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Presentation: A Safer Alternative: Cul-de-sacs and Crime in Durham, NC

by Chris Whittaker


Paper: http://sites.duke.edu/urbaneconomics/?p=985


  1. Chris,
    I found your presentation on crime rates in cul-de-sacs to be very intriguing because you found results that I would not have necessarily expected. Although cul-de-sacs may discourage criminals from committing crimes there because they only have one way out (by car), there are many other exits by foot that could be used. Furthermore, because cul-de-sacs have less through-traffic, I would have thought that they would have been a more popular place for crimes to be committed because criminals may have lower chances of being seen and caught. Thus, I found it quite interesting that you found a 1 to 4.93 cul-de-sac to two-way street crime ratio. Because your data set was small, I would love to see you expand your area of study to see if this pattern remains the same or if there are some differences.
    Furthermore, I would be interested in learning about the patterns of crimes in the past. As you discussed, Durham’s crime rates have decreased in recent years. I think an intriguing expansion of your study would be to look into past crime data for Durham and determine the ratio of crimes in cul-de-sacs and crimes on two-way streets. Is the presence of cul-de-sacs a relatively new phenomena in Durham? Are many of Durham’s cul-de-sacs recently built or have they existed for decades? If they have existed for some time, I would be interested in finding out whether crimes in cul-de-sacs have increased, decreased, or remained constant over the years and to compare crimes in cul-de-sacs as a percentage of total crimes in Durham over the years.

  2. Chris,

    Nice work! This is a really interesting topic that I believe many people overlook. It’s completely understandable that you only had time to sort through the 2012 data (15,000 points!), and it would be great to see this same natural experiment aggregated over several years.

    You point out that “crime rates were typically lower in communities built on cul-de-sacs, except when such communities were connected to other streets or public areas by footpaths or trails”. It would be interesting to see if the presence of a forest vs. a lake. vs. another street behind the cul-de-sac makes any difference. It’s a lot easier to disappear into a forest than a lake!

    My last comment would be to take a look at this paper:

    Bowers, Kate J., and Shane D. Johnson. “Domestic Burglary Repeats and Space-Time Clusters The Dimensions of Risk.” European Journal of Criminology 2.1 (2005)

    It talks about how crime tends to be clustered in both space and time. For instance, once a burglary occurs at a given location, it becomes more likely for that same house or a close neighbor to be victimized again. I wonder if these space-time crime clusters are more or less relevant in cul-de-sacs.

  3. Hey Chris,

    I really enjoyed your presentation! I think this is a very intriguing and different topic. It’s something I never thought of before and I find it really exciting. I think an expansion of the study looking at different cul-de-sacs over several years (maybe over an entire decade) could be really interesting!

    The results you found were different from anything I expected. I grew up in a cul-de-sac so seeing this data for myself surprised me. Although cul-de-sacs are secluded and have only one exit by car, I always believed many robberies were committed on foot. The areas you studied were mostly wooded (from what I can tell via Google Maps) so I feel like criminals would have many exit possibilites.

    I would also like to look to see an expansion on the price differences between houses in cul-de-sacs and prices of house on a main two-way street. Is there a difference between crime rates in cul-de-sacs within a neighborhood and cul-de-sacs standing alone outside a neighborhood?

    Again, great job. It’s obvious you did a lot of research and I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation!

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