There was an article in the Monterey Herald last weekend about a public meeting in Seaside to develop a new violence prevention program. Always willing to offer my two cents, I e-mailed the following outside-the-box suggestion to the city's youth violence prevention coordinator. In typical Seaside IT fashion, it bounced back as undeliverable last weekend, but it went through when I tried again on Tuesday. I got a response saying my suggestion would be taken under consideration as part of the overall program. My three regular readers may or may not be interested in my unconventional idea, so here it is.
It has long been my observation that communities with lots of trees have fewer problems with violent crime than communities like Seaside which have few trees. If you look at Seaside from Cannery Row you can see Seaside's borders defined by the timberline.
This is speculation on my part, I don't have any scientific evidence to back me up, but I believe trees have a calming effect on communities. They make neighborhoods more attractive, and they also absorb noise, conditions which help people relax. Conversely, neighborhoods with mostly hard surfaces, like we have in Seaside, reflect noise which I think adds to people's stress levels, possibly making some folks more prone to anger and violence.
Of course it takes time for trees to grow, so we'd have to wait several years for new trees to have their full effect. However, more immediate results may be had by getting Seaside youth involved in planting trees. By helping to beautify our neighborhoods they would be part of something larger than themselves and give them a sense of purpose without needing to join gangs.
Since there is probably not sufficient public land to plant a lot of trees, I think a successful tree planting campaign should also encourage property owners to plant trees in their front yards if they don't already have them. This would beautify residential streetscapes without needing to dig up sidewalks. And if young people are encouraged to help plant them, it would give them a chance to meet their neighbors, teach them how to work with others towards a common goal, and thus help strengthen neighborhood cohesion.
Planting trees won't end gang violence by itself, of course. But as a component of a multi-faceted anti-violence program it's worth a try. If nothing else we would at least end up with a prettier city.