The Gains of Greater Granularity: The Presence and Persistence of Problem Properties in Urban Neighborhoods

In a recent paper, BARI Co-Directors Dan O’Brien and Chris Winship demonstrated the presence and persistence of ‘‘problem properties’’ with elevated levels of crime and disorder in Boston. Importantly, they find that this additional geographic detail offers a wealth of information beyond the traditional focus on at-risk neighborhoods, and even the more recent attention to hotspot street segments. This provides support for new policy efforts and Boston and other cities across the country to target specific addresses that generate an inordinate amount of crime and disorder, while also highlighting the need for additional research on the social and behavioral dynamics of highly localized “microplaces.” The paper was published in a special issue of the Journal of Quantitative Criminology on the Law of Concentration of Crime, co-edited by Anthony Braga, Director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University.

Using over 2,000,000 geocoded emergency and non-emergency requests received by the City of Boston’s 911 and 311 systems from 2011–2013, O’Brien and Winship calculated six indices of violent crime, physical disorder, and social disorder for all addresses. They then analyzed how these indices were distributed across addresses, streets, and census tracts.

Problem properties at the address level in Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood.


The results found that a small percentage of addresses were responsible for a large amount of reports– less than 2% of addresses generated 50% of reports of crime and disorder. Across the six indices of crime and disorder, O’Brien and Winship found that addresses accounted for 95–99% of the variation in requests for service, indicating that a handful of ‘‘problem properties’’ not only generate the majority of the city’s crime and disorder, but also tend to be responsible for much of the crime and disorder on hotspot street segments and in high-risk neighborhoods.



What is the best approach to deal with “problem properties?” While the findings suggest that targeting particular properties may be a useful strategy, it is yet unclear the best way to do so. O’Brien and Winship wonder if targeting addresses will actually lower crime and disorder, or if it will simply displace it to other locations on the street or in the neighborhood. Future studies on this and related questions will be necessary in the coming years.


Published On: September 5, 2017 |
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