Date of Award

August 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Aki Roberts

Committee Members

Donald Green, Timothy L. O'Brien


Neighborhood physical condition and crime is a topic that has been heavily debated since Wilson and Kelling’s (1982) famous broken windows theory article. While previous research has identified a positive link between disorder, certain land uses, and crime, the direction and magnitude of the effect may vary depending on neighborhood characteristics such as socioeconomic status (Teh, 2008; Greenberg et al., 1982) or ability of residents to exert informal social control (Gault & Silver, 2008; Sampson & Raudenbush, 1999). The following study uses data from Milwaukee census tracts (N=210) and maximum likelihood estimation to test the effect of neighborhood physical condition variables on violent crime, as well as test for interaction effects between physical environment variables and social disorganization variables. Counts of nuisance vehicles and boarded-up property violations, criminal damage rate, and counts of liquor licenses had a small, positive effect on violent crime. Proportion of vacant land and percent black population had large, positive effects on violent crime. Results of interaction models illustrated that the magnitude and direction of the effect of physical environment variables on violent crime often changed dramatically for neighborhoods with different levels of social disorganization, specifically the socioeconomic status and racial composition of a neighborhood. These findings demonstrate that it may not be enough to simply control for neighborhood characteristics because doing so may mask important differences in the effects of physical environment variables on crime.

Included in

Criminology Commons