by Teresa DeJesus
Domestic violence has a major but often unacknowledged effect on many facets of the city’s environment. While not always apparent at first, the consequences of domestic violence greatly impact the mental health of survivors, and often it is a major contributor to homelessness. Similarly, a city’s landscape can be a transformative force in shaping crime in a city. While we may rarely think about it, new research has found that the way a city is designed and created affects the amount of violent crimes, including domestic violence, that occur in a city as well as the overall happiness of its inhabitants. A city’s access to light and use of green space both play a role in people’s behavior.
Domestic violence is one of the leading crimes each year and takes significant time and resources away from a city and its police force. The CDC defines domestic violence as “physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression.” Many people fail to realize that domestic violence has an immense negative impact on a city as a whole, since time, productivity, and money are all wasted. In a survey conducted in 2013, 58 percent of survivors reported taking time off from work, and 28 percent said they had lost a job due to domestic violence. Additionally, frequent emergency room visits and long-term health problems from surviving violence can have a disproportionate economic burden.
According to Department of Homeless Services data obtained by Crain’s through a Freedom of Information request, “violence in the home has cost more New Yorkers their homes…than any other factor. It surpassed eviction as the top reason for shelter entrance in early 2016.” This means that the majority reason for homelessness in New York has little to do with family income and rising housing prices. The leading cause is domestic violence, and measures can be taken to reduce the overall violence in a city.
Support systems at home, as well as services offered by a city, are crucial in reducing negative domestic violence outcomes such as homelessness. When carried out correctly, research has shown these programs help survivors and their children improve their housing stability, access healthcare, and increase the survivor’s overall well-being. Social services, such as counseling, legal support, and education will create a positive trajectory in the lives of survivors, leading to more positive social and emotional well-being over time.
Recent research indicates that a city’s structure and landscape are factors that contribute towards people’s behaviors. This is crucial because understanding this allows city officials to plan city space in a way that can reduce negative impacts in a city, such as domestic violence. This has a domino effect, and can lead to fewer crimes, reduced homelessness, and an increase in overall economic resources, which improve people’s overall happiness.
A city’s access to light can greatly shape what parts have a higher crime rate or not. Domestic violence is one of the most underreported crimes in the country, and particularly in New York City, domestic violence now accounts for one in five homicides.
Statistics show that violent crimes are more likely to take place where there is less lighting. Spaces with less lighting can result from how the city space is planned. One example may occur in parks, where an area with many trees allows for coverage and is not an open space. In a study conducted between 2004 – 2008 which surveyed violent crimes, including rape and sexual assault, almost one in five crimes violent crimes took place in public spaces and open areas such as fields, playgrounds, on the street, and other similar spaces.
Another example is a new construction of a building, which can obstruct the natural light that was once there and create spaces with less light than before. Research has found that this could lead to a deterioration in overall mental health. While this is a major issue in big cities, there are improvements that can be made.
Dark spaces can be improved with city lights. The mayor’s office of New York City designed a light project in 2018. It was a six-month test, where 80 public housing developments were part of an experiment to see if lighting really plays a significant role in crime rate. Half of the new developments received additional city lighting and the other half did not. The study found that the public housing that received additional lighting had a crime rate that was significantly lower than those that did not receive additional lighting. Its most significant results stated that increased levels of lighting led to a 39% reduction in crimes at night and a 7% reduction in index crimes, including homicides. These results have shown that solutions as simple as lighting can help reduce a city’s crime rate, including domestic violence related and more serious crimes such as homicides, crimes that are sometimes related to domestic violence.
Other aspects of a city that can lead to reduced crime rates related to domestic violence include adding more green spaces or making better use of the spaces that already exist. Outdoor meeting spaces offer the possibility for engagement among members of the community, which increases familiarity with others and mutual interest in wellness. These spaces can support the formation and strengthening of support networks, which are especially important for survivors of violence.
This is especially important in city spaces, where residents experience a higher level of stress. Mental illness linked with stress can lead to an increase in aggressive behavior. Physical exercise increases serotonin levels and works as a stress reducer. Green spaces can offer opportunities for physical activities like sports, running and even walking.
Crime and the city landscape influence each other, which contributes towards the overall well-being of a city’s inhabitants. Today, more and more research is showing that a city’s structure impacts violent crimes, specifically domestic violence. Understanding this can help us bring awareness, reduce crime, and improve our overall mental health.