater community spirit and relative prosperity, as well as less crime.

Related article:

Loosen the noose on urban density

Not to mention the positive impact on pricing and rents! Restrictive zoning laws cause prices to rise beyond real estate fundamentals due to intense demand. Changing zoning ordinances to allow for the construction of high-rise residential properties in city centers will bring both rents and prices down. Allowing far greater population density will create a virtuous cycle in the real estate markets of San Diego, the Inland Empire, Orange County and the Bay Area, including Silicon Valley.

Unfortunately, in our ongoing review of recent case decisions pertaining to the real estate market, we see efforts at progressive zoning shot down again and again. If you’re looking to get politically involved in improving the California real estate market, petitioning your local planning commission to lift height restrictions and let builders do their thing would be a good first step.

Re:   “Mixed-use neighborhoods may be safer, too” from the Atlantic