Houston Suburb Hopes Planting Trees Will Uproot Crime
The Houston suburb of Alief is betting that trees can fight crime.
The community of about 100,000 residents, is partly annexed by Houston and partly in unincorporated Harris County. In the unincorporated portion, Harris County has voted to use $2 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to plant 1200 trees along 17 miles of road, ABC13 reported.
The theory is that more tree canopy will keep the place cooler and a study by Kilian Heilmann, Matthew Khan and Cheng Keat Tang published in the Journal of Public Economics showed a relationship between crime and high temperatures. Alief has 11% tree coverage, while parts of Houston has 33%. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, trees planted in the right places can help reduce peak summer temperatures by as much as nine degrees F – a significant effect when the community averages 10 degrees hotter than the rest of Houston, according to CW39.
Alief residents are supportive of the plantings, telling ABC13 that the trees would help inspire people to care about the community, deterring crime, vandalism and improving civic pride. “Trees are a win-win for everybody,” Barbara Quattaro, president of the Alief Super Neighborhood Council, said. “They not only look good, but they make the place look good, and people respect it more.”
The trees may help cool off Alief, but the study also demonstrated a small effect on crime rates – when temperatures were over 75 degrees, crime went up by 1.72%, over 90 degrees and crime was 1.9% higher. Meanwhile, Alief has a lot of crime to deal with, according to Niche.com, with far higher rates of violent and property crimes than the country as a whole. The rate included 559 assaults per 100,000 residents to 283 for the nation, 15 murders to six and 647 robberies to 136. Like many large cities, Houston has seen a large increase in violent crime since 2019, according to Houston Public Media. In 2022, violent crime was down 10%, but still 50% higher than in 2019, including the fourth most murders in the nation.
This isn’t the first time Harris County has turned to trees to fight crime, either. In 2021 the County Commissioners Court voted to spend $50 million to plant trees, improve sidewalks and install streetlights, according to The Houston Chronicle. County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at the time that “Too often blighted buildings, dark streets, unsafe and abandoned structures serve as incubators of crime. Places where families don’t have the benefit of a sidewalk to get to school or even simple things such as air conditioning or trees to find comfort in the oppressive heat.”
Meanwhile Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said that bail reform was helping drive higher crime rates and law enforcement officers in the county said the Commissioners Court was underfunding them.