Does walkable neighbourhood design influence the association between objective crime and walking?

Sarah Foster, Matthew Knuiman, Karen Villanueva, Lisa Wood, Hayley Christian, Billie Giles-Corti
International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2014, 11: 100

BACKGROUND: Few studies have investigated associations between objectively measured crime and walking, and findings are mixed. One explanation for null or counterintuitive findings emerges from criminology studies, which indicate that the permeable street layouts and non-residential land uses that underpin walkable neighbourhoods are also associated with more crime. This study examined associations between objective crime and walking, controlling for the characteristics of walkable neighbourhoods.

METHODS: A population representative sample of adults (25-65 years) (n = 3,487) completed the Western Australian Health and Wellbeing Survey (2006-2008) demographic and walking frequency items. Objective environmental measures were generated for each participant's 400 m and 1600 m neighbourhood areas, including burglary, personal crime (i.e., crimes committed against people) in public space, residential density, street connectivity and local destinations. Log-linear negative binomial regression models were used to examine associations between crime and walking frequency/week, with progressive adjustment for residential density, street connectivity and local destinations.

RESULTS: Burglary and personal crime occurring within a participant's 400 m and 1600 m neighbourhoods were positively and significantly associated with walking frequency. For example, for every additional 10 crimes against the person/year within 400 m of a participant's home, walking frequency increased by 8% (relative change = 1.077, p = 0.017). Associations remained constant after controlling for residential density and street connectivity, but attenuated after adjusting for local destinations (e.g., for personal crime in 400 m: relative change = 1.054, p = 0.104). This pattern of attenuation was evident across both crime categories and both neighbourhood sizes.

CONCLUSIONS: The observed positive associations between objective crime and walking appear to be a function of living in a more walkable environment, as the presence of destinations has the capacity to both promote walking and attract crime. This study provides a plausible explanation for some mixed findings emerging from studies examining crime as a barrier to walking. In some settings, the hypothesised deterrent effect of crime on walking may be insufficient to outweigh the positive impacts of living in a more walkable environment.

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