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Study suggests link between demolitions and lower gun violence in those areas

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Sarah Hulett
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Michigan Radio
Eric Froh spends a frigid day hunting for treasures in the piles of rubble left by the excavators demolishing the buildings.

A new study suggests gun violence tends to go down when abandoned buildings are demolished. The study focused on Detroit.

Researchers saw an 11% drop in gun-related violence in areas with more than six building demolitions. They found areas with six to 12 demolitions had the greatest reduction in gun violence.

The University of Michigan and Harvard University team used pre-existing data from the state. Marc Zimmerman of the University of Michigan was part of the study.

"The decline is steeper in areas that are improved, in some way, and demolition is the first step of that improvement," he says.

Starting in 2014, the city launched a program to demolish more than 10,000 buildings in three years. The team followed these demolitions. 

Zimmerman says they did not see gun violence shift to nearby neighborhoods after buildings were demolished.

Zimmerman thinks the reason they saw these changes was due to something called crime prevention through environmental design.

He says it's when you "create the space where there is less likelihood of crime to occur. And crime should go down, by increasing sight lines, by increasing the feel of the neighborhood, by increasing light, and getting neighbors to create a neighborhood watch; all those kind of things operate to show that people care about the neighborhood.”

In a press release from the University of Michigan, the team says the effect wasn’t spread evenly across the city: "Neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of non-Hispanic white residents—in a majority-black city—were most likely to have the rate of demolition associated with the steepest drop in firearm deaths and injuries."

While a decrease in gun violence was associated with neighborhoods that are both predominantly black and white, Zimmerman says the areas chosen were disproportionately white.

He says this “is all related to the redlining, employment opportunity structure, and educational issues," adding, “we did not select the places; it’s kind of something we found. And I don’t want to blame people for that, but obviously we have to be more self conscious about where we are identifying resources and why we are identifying resources in different places, to do this kind of work.”

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