by Mateja Mihinjac
This week I came across a recent study suggesting that economic factors are a stronger predictor of prosocial behaviour than “urbanicity” – living in either an urban or non-urban area.
This spiked my interest because we commonly hear that small towns have close-knit communities and always-helpful residents. Yet, at a recent International Colloquium in which our SafeGrowth team presented our findings from rural environments, one of the common threads throughout the whole Colloquium was that small towns and rural communities deal with similar crime and safety challenges to larger cities.
They are not the idyllic communities romanticized about in movies and novels. Perhaps there is more to it than neighbourhood size and population density?
The study, “Neighbourhood wealth, not urbanicity, predicts prosociality towards strangers” looked at prosocial attitudes across 37 different UK neighbourhoods of various sizes. In each neighbourhood, it measured whether:
It turned out that rural or urban characteristics were less important than expected. Rather than urban characteristics (“urbanicity”) – that might contribute to anonymity and diffusion of responsibility thus resulting in reduced willingness to assist others – it was actually economic deprivation that was the strongest predictor of prosocial attitudes and willingness to assist.
While these findings might not translate into different contexts across the world (rural areas in the UK are less deprived than their urban counterparts), they do suggest that it is neighbourhood liveability that results in collective prosocial attitudes, in both rural and urban places.
It seems counterintuitive to expect that people living in deprived neighbourhoods are concerned with anything other than basic survival needs. How can they direct their energy into their neighbourhood when they are competing for available resources needed to survive?
Living in a deprived neighbourhood also means that residents are less likely to share the same expectations about the neighbourhood or to trust and work collectively towards common goals. That is why rural or urban, it is neighbourhood trust, shared expectations, and working together that helps build a socially cohesive and liveable neighbourhood.
As we describe in Third Generation CPTED, it is neighbourhood liveability that best improves the conditions that will advance neighbourhoods from a Basic level to Moderate and Advanced levels. We learned long ago that improving neighbourhood liveability provides residents and community workers an effective goal for targeted community development work.
The most powerful approach for improving liveability and prosocial attitudes is through organized neighbourhood action with the emphasis on building local capacity. This recent study provides yet more research support for our real-life discoveries about what makes places safer.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
When we think about crime, we tend to think about the city. We think about robberies, gangs and guns and we imagine dark alleys or vacant lots. We don’t tend to associate rural areas with crime. We often romanticize them as idyllic places where life is slower, people know their neighbors and crime is rare.
However, the data does not support these imaginings. In Canada, for example, with only two exceptions, the top 20 highest crime rate communities are all towns or small cities in rural areas.
Imagining crime beyond the city can be difficult. While the overall number of incidents are lower in rural areas, crime rates in rural Canada and Australia are often higher than their urban counterparts. In the U.S., although large urban cities like New Orleans, Atlanta, and Chicago compete for the title of crime capital, the States with the highest crime rates are among the most rural – Alaska, New Mexico and Nevada.
WHY IS CRIME RURAL?
Rural issues are different as well. The recent research reveals high rates of theft and violence, particularly domestic violence, impaired driving and the use of crystal methamphetamine. In areas of drought, water theft is a major problem.
Rural crime is intimately linked to changes that have affected rural communities such as a reduction in job opportunities, poverty, few opportunities for youth, and a lack of access to mental health and addiction treatment services. Additionally, many rural communities are ethnically homogenous, but rural policies often alienate indigenous populations.
Further, increases in immigration have led to increasing tensions and scapegoating onto these already marginalized groups. This is in spite of the reality that legitimate research on immigration and crime reveals that immigration leads to a decrease - or zero effect - on crime.
Rural crime also poses unique problems for prevention. For example, building local capacity in rural communities is much different than in urban areas. While rural areas account for approximately 17% of the population in North America, developing crime prevention strategies is no easy feat where distances are not walkable, services are difficult to access, and local stakeholders are few.
These problems are exacerbated when most research on the causes and solutions to crime comes from studies in urban areas. It is no small matter that CPTED was a product of large cities and none of the original writers spoke of rural areas.
Rural criminology is a new branch of criminology trying to better understand these issues. There is now a rural criminology division at the American Society of Criminology and a Centre for Rural Criminology at the University of New England in New South Wales, Australia. However, these groups are relatively new and their ideas are still emerging.
Only in recent years have we seen research emerging in the conferences of the International CPTED Association about crime prevention in rural areas.
At this point, there are no easy answers to preventing crime in rural communities. We have seen some success in smaller communities in Canada where SafeGrowth has been adopted wholeheartedly by local leaders, such as in North Battleford, Canada. However, as we gain a better understanding of the rural correlates of crime, we continue to adapt our methods and strategies to these new contexts - what SafeGrowth has always done.