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What is the impact of streetscape projects in Hartford?

5/18/2017

 

In my final semester as a UConn Masters of Public Administration student, I worked on a capstone project evaluating the effectiveness of streetscape projects in the City of Hartford on behalf of Hartford’s Department of Development Services, which contains the city’s planning, economic development, and community development functions, among others.  The department was looking to determine whether the funds that have been spent on these projects over the past twenty years have been put to good use, especially due to the city’s difficult fiscal situation.

My team and I designed a study to help the Department of Development Services answer this question: What is the impact of streetscape projects in Hartford? In particular, the Department of Development Services had an interest in the effect of Streetscape projects on crime, traffic safety, and economic development.  In tandem with our initial literature review on these topics, our study revealed three major findings:

  • Community buy-in and support, or the lack thereof, has the potential to greatly influence the success of a streetscape project’s crime-reduction components. This is a very important consideration in Hartford, due to frustrations with government voiced by survey respondents.
  • Changes in the frequency of certain activities following a streetscape project does not necessarily mean the streetscape impacted those activities. Measured improvements could have simply been displaced into other areas. This is an important area of examination for future research.
  • Efforts to improve quality of life do not necessarily translate into increased business investment.  Business recruitment and retention efforts must be combined with quality of life efforts in order to promote overall economic success. 

We used a mixed-methods research design, utilizing a select sample to combine quantitative and qualitative methods. Taken together, these approaches allowed us to gather both statistical and first-hand observational information.  This gave us a thorough understanding of the impact streetscape projects have in terms of changes in data trends related to our outcomes as well as the perceptions of individuals who experience those neighborhoods on a daily basis.  By combining actual data trends with information on individuals’ perceptions, we were able to examine the effects of streetscaping on crime, traffic management, and economic development in a more comprehensive manner. We evaluated crimes against the public, larcenies, robberies, and aggravated assaults as crime variables.  We examined property damage car accidents and personal injury car accidents as traffic safety variables. Additionally, due to time and resource constraints, we were only able to examine fair market value data as our economic development variable.

Our quantitative analysis revealed some statistically significant differences. For all traffic management outcomes, both property damage accidents and personal injury accidents fell after the imposition of the streetscape project (5% and 12.6%, respectively). Additionally, crimes against the public declined on the treated streets following the streetscape improvements (6.9%). For all remaining crime and economic development outcomes, no difference was observed between streets that had been streetscaped and streets that had not. Additionally, our qualitative component demonstrated a similar lack of conclusive information, except for a statistically significant difference in respondents’ perceptions of the frequency of police officer patrols, with respondents on comparison streets perceiving police presence to be greater than on treatment streets.  Combined, our quantitative and qualitative analyses pointed to the idea that streetscaping has an effect on crime and traffic safety, but not on economic development, in Hartford.

Because we were limited to a semester-long project, we were only able to examine two streetscaped streets with two streets that had not been streetscaped for comparison. We used this as a type of pilot study for Hartford to build upon with further research. Because our sample size was so small, it is not possible to make any greater assumptions about the effects of streetscaping in Hartford as a whole. It is possible, however, that we would see more positive effects on economic development or other types of crime if we were to expand this study. While this study should not lead economic developers and planners to make any major decisions related to the implementation of streetscape projects in their communities, it has revealed information that may prove valuable as public officials seek to allocate funds effectively and efficiently for economic development projects.

- Sadie Colcord, Municipal Services Intern, CERC

 

 

Photo of Hartford courtesy John Phelan 


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