Presentation at the 2006 Active Living Research Annual Conference
The Minnie Street neighborhood, in Santa Ana, California, was once one of the most crime-ridden and dilapidated areas of the city. A multimillion-dollar revitalization of the neighborhood in 2002 employed innovative public and private partnerships to improve the built environment of the neighborhood. Specific changes include adding diagonal parking, changing traffic from two way to one way, adding a chicane to slow traffic, enhanced street lighting, fencing off nearby railroad tracks, improvements to building facades and interiors and improved landscaping, among other improvements.
This before and after evaluation examined the impacts of the revitalization on perceived and actual safety, and on quality of life and sense of community for neighborhood residents. This presentation focuses on changes in perceived and actual traffic safety for adults and children, and on rates of walking and playing on neighborhood streets and sidewalks.
This study comprised a before and after evaluation of the impacts of the built environment changes on Minnie Street. Data collection methods included an in-person survey of neighborhood residents, conducted in Spanish and English by bilingual interviewers. The sample included 200 respondents in the before survey and 144 respondents in the after survey. Data collection also included before and after observations of conditions related to traffic safety and walking, including counts of pedestrians and vehicles in the neighborhood and measurement of average vehicle speeds using radar guns. Data on neighborhood crime rates before and after the revitalization were also collected.
Survey findings included a significant increase in residents’ perceptions of the appearance of the neighborhood following renovations. Significant increases were also reported in residents’ enjoyment of walking in the neighborhood, their satisfaction with living in the community and their pride in the neighborhood. After results showed significant increases in perceived safety from traffic for adults, and in residents’ perceptions of the neighborhood as a safe place for children. Survey results found no significant decrease in fear of crime. Observations found a significant decrease in average vehicle speed following the renovations. Observations also found a decrease in the number of individuals walking in the neighborhood, including a significant decrease in the number of children on the sidewalk and street.
The changes to the physical environment on Minnie Street clearly increased perceived safety from traffic for adults and children. One of the effects of improvements to the interiors of apartments and to semi-public courtyards in front of buildings, may have been to increase use of these spaces by adults and children, thereby reducing the number of adults and children on the street and sidewalks. The findings of this study demonstrate an important role for urban design in promoting neighborhood safety and quality of life. Findings also confirm that urban design alone is insufficient to solve the complex problems facing low-income communities like Minnie Street. There is a need for multi-pronged approaches that include urban design as well as policing, youth services and other resources.
This project was supported with funding from Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The study was conducted in collaboration with Santa Ana College and the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation.