Crime and Private Investment in Urban Neighborhoods
The question of how best to improve neighborhoods that lag behind has drawn considerable attention from policy-makers, practitioners, and academics, yet there remains a vigorous debate regarding the best approaches to accomplish community development. This paper investigates the role crime policy plays in shaping the trajectory of neighborhoods. Much of the existing research on neighborhood crime was conducted in rising-crime environments, and the evidence was clear: high levels of crime have adverse effects on neighborhoods and resident quality of life. This study examines how private investment in neighborhoods in two cities – Chicago and Los Angeles – changed as the incidence of neighborhood crime changed during the 2000s, a period when crime was declining city-wide in both places. Using detailed blockface-level data on the location of crime and private investments between 2006 and 2011, the analysis answers the question: Do changes in crime affect private development decisions? The results show that private investment, as represented by building permits, decreases on blocks where crime increases in the past year. We also find that the relationship between crime and private investment is not symmetric – private investment appears to only be sensitive to crime in rising crime contexts. The result is present in both cities, and robust to multiple definitions of crime and the elimination of outliers and the main commercial district. These results suggest that crime-reduction policies can be an effective economic development tool, but only in certain neighborhoods facing specific circumstances.