The Role of
a Healthy Social
Frances E. Kuo
Abstract: In urban communities, arboriculture clearly contributes to the health of the biological ecosystem; does it contribute to the health of the social ecosystem as well? Evidence from studies in inner-city Chicago suggests so. In a series of studies involving over 1,300 personspace observations, 400 interviews, housing authority records, and 2 years of police crime reports, tree and grass cover were systematically linked to a wide range of social ecosystem indicators. These indicators included stronger ties among neighbors, greater sense of safety and adjustment, more supervision of children in outdoor spaces, healthier patterns of children's play, more use of neighborhood common spaces, fewer incivilities, fewer property crimes, and fewer violent crimes. The link between arboriculture and a healthier social ecosystem turns out to be surprisingly simple to explain. In residential areas, barren, treeless spaces often become "no man's lands," which discourage resident interaction and invite crime. The presence of trees and well-maintained grass can transform these no man's lands into pleasant, welcoming, well-used spaces. Vital, well-used neighborhood common spaces serve to both strengthen ties among residents and deter crime, thereby creating healthier, safer neighborhoods.
Keywords: Social ecology; strength of community;
crime; social benefits; residential.