Busy places and broken windows? Toward defining the role of physical structure and process in community crime models

Pamela Wilcox, Neil Quisenberry, Debra T. Cabrera, Shayne Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

153 Scopus citations


Borrowing from the systemic model of social disorganization theory as well as from theories of human ecology and urban geography, we examine the effects of land use on community rates of violence and burglary. We posit that community crime is differentially affected by distinct nonresidential physical spaces in a neighborhood-distinct in terms of whether they are adult-centered, "business-oriented" public spaces versus spaces that are public yet still "resident centered," especially toward community youth (e.g., educational and recreational spaces). We examine potential main, mediating, and moderating effects of neighborhood social structure, resident-centered versus business-oriented public land use, and neighborhood-level processes, including neighboring and physical incivility, using data from 100 Seattle census tracts. Results suggest that the effects of schools on community violence are largely direct, while the effect of business places on violent crime is mediated substantially, but not completely, by physical disorder. In contrast, the effect of playgrounds on violence is moderated by residential instability. Regarding burglary, presence of schools is nonsignificant. Presence of businesses increases burglary, though the effect is partially mediated again by physical disorder. The effect of businesses is also moderated by residential (in)stability. Presence of playgrounds increases burglary risk regardless of neighborhood social-structural characteristics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSociological Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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