In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Land Use and Crime

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Theoretical Perspectives
  • Social Disorganization
  • Defensible Space
  • Routine Activities Theory
  • Crime Pattern Theory
  • Early Studies
  • “Mixed” Land Uses
  • Commercial Land Use and Crime
  • Community Institutions: Parks, Schools, Nonprofits, and Crime
  • Conditional Effects of Land Use on Crime
  • Alcohol Outlets
  • Public Transportation and Crime
  • Housing and Residential Density and Crime
  • Hot Spots and Crime and Place
  • Prediction and Prevention of Crime

Criminology Land Use and Crime
Thomas D. Stucky
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0210


The study of land use in criminological research dates back to the early 20th century. Yet, for much of that time, it appeared only sporadically, as most theories and research focused on people rather than places. This changed slowly in the 1960s, when urban theorists focused on crime. Despite expanding theoretical attention in the 1970s, research on land use and crime remained spotty until the 1990s and focused primarily on individual land uses such as bars or “mixed” business and residential areas. As place has taken a much more central role in theories of crime, research on land use has dramatically expanded and become mainstream. In terms of theory, social disorganization, defensible space, routine activities, and crime pattern theories all make predictions on the relationship between land use and crime. Research has focused on businesses, schools, bars, public transportation, and several other specific land uses, which are discussed in the sections that follow. And most recently, research suggests that land use may condition the effect of other variables on crime. Additionally, several approaches to prevent crime, such as hot spots, situational crime prevention, and risk terrain modeling, employ land use measures.

General Overviews

Because so much attention has been given to land use and crime in recent years, many resources could convey a basic understanding of how land use affects crime. Greenberg, et al. 1982 and Taylor and Harrell 1996 provide broad overviews of how the physical environment, including land use, affects crime and community efforts to control crime. More recently, Weisburd, et al. 2012 includes several land uses in a broader discussion of “crime and place,” including the theoretical mechanisms generating crime at street segments. Inlow 2021 and MacDonald 2015 also provide lengthy summaries of theoretical background and empirical research on a broad range of physical environmental factors, including land use.

  • Greenberg, Stephanie W., William M. Rohe, and Jay R. Williams. 1982. Safe and secure neighborhoods: Physical characteristics and informal territorial control in high and low crime neighborhoods. Washington, DC. National Institute of Justice.

    Reports on a study of six high- and low-crime neighborhoods in Baltimore and compares land uses between low- and high-crime neighborhoods. Beginning with an extensive literature review, the report argues that land use affects social interaction, which, in turn, affects crime. They found that high crime neighborhoods had more vacant land and fewer residential properties or single family homes and more blocks with major streets.

  • Inlow, Alana R. 2021. A comprehensive review of quantitative research on crime, the built environment, land use, and physical geography. Sociology Compass 15.7: e12889.

    DOI: 10.1111/soc4.12889

    Discusses the historical and theoretical foundations of crime research focusing on the built environment, land use, and geography. Provides a comprehensive overview of the current state of the research for those who may be unfamiliar with the topics.

  • MacDonald, John. 2015. Community design and crime: The impact of housing and the built environment. Crime and Justice 44.1: 333–383.

    DOI: 10.1086/681558

    This review chapter discusses the history of physical environment, research on specific land uses such the nature of housing, schools, and alcohol outlets. Policies to reduce crime and directions for future research in these areas are also discussed.

  • Taylor, Ralph B., and Adele V. Harrell. 1996. Physical environment and crime. National Institute of Justice Research Report, NCJ 157311. Rockville, MD: National Institute of Justice.

    This report identifies four ways that the physical environment has been hypothesized to affect crime, including (1) housing design or block layout, (2) land use and circulation patterns, (3) territoriality, and (4) deterioration/disorder (or what some call physical incivilities). Reviews the existing evidence for each mechanism.

  • Weisburd, David L., Elizabeth R. Groff, and Sue-Ming Yang. 2012. The criminology of place: Street segments and our understanding of the crime problem. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195369083.001.0001

    Includes an extensive theoretical treatment of crime and place, as well as an empirical examination of causes of variation in crime at street segments, some of which include land-use variation. For example, having public facilities such as hospitals, parks, community centers, middle or high schools, hospitals, or libraries (taken together)—as well as bus stops, vacant land, and being on an arterial road—increases the likelihood that a street segment is a chronic high-crime segment.

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