Marc Zimmerman, University of Michigan – Busy Streets Theory

What is the best to improve neighborhood safety?

Marc Zimmerman, professor of public health at the University of Michigan, looks into the Busy Streets theory.

Dr. Zimmerman’s research focuses on adolescent health and resiliency, and empowerment theory. His work on adolescent health examines how positive factors in adolescent’s lives help them overcome risks they face. His research includes analysis of adolescent resiliency for risks associated with alcohol and drug use, violent behavior, precocious sexual behavior, and school failure. He is also studying developmental transitions and longitudinal models of change. Dr. Zimmerman’s work on empowerment theory includes measurement and analysis of psychological and community empowerment. The research includes both longitudinal interview studies and community intervention research.

Dr. Zimmerman is the Director of the Prevention Research Center of Michigan and the CDC-funded Youth Violence Prevention Center. He is the Editor of Youth and Society, a member of the editorial board for Health Education Research, and Editor Emeritus of Health Education and Behavior.

Busy Streets Theory


Theories of neighborhood safety emphasize the role of vacant and abandoned property, social disorder, and neighborhood disadvantage in determining neighborhood safety.

My colleagues and I are testing the Busy Streets theory, which flips the script and explores what it takes to cultivate a safe environment where communities can thrive and positive social interaction describes the neighborhood. Where youth can grow up in a safe and healthy context where they observe positive behaviors such as neighborliness, experience trust among neighbors, and develop a sense of community where neighbors work together to achieve common goals.

We have tested the idea that improving physical features of neighborhoods such as fixing abandoned housing, cutting long grass, picking up trash, and planting a garden can help reduce crime, increase positive social interaction, and have an infectious influence on property maintenance more generally.

This way residents build the social capital, cohesion, collective efficacy necessary to empower themselves to create positive physical and social change, and build neighborhoods where neighbors know and help one another, monitor activities in their neighborhood, and create safer busy streets.

We found support for busy streets theory using both qualitative assessment of residents engaged in these activities and in quantitative studies where we compare street segments that include some community engaged with CPTED work to those with no CPTED or community engagement. Now we are studying if community engagement is a vital component for creating a busy street by comparing three conditions: community engaged CPTED, CPTED alone, and no CPTED activity of any kind. Community-engaged environmental change approaches are a compelling strategy that provides a model for intervention that is replicable and responsive to political, social and resource contexts of local communities.