Can investing in neighborhoods help to reduce gun violence?

DIALLO MITCHELL JR., 23, urges youth to “become the change that we want to see,” at an Aug. 14 news conference denouncing the recent violence in Pittsburgh’s Black communities. Mitchell is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in Greenfield five years ago. (Photo by Rob Taylor Jr.)

In 2016, 5,175 youths between the ages of 15 and 25 were killed by firearm homicide in the United States. More than 43,000 youths were treated for firearm-related assault injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey of high school students, 5 percent of teens reported carrying a gun in the past year.
As a doctor and violence prevention researcher, I study how neighborhood factors affect youth violence. Research shows that investing in neighborhoods can affect gun violence, crime and mental health. These simple, low-cost investments include improving vacant and run-down spaces. In a study done in Philadelphia, my colleagues and I found that green space, street lights, walking and having easy access to public transportation were linked with a lower risk of youth homicide.
Alison Culyba, MD, PhD, MPH

Colleagues and I are now studying how neighborhood factors relate to fighting and weapon violence in Pittsburgh. So far, our results suggest that walkable neighborhoods in mid-sized cities like Pittsburgh may also protect youths from violence. We are still examining how these neighborhood improvements help to reduce gun violence. It may be, for example, that building playgrounds and sidewalks in a community bring more people outdoors to interact with each other, creating a stronger sense of community, connection and safety.
In partnership with community members, we hope to use our research to guide future interventions. By rethinking and redesigning neighborhood space, we hope to reduce youth violence.
Alison Culyba, MD, PhD, MPH, is assistant professor of pediatrics, School of Medicine, and of behavioral and community health sciences, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh
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