To make St. Louis safer, hundreds of streets were closed. What if that was a mistake? | Law and order |

Headlines are quick hits from media outlets from Missouri and around the world. Follow the headline link for the full story. The source of this headline says:

Once intended to reduce crime, the traffic barricades that block hundreds of city streets may be having the opposite effect.

Using census and crime data coupled with sophisticated mapping programs, researchers at St. Louis University have found the barriers — including those pervasive concrete planters known as “Schoemehl pots” — are associated with, at worst, “elevated violent crime rates at the neighborhood level,” and, at best, not doing anything to make an area safer.

The findings, which appear to contradict years of thinking about local street closings, are part of a broader study being undertaken by Christopher Prener and Joel Jennings, both assistant professors of sociology at SLU, along with SLU graduates Taylor Harris Braswell, now a sociology doctoral student at Northeastern University, and Kyle Miller, who is working toward a master’s degree in urban planning at Harvard University. . . .

St. Louis’ often-interrupted street grid is the outgrowth of the 1970s-era “defensible space” strategy to address rising crime championed by Oscar Newman, a prominent urban planner who was a Washington University architecture professor in the mid-1960s, according to the paper. That idea stems from the notion that an area is safer when residents feel a sense of ownership and control, which Newman described as allowing neighbors to focus their attention on “removing criminal activity from their communities.”

St. Louis became the birthplace of such ideas, according to the paper. And they haven’t had the desired effect.

“For other municipalities that may be considering defensible space or other techniques to ‘design out’ crime, our findings suggest that street closures are at best ineffective and at worst associated with higher rates of violent crime in neighborhoods,” the paper states.

MoBikeFed comment: One of the effects of the many street closures is to make many short dead-end streets around the city, which does make those streets attractive for bicycling and walking. In many cases, the streets are through for people who walk and bicycle but simply blocked off for motor vehicle traffic periodically.

It may be able to achieve most or all of the same benefits for people who walk and bicycle without completely closing off the streets, by simply implementing good traffic calming and similar measures.

The full paper can be viewed online at

The paper analyzes only the affect on crime and not the affect on walkability and bicycleability of neighborhoods.