Skip to main content
  • Theoretical article
  • Open access
  • Published:

Say NOPE to social disorganization criminology: the importance of creators in neighborhood social control


Despite decades of research into social disorganization theory, criminologists have made little progress developing community programs that reduce crime. The lack of progress is due in part to faulty assumptions in the theory: that neighborhoods are important; that residents are the primary source of control; and that informal social controls are emergent. In this paper we propose an alternative: the neighborhoods out of places explanation (NOPE). NOPE starts with property parcels (i.e., proprietary places), rather than neighborhoods. It focuses on the power and legal authority of people and institutions that own property, rather than on residents. It posits that control is intentional and goal driven, rather than emergent. We refer to those who own and control as creators. This small group of elites shape city areas and residents must adapt to the environments that suppress or facilitate crime. We discuss how shifting our focus to creators provides important new implications for theory, research, and policy in criminology.


After 100 years of attention to neighborhoods, one would expect criminologists to have developed robust and reliable community interventions that reduce crime. In his review of community interventions, Rosenbaum (1988, p. 323) argued:

there is a paucity of strong demonstrations and evaluations showing that such interventions can alter the behavior and local environments of persons who are not already predisposed to crime prevention.

Little has changed since. Many point to weaknesses in the theoretical foundations of community interventions for the lack of support. For example, Welsh and Hoshi (2002; p. 165) state, "there is little agreement in the academic literature on the definition of community prevention and the types of programs that fall within it.”

These theoretical weaknesses go deeper. In her systematic review of the community-based interventions, Charlotte Gill (2016) tries to address this problem by making an important distinction between in and on community programs. In interventions focus on people living in communities (rather than institutions): for example, efforts to keep at-risk teens out of trouble or help people released from prisons re-enter society. These interventions do not attempt to improve community functioning. In contrast, on interventions, treat the community as a whole. They seek to improve collective functioning of residents. Three prominent examples of on interventions include neighborhood watch (Bennett et al., 2009), focused deterrence (Kennedy et al., 2001), and broken windows (Wilson & Kelling, 1982). All three are initiated, maintained, and often led by police. The evidence for neighborhood watch effectiveness is modest but based on old and weak studies (Gill, 2016). There is very strong evidence that focused deterrence works to reduce violence and some other crimes but the role of residents in the outcome is unclear; it might just be police (Braga, et al, 2019). After deadlocking due to contradictory and weak evidence, the jury on broken-windows policing is returning a verdict of not useful (O’Brien et al., 2019).

Both in and on interventions aim to improve informal social control. But does the evidence show that informal social control reduces crime? Our answer is no: the evidence is weak and ambiguous. As Cullen and Kulig (2018, p. 170) point out, “…nobody clearly defines what informal social control is or how precisely it works to limit crime events…thus, it is unclear whether the construct of informal social control has much utility”. Moreover, the studies are overwhelmingly cross-sectional (Wickes & Hipp, 2018). Therefore, they cannot distinguish between lack of informal social control causing crime and crime undercutting informal social control. Indeed, when Wickes and Hipp (2018) analyzed longitudinal data, they found little support of an association between informal social control and crime (see also Hipp & Wickes, 2017).

After 100 years of attention, how is it that our interventions in communities and our evidence for informal social control is so uncertain? As Rosenbaum (1988) noted three decades ago, there are three reasons. First, maybe our researchers have used inappropriate methods to test a sound theory (Hipp, 2010). Second, maybe practitioners have misapplied a sound theory (Bullock et al. 2002). Third, maybe the theory is not sound.

The purpose of this paper is to address the third reason: the theoretical problems. Unless we have sound theory, no improvements to research methods or implementation will lead us to effective crime policies. We leave methods and implementation discussions for future research. So, let’s look inside the theory.

At the heart of community criminology is social disorganization theory (Wilcox et al., 2018). Social disorganization and its control-focused variants are based on four ideas we call the neighborhood resident emergent control (NREC) framework. Neighborhood because they all involve a bounded subsection, or area, of a city. Resident because they always describe those who live in the neighborhood as the primary actors, if not the sole actors. Control because, at least since Kornhauser (1978), all variants describe how residents impose limits on each other's behaviors. And emergent because these controls always arise unplanned and undirected from the day-to-day interactions of residents going about their normal business, a product of human ecology originating in the Chicago School (Park et al., 1925).

These four characteristics hint at why NREC-based theories have not produced strong empirical support. First, neighborhoods cannot be coherently and consistently defined. Second, residents are not the sole important actors. Finally, control is not emergent. We will come back to these points later. We suggest criminologists should cling less tightly to the idea of neighborhoods, expand their ideas of who creates controls, and consider control as deliberate.

The alternative framework we propose is the neighborhoods out of places explanation (NOPE). NOPE starts with property parcels, rather than neighborhoods, that can be readily defined and identified. It focuses on the power and legal authority of people and institutions that own property, rather than on residents’ interactions and associations. It posits that control is intentional and goal driven, rather than emergent.

Like the NREC framework, NOPE is an explanation of control. But NOPE proposes that those who create controls or crime opportunities do so at the proprietary places they manage (Cook & MacDonald, 2011; Madensen & Eck, 2012). We call these people creators. They make up a relatively small number of people and institutions, many of whom live outside of the areas surrounding their places (Linning & Eck, 2021). The creators of places shape neighborhoods; residents largely adapt to the works of creators. NOPE does not call attention to residents’ inability to tend to broken windows, but to the owners of the windows. And in doing so, it helps explain something NREC variants have trouble accounting for: why a few places within any area have a great deal of crime but most places do not, even in high crime neighborhoods.

Our paper is organized as follows. Section two reviews the key assumptions in NREC theories and their weaknesses. Section three addresses these weaknesses by highlighting the role of creators. We discuss the history of deliberate government and private industry decision-making that shaped urban areas. We show how creators shape neighborhoods and exert control over them. This gives context to our NOPE framework outlined in our fourth section. In our final section, we discuss the theoretical, methodological, and policy implications of NOPE.

The fundamental assumptions of NREC theories

Control is fundamental to community theories in the NREC framework (Wilcox et al., 2018). Neighborhoods with strong informal social control have less crime than those with weak informal social control. Routine interactions among residents create informal social control within neighborhoods by stimulating trust, fostering shared ideas of what behaviors are good and which are not, and by creating expectations that neighbors will enforce these norms. When trust, shared norms, and expectations of enforcement are low, informal social control is weak. In turn, neighborhood characteristics—so-called structural factors—promote or suppress trust, norms, and enforcement (Wilcox et al., 2018).

Negative structural factors include poverty, population mobility, and ethnic heterogeneity. There are many ways to measure these factors. Concentrated disadvantage, for example, typically combines various indicators of poverty, single parent households, and proportion of young people. Prominent theories that apply the NREC framework are social disorganization (Shaw & McKay, 1942/1969), broken windows (Wilson & Kelling, 1982), the systemic model (Sampson & Groves, 1989), and collective efficacy (Sampson et al., 1997).

Studies based on the NREC framework go back over 100 years, to the beginnings of empirically based crime studies (Burgess, 1916). Nevertheless, there are no coherent, reliable, and evidence-based crime reduction strategies based on this research. Why? The answer lies in three assumptions criminologists make when they use this framework (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1
figure 1

The foundational framework for neighborhood control theories of crime

Assumption A: neighborhoods are natural

Community criminology theories assume neighborhoods arise naturally, without intentional interventions of individuals or institutions (Shaw & McKay, 1942/1969; Wilcox et al., 2018). The natural neighborhood originated from the human ecology perspective advanced by the Chicago School (Park et al., 1925). There is also no agreement on the definition of a neighborhood (Hipp & Boessen, 2013; Taylor, 2015). At the start of their thorough examination of the community criminology literature, Wilcox et al., (2018, p. 2) note the absence of a standard definition for neighborhood (or community) and lament the “conceptual ambiguity that prevails within criminology.”

In the absence of a definition, researchers use whatever spatial grouping is available: census tracts, block groups, police administrative districts, postal codes, government planning areas. Two things unify the ways to divide areas. First, bureaucracies deliberately create them. Second, bureaucracies attach useful data to these areas, making their divisions of cities convenient for researchers. Even Chicago’s neighborhoods—the poster child for natural areas—were deliberately created for bureaucratic purposes:

Not only did Burgess and his colleagues craft Chicago’s communities, but they also actively lobbied government bureaus, social workers, educators, and city officials to make use of this naming scheme. As a consequence, the 75 community areas became ingrained in the popular imagination. The ‘‘discovery’’ of a stable social ecology in Chicago amidst the tremendous flux in the city’s settlement patterns remains one of the most significant achievements on the part of University of Chicago’s social scientists (Venkatesh, 2001, p. 277).

If neighborhoods were created to serve the purposes of bureaucracies, then neighborhoods are artificial, rather than natural. This implies a different metaphor: neighborhoods are farmed fields, not natural areas (Linning & Eck, 2021). If criminologists cannot agree on how to define neighborhoods, they cannot scientifically study them.

Assumption B: residents matter most

From Shaw and McKay (1942/1969) to present, theories in community criminology are theories of how residents control crime. Surveys of “residents as informants” dominate the empirical literature (Sampson, 2012, p. 218). Within the NREC framework, residents are the ones who create informal social control. Using big data O’Brien (2018) has refined the study of how neighborhood problems can be solved when public services are mobilized by residents. Unexamined, however, is the possibility that for controlling crime nonresidents matter more.

Any reasonably large area of a city contains many land uses. Residents occupy much of the land, but they are not the only occupants. Businesses, governments, and others use much of the land, too. The people who own and operate these non-residential land uses often do not live in the neighborhood. Even much residential land use is operated by outsiders. We call it rental property and the people who control it are landlords.

If we are to believe that residents matter most, we must demonstrate first that nonresidents matter less. Researchers have not demonstrated this, principally because surveys of residents are blind to nonresidents. Later, we establish that people and institutions who own and operate property matter a great deal. In impoverished neighborhoods, they may matter most because of their influence in shaping structural factors.

Assumption C: structural factors just happen

NREC theories fail to include structural factors in policy implications. The typical causal process outlined in the NREC explanation is that poor structural factors impede residents’ abilities to organize themselves and exercise informal social control leading to higher neighborhood crime (Fig. 2). But little explanation is given as to the origins of structural factors (Snodgrass, 1976). Indeed, they are usually discussed in the passive voice. Consequently, when community criminologists provide possible solutions to reducing crime, they focus on ways to organize residents so they can better engage in informal social control (Gill, 2016). We take a different tack; we do not dismiss the structural factors or feel they are beyond our capabilities to influence. In the next section, we explain who shapes structural factors and why they should be included in crime theories.

Fig. 2
figure 2

Policy Foci of NOPE and NREC

Highlighting creators in explanations of crime

Our NOPE framework asks a new question: who creates structural factors? Our thesis is that a small number of people, usually property owners, create them. The deliberate creation of structural factors implies we can alter them. This provides new policy implications that could lead to meaningful change. Moving forward, we need to write in an active voice to identify who is doing the acting. Below we show some people who have done this acting throughout US history. Similar action has been taken by other people in other countries. Once we take this action into account, our framework can explain another phenomenon that NREC theories cannot: the presence of hotspots in neighborhoods.

To make our case, we begin by providing the evidence that certain people create structural conditions in neighborhoods. Next, we argue that these people also create (or suppress) something far more important to explaining neighborhood crime: crime opportunities. Once we acknowledge the importance of these people, whom we call creators, we can begin designing effective policy recommendations to reduce crime more effectively.

How creators shape structural factors

During the Shaw and McKay era, those in real estate were looking to create neighborhoods with high property values. Like criminologists, they were heavily influenced by the ecological perspective (Kuklick, 1980; Light, 2009). But they were focused on a different goal: generating profits. To them, creating socially organized neighborhoods would be the most lucrative. This meant creating neighborhoods with low poverty, ethnic homogeneity, and low population turnover. So those in the real estate, finance, and government sectors developed legal tools to create socially organized neighborhoods. Race drove many of the decisions to create these structural conditions (Unnever & Gabbidon, 2011; Unnever & Owusu-Bempah, 2019). Below we provide a brief history from the United States because this is where the Chicago School was located. But also note that similar private and government decisions have happened in Western nations including the United Kingdom, Canada, China, France, Germany, and the Netherlands (Aalbers, 2006; Adams & Hastings, 2001; Couch et al., 2011; Klemek, 2011; Pickett, 1968).

First, American governments created zoning laws to control what types of buildings could go where (Glotzer, 2020; Rabin, 1989). They would allocate certain areas of cities for commercial buildings. Other areas, such as suburban ones, were designated for single-family homes (Jackson, 1985). Government zoning laws controlled city growth by dictating what types of structures could go where (Rothstein, 2017). Thus, city areas did not naturally emerge, they were created.

Next, during the New Deal era, government legislation created Federal agencies that encouraged developers to build suburban subdivisions catering to white residents (Jackson, 1985). They also created mortgage ratings systems that disincentivized banks from lending in inner-city neighborhoods. This process, often called redlining, stunted nearly all investment in low-income, minority occupied neighborhoods (Jackson, 1985; Massey & Denton, 1993; Rothstein, 2017). These same neighborhoods tend to be the ones that are considered socially disorganized. There was nothing natural about why they came to be this way. Government policies and private investment decisions created these conditions (Jacobs, 1961). These practices created more poverty and concentrated disadvantage in inner-city areas (Eck & Linning, 2019; Linning & Eck, 2021).

After several decades of deterioration in inner-city areas, the federal government responded with urban renewal programs (Jacobs, 1961; Logan & Molotch, 1987). Governments used their powers of eminent domain to seize properties and sell them to developers to rebuild dilapidated areas (Jackson, 1985; Rothstein, 2017). This process forcibly evicted thousands of residents from their homes with little assistance in finding new housing (Abrams, 1955; Klemek, 2008). The result was the structural factor known as population mobility. Once residents began looking elsewhere for homes, they encountered another mechanism, created by real estate brokers, designed to fight the structural factor ethnic heterogeneity: restrictive covenants (Weiss & Watts, 1989).

Real estate brokers did not use a neighborhood strategy to build communities, they used a place-based one. They implemented covenants property by property (Glotzer, 2020). All properties possess legal documents stating their location, boundaries, and owners. These documents may also contain restrictions on the uses of property. These deed restrictions are sometimes called covenants. Real estate brokers wrote racial covenants, into property deeds. These covenants made it illegal for nonwhite persons to own, rent, or use these properties (Freund, 2007; Rothstein, 2017; Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project, 2021; Trounstine, 2018). To control the racial composition of a large area, real estate brokers saw to it that racial covenants were written into the deeds of each property. This meant exerting control through the units they had control over: individual property parcels (Glotzer, 2020; Trounstine, 2018). In essence, real estate brokers, with the help of Federal housing policy, organized neighborhoods place-by-place (Weiss, 1987).

This history has very important implications. It shows that a small group of people—property owners, real estate brokers, bankers, governments—can create neighborhoods, by controlling places. Research shows a concentration of urban land ownership (Eck, 2019). But such concentration operates at larger scales, too. Many countries are owned by a small number of people. For example, nearly half of property in England is owned by less than 1% of the population (Evans, 2019). Thus, to understand how larger area conditions arise, we need to look at what is happening at individual parcels. When we do this, it also uncovers a very important factor that has remained unexplained by NREC theories: crime hotspots.

Creating crime opportunities

Though understanding structural factors is important, it only provides part of the story. For instance, a flaw of NREC theories are their inability to explain why neighborhoods contain crime hotspots (Eck, 2018). There have been attempts to address it, but they still follow the dubious assumptions described above. Wilcox and Tillyer’s (2018) places in neighborhoods (PIN) approach, for example, relies on ambiguously defined neighborhoods as a fundamental unit of analysis. Weisburd and colleagues (2012) overcome this issue by focusing analyses at the street segment level, but their approach still suffers from a reliance on the assumption that residents are the vital source of informal social control. Our neighborhoods out of places explanation (NOPE) provides an alternative that can account for hotspots. To understand it, we must start at the smallest measurable units of analysis, property parcels, and their owners. We can then work up to larger processes.

Although first noted by Charles Booth in London (Morgan & Sinclair, 2019) and W.E.B. DuBois in Philadelphia (1899/1973), it's only since the late 1980s that criminologists have consistently paid attention to the fact that crime is highly concentrated at addresses (Pierce et al., 1988; Sherman et al., 1989). Most properties, even in high crime neighborhoods, experience no crime. Only a small number of properties experience multiple crimes. Studies consistently find that over half of all crime in a city is attributed to about 5% or less of places (Weisburd, 2015). Both high and low crime neighborhoods have hotspots (Eck, 2018; Sherman et al., 1989). NREC theories cannot explain this (Weisburd et al., 2012). If an entire neighborhood has poor structural factors, low collective efficacy, and deficient informal social control, why does crime only happen at a tiny fraction of its places? If NREC explanations are correct, shouldn’t crime be spread throughout a high-crime neighborhood?

When we look at the actions of creators, it makes sense that crime is not widespread. Not only do creators influence structural factors, but they also influence crime opportunities at places. Research in environmental criminology consistently shows that crime opportunities arise at places (Eck, 2018). We can identify who controls each place: the place manager (Eck, 1994). Eck and Madensen (2018) explain that place managers are usually the property owner. They can sometimes be employees to whom owners have delegated control. All places have place managers. For commercial properties, it would be the property or business owner. For single-family homes, it would be the homeowner. For apartment buildings, it would be the landlord. For public spaces—such as parks, streets, and sidewalks—it would be the municipal government.

Place managers are best equipped to suppress crime opportunities (Eck, 2015), often using situational crime prevention (Eck & Clarke, 2019). Property ownership gives place managers legal powers over their property. They can organize space, regulate conduct, control access, and acquire resources (Eck & Madensen, 2018; Madensen, 2007). The acquisition of resources is the most important for dictating how a place will be managed. For instance, a place that generates a healthy profit in an affluent neighborhood will have more resources for maintenance and safety. If a crime problem arises, the place manager will be equipped with the money, employees, and political connections to address the problem. She may also feel pressure from nearby place managers to maintain her property to a certain standard, including crime prevention measures. In affluent neighborhoods landlords must compete for good tenants. If tenants are unsatisfied with their living arrangements, they have the means to move elsewhere (Eck, 2019).

The incentive structure for place managers changes in lower income, often high crime, areas. Let’s use the example of a landlord again for comparison purposes. These neighborhoods usually contain old buildings requiring more expensive maintenance. This deters place managers from investing in crime prevention relative to basic needs, such as electricity, heating, and water. Moreover, when tenants have few resources and are subject to discrimination, they have limited ability to move elsewhere if they are dissatisfied with their living conditions. This means the place manager is under less pressure to make necessary repairs or address crime problems on the property (Eck, 2019; Mallach, 2019).

Extending place management into neighborhoods

Though Eck (1994) originally created place management theory to explain why some properties experience a lot of crime while most experience very little, it also helps explain crime across larger areas. There are four ways in which a place manager can derive control from owning property. The first is where he purchases a single property. This allows him to control what happens within the physical boundaries of his property parcel. Though he may informally influence happenings nearby, his legal authority is limited to what happens within the boundaries of his property.

Second, if this place manager wanted to extend his control, he could purchase additional properties. This is a very common practice among property owners. Payne (2010), for example, found that a few people owned many of the apartment buildings in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation owns dozens of properties in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood (Woodard, 2016). This happens in cities around the world (e.g., Warerkar, 2018). Limited liability corporations (LLCs) often own multiple properties as well. Consequently, place managers create networks of places they have control over (Linning & Eck, 2021).

The third way place managers extend their control to wider areas is by creating networks with other place managers. It is common for property developers to team up to redevelop city areas. For example, a development company may be contracted to build a stadium. Several other developers may come together to purchase adjacent properties to open bars, restaurants, and apartments that fans will use because of the stadium. It is also common for place managers to look out for each other’s property. For example, owners of different businesses can have staggered business hours, such as a coffee shop and a restaurant. The owners of these two places can watch out for each other’s properties. While the former opens early in the morning, the latter stays open into the evening. This increases the amount of control and guardianship they have over each other’s property and any nearby/shared space between them (Linning & Eck, 2021).

The final way place managers extend their control to wider areas is through their connections with financial and governmental agencies. For example, local governments might offer prospective property developers tax abatements to entice them to invest in declining neighborhoods as opposed to more affluent ones. This can often put governments at the mercy of developers. However, sometimes the reverse is also true. Building codes and zoning regulations by governments can control decisions of developers (Linning & Eck, 2021; Sampson, Eck, & Dunham, 2010).

What do these four means of control mean for neighborhood crime? It implies that neighborhood conditions are controlled by a small number of people who own the properties within them. A small number of these place managers purchase multiple properties in an area and work with other place managers to shape neighborhoods. These place managers are seldom residents of these neighborhoods. In fact, many of them own properties in multiple neighborhoods, cities, and even states or countries. They design and control much within neighborhoods. Residents then must adapt to the environments created by this small number of outsiders.

The neighborhoods out of places explanation (NOPE)

If a few creators are critical, then we need an alternative to the NREC framework. We show this in Fig. 3. Creators can influence structural factors and crime opportunities. Their influence over neighborhoods comes from their control of places. Most creators suppress crime opportunities. However, as the law of troublesome places dictates, a small subset of them fail at this (Wilcox & Eck, 2011). Differences in crime across neighborhoods can be attributed to the unequal distribution of crime opportunities that these few people fail to suppress. Residents must adapt to these high crime opportunity environments and have little power to informally control crime. NOPE suggests that place managers are the principal actors for suppressing crime.

Fig. 3
figure 3

The Neighborhoods Out of Places Explanation (NOPE)

Table 1 summarizes how NOPE contrasts with the NREC framework. NOPE proposes a bottom-up explanation whereby we start at property parcels and work up to larger area processes. Unlike neighborhoods, property parcels are easy to define and have readily identifiable boundaries. NOPE also argues that neighborhoods are institutionally created. They do not naturally emerge. Most control is derived from property rights bestowed to place managers through property ownership. While residents can engage in informal social control, much of their behaviors are adaptations to environments created by place managers. This means place managers can change environments to suppress crime opportunities.

Table 1 A Comparison of the NREC to NOPE Frameworks


Implications for theory

Neighborhoods do not emerge naturally from resident interactions. As Pfohl (1994, p. 169) asserts:

Whatever the benefits of the disorganization metaphor, its disadvantages for the socially and economically powerless are significant. What the Chicago theorists describe as natural ecological conflict is really an unequal human struggle over the control of urban space.

Scholars have called attention to the political economy for many decades (Logan & Molotch, 1987; Taylor et al., 2011). Our call to insert the political economy into criminology is not new (Unnever, 1987). We need to do so with increased precision. Developers, real estate brokers, government agents, and others create neighborhoods place-by-place. Ecological metaphors hide the role of creators. Real ecologies grow and evolve without human direction. Ecologies continually remake themselves; humans maintain cities. Ecologies are self-organized; people organize cities. Ecological metaphors are sets of stories that have helped guide research, but they are not scientific facts.

NOPE implies residents’ beliefs about each other—their trusts, ties, fears, and opinions about the willingness of neighbors to do things—has little bearing on crime. In high-crime neighborhoods, these psychological states are a byproduct of living in environments created by others. This explains the findings of Wickes and Hipp (2018). The positive mental states of inhabitants of low-crime residential neighborhoods are, in part, the result of owners having more control over their environments. After all, as homeowners they are their own place managers.

The emphasis on residents’ actions obscures the deliberate actions of place managers. We do not oppose democratic mobilization. It is necessary. However, to create positive change one must have a clear-eyed view of reality. Community organizing will not reduce crime by increasing informal social control; community organizing might change the decisions of elites. Elites drive neighborhood functions.

We present reality; creators play a fundamental role in shaping neighborhoods. Creators have power and influence (Fincher et al., 2016). Our theory does not assert creator-induced changes are good, or bad. They are merely so. Creators shape crime opportunities, so we need to include them in our theories, metaphors, and research.

Implications for research

Observations, surveys, and administrative data will remain as key data sources, but they have to be adapted to the study of creators. This will take creativity, but work has already started (Clarke & Bichler-Robertson, 1998; Cook & MacDonald, 2011; Lee et al., 2021; Olaghere & Eck, 2023). Further, evidence showing the actions of creators is plentiful. Table 2 outlines physical, statistical, and administrative measures of property ownership and creator activity that we could use to advance our research. It shows evidence of creation that criminologists could use.

Table 2 Evidence creators have acted upon areas

We also need to ask different questions to understand crime opportunities at places. Some lines of inquiry could explore: Who creates places and why? What supports creation and how? Where does creation occur and how long does it take? Who maintains or neglects places and why? Future research should seek to understand the role of creators in the development of structural factors and crime opportunities. Does this process start with creators? Is there an indirect relationship?

Implications for policy

Places are where social life, crime opportunities, and suppression efforts unfold. Ignoring creators may yield poor policy and science (Cook & MacDonald, 2011; DeLeon-Granados, 1999; O’Brien et al., 2019). It is essential for policymakers to pay attention to land use planning, decision-making, and economics. Land use policies play an important role in the creation of structural factors. These policies also dictate the way creators can manage places and shape areas. If creators facilitate opportunities for crime, they can change opportunity structures at places.

Policies can incentivize productive and inclusive behavior among creators. Government regulation of creators may be useful for enhancing the public good, in some circumstances (Eck & Eck, 2012). This removes the locus of regulation from police and residents. Residents and the problem-solving framework still matter (DeLeon-Granados, 1999). However, the burden should not be entirely on them. Motivated residents can only do so much. Why do we place the burden of crime control on residents when much of the land they use is controlled by outsiders? From a NOPE perspective, resident organization may be valuable to counter adverse decisions by outsiders. But social organization does not have much direct influence on crime and we should avoid policies that depend on invoking residents’ informal social control.

Availability of data and materials

Not applicable.


  • Aalbers, M. B. (2006). ‘When the banks withdraw, slum lords take over’: The structuration of neighborhood decline through redlining, drug dealing, speculation, and immigrant exploitation. Urban Studies, 43(7), 1061–1086.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Abrams, C. (1955). Forbidden neighbors: A study in prejudice in housing. Kennikat Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Adams, D., & Hastings, E. M. (2001). Urban renewal in Hong Kong: Transition from development corporation to renewal authority. Land Use Policy, 18, 245–258.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bennett, T., Holloway, K., & Farrington, D. P. (2009). A review of the effectiveness of neighbourhood watch. Security Journal, 22(2), 143–155.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Braga, A. A., Weisburd, D., & Turchan, B. (2019). Focused deterrence strategies effects on crime: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 15(3), 1–65.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bullock, K., Farrell, G., & Tilley, N. (2002). Funding and implementing crime reduction initiatives. London: Home Office RDS on-line report 10/02.

  • Burgess, E. W. (1916). Juvenile delinquency in a small city. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 6(5), 724–728.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clarke, R. V., & Bichler-Robertson, G. (1998). Place managers, slumlords, and crime in low rent apartment buildings. Security Journal, 11(1), 11–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cook, P. J., & MacDonald, J. (2011). Public safety through private action: An economic assessment of BIDS. The Economic Journal, 121(May), 445–462.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Couch, C., Sykes, O., & Borstinghaus, W. (2011). Thirty years of urban regeneration in Britain, Germany, and France: The importance of context and path dependency. Progress in Planning, 75, 1–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cullen, F. T., & Kulig, T. C. (2018). Evaluating theories of environmental criminology: Strengths and weaknesses. In G. J. N. Bruinsma & S. D. Johnson (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of environmental criminology (pp. 160–176). Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • DeLeon-Granados, W. (1999). Travels through crime and place: Community building as crime control. Northeastern University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • DuBois, W. E. B. (1899/1973). The Philadelphia Negro. Milwood, NY: Kraus-Thomson.

  • Eck, J. E. (1994). Drug markets and drug places: A case-control study of the spatial structure of illicit drug dealing. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Maryland College Park.

  • Eck, J. E. (2015). Who should prevent crime at places? The advantages of regulating place managers and challenges to police services. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 9(3), 223–233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eck, J. E. (2018). The opportunity structure for bad place management: A theory to assist effective regulation of high crime places. In D. Weisburd & J. E. Eck (Eds.), Unraveling the crime-place connection: New directions in theory and policy (pp. 157–187). Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eck, J. E. (2019). Race, place management, and crime. In J. D. Unnever, S. L. Gabbidon, & C. Chouhy (Eds.), Building a black criminology: Race, theory, and crime (pp. 171–206). Taylor & Francis.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eck, J. E., & Clarke, R. V. (2019). Situational crime prevention: Theory, practice, and evidence. In M. D. Krohn, N. Hendrix, G. P. Hall, & A. J. Lizotte (Eds.), Handbook on crime and deviance (2nd ed., pp. 355–376). Springer Publishers.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Eck, J. E., & Eck, E. B. (2012). Crime place and pollution: Expanding crime reduction options through a regulatory approach. Criminology & Public Policy, 11(2), 281–316.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eck, J. E., & Linning, S. J. (2019). Hidden in plain sight: The history criminologists should know and teach but do not. The Criminologist, 44(4), 1–7.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eck, J. E., & Madensen, T. D. (2018). Place management. In G. J. N. Bruinsma & S. D. Johnson (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of environmental criminology (pp. 629–663). Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Evans, R. (2019, April 17). Half of England is owned by less than 1% of the population. The Guardian. Retrieved July 28, 2021 from:

  • Fincher, R., Pardy, M., & Shaw, K. (2016). Place-making or place-masking? The everyday political economy of “making place.” Planning Theory & Practice, 17(4), 516–536.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Freund, D. M. (2007). Colored property: State policy and white racial politics in suburban America. University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Gill, C. (2016). Community interventions. In D. Weisburd, D. Farrington, & C. Gill (Eds.), What works in crime prevention and rehabilitation (pp. 77–109). Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Glotzer, P. (2020). How the suburbs were segregated: Developers and the business of exclusionary housing, 1890–1960. Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hipp, J. (2010). Resident perceptions of crime and disorder: How much is “bias”, and how much is social environment differences? Criminology, 48(2), 475–508.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hipp, J., & Boessen, A. (2013). Egohoods as waves washing across the city: A new measure of “neighborhoods.” Criminology, 51(2), 287–327.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hipp, J., & Wickes, R. (2017). Violence in urban neighborhoods: A longitudinal study of collective efficacy and violent crime. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 33, 783–808.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jackson, K. T. (1985). Crabgrass frontier: The suburbanization of the United States. Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jacobs, J. (1961). The death and life of great American Cities. Vintage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kennedy, D. M., Braga, A. A., Piehl, A. M., & Waring, E. J. (2001). Reducing gun violence: the Boston gun project’s operation ceasefire. National Institute of Justice.

    Google Scholar 

  • Klemek, C. (2008). From political outsider to power broker in two “Great American Cities”: Jane Jacobs and the fall of the urban renewal order in New York and Toronto. Journal of Urban History, 34(2), 309–332.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Klemek, C. (2011). The transatlantic collapse of urban renewal: Postwar urbanism from New York to Berlin. University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kornhauser, R. R. (1978). Social sources of delinquency: An appraisal of analytic models. University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kuklick, H. (1980). Chicago sociology and urban planning policy. Theory and Society, 89(6), 821–845.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lee, Y., O, S., & Eck, J. E. (2021). Why your bar has crime by not mine: Resolving the land use and crime-risky facilities conflict. Justice Quarterly, DOI:

  • Light, J. S. (2009). The nature of cities: Ecological visions and the American Urban Professions, 1920–1960. Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Linning, S. J. & Eck, J. E. (2021). Whose 'eyes on the street' control crime? Expanding place management into neighborhoods. Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Logan, J. R., & Molotch, H. L. (1987). Urban fortunes: The political economy of place. University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Madensen, T. D. (2007). Bar management and crime: Toward a dynamic theory of place management and crime hotspots. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Cincinnati.

  • Madensen, T. D., & Eck, J. E. (2012). Crime places and place management. In F. T. Cullen & P. Wilcox (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of criminological theory (pp. 1–18). Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mallach, A. (2019). Addressing problem rental housing. In A. Mallach, J. Bacher, & M. B. Williams (Eds.), Vacant and problem properties: A guide to legal strategies and remedies (pp. 123–162). American Bar Association.

    Google Scholar 

  • Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. A. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Morgan, M. S., & Sinclair, I. (2019). Charles Booth’s London poverty maps. London: Thames & Hudson.

    Google Scholar 

  • O’Brien, D. T. (2018). The urban commons: How data and technology can rebuild our cities. Harvard University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • O’Brien, D. T., Farrell, C., & Welsh, B. C. (2019). Looking through broken windows: The impact of neighborhood disorder on aggression and fear of crime is an artifact of research design. Annual Review of Criminology, 2, 53–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Olaghere, A., & Eck, J. E. (2023). Crime, place, and race: A dialogue furthering a race aware program for research. In Groff, E. R. & Haberman, C. P. (eds.) Understanding Crime and Place: A Methods Handbook. Philadelphia. PA: Temple University Press.

  • Park, R. E., Burgess, E. W., & McKenzie, R. D. (1925). The city. University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Payne, T. C. (2010). Does changing ownership change crime? An analysis of apartment ownership and crime in Cincinnati. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Cincinnati).

  • Pfohl, S. (1994). Images of deviance and social control: A sociological history. McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pickett, S. H. (1968). An appraisal of the urban renewal programme in Canada. University of Toronto Law Journal, 18(3), 233–247.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pierce, G., Spaar, S., & Briggs, L. R. (1988). The character of police work: Strategic and tactical implications. Center for Applied Social Research, Northeastern University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rabin, Y. (1989). Expulsive zoning: The inequitable legacy of Euclid. In C. M. Harr & J. S. Kayden (Eds.), Zoning and the American dream: Promises still to keep (pp. 101–121). Planners Press, American Planning Association.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenbaum, D. P. (1988). Community crime prevention: A review and synthesis of the literature. Justice Quarterly, 5(3), 323–395.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rothstein, R. (2017). The color of law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America. Liveright Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sampson, R. J. (2012). Great American city: Chicago and the enduring neighborhood effect. The University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Sampson, R., Eck, J. E., & Dunham, J. (2010). Super controllers and crime prevention: A routine activity explanation of crime prevention success and failure. Security Journal, 23(1), 37–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sampson, R. J., & Groves, W. B. (1989). Community structure and crime: Testing social-disorganization theory. American Journal of Sociology, 94(4), 774–802.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sampson, R. J., Raudenbush, S. W., & Earls, F. (1997). Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science, 277(5328), 918–924.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project (2021). Racial Restrictive Covenants: Neighborhood by neighborhood restrictions across King County. Retrieved from:

  • Shaw, C.R. & McKay, H.D. (1969/1942). Juvenile delinquency and urban areas: A study of rates of delinquency in relation to differential characteristics of local communities in American Cities. Revised ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

  • Sherman, L. W., Gartin, P. R., & Buerger, M. E. (1989). Hot spots of predatory crime: Routine activities and the criminology of place. Criminology, 27(1), 27–56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Snodgrass, J. (1976). Clifford R. Shaw and Henry D. McKay: Chicago criminologists. The British Journal of Criminology, 16(1), 1–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, R. B. (2015). Community criminology: Fundamentals of spatial and temporal scaling, ecological indicators, and selectivity bias. New York University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, R. B., Harris, P. W., Jones, P. R., Garcia, R. M., & McCord, E. S. (2011). Ecological origins of shared perceptions of troublesome teen groups: Implications for the basic systemic model of crime, the incivilities thesis, and political economy. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 48(2), 298–324.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Trounstine, J. (2018). Segregation by design: local politics and inequality in American cities. Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Unnever, J. D. (1987). Reviewed works: The social ecology of crime. Contemporary Sociology, 16(6), 845–846.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Unnever, J. D., & Gabbidon, S. L. (2011). A theory of African American offending: Race, racism, and crime. Routledge.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Unnever, J. D., & Owusu-Bempah, A. (2019). A Black criminology matters. In J. D. Unnever, S. L. Gabbidon, & C. Chouhy (Eds.), Building a black criminology: Race, theory, and crime (pp. 3–28). Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Venkatesh, S. (2001). Chicago’s pragmatic planners. Social Science History, 2(summer), 275–317.

    Google Scholar 

  • Warerkar, T. (2018, September 14). New York’s 10 biggest property owners: See all the key players in New York’s real estate scene and to what extent they control the city’s landscape. Curbed New York. Retrieved from:

  • Weisburd, D. (2015). The law of crime concentration and the criminology of place. Criminology, 53(2), 133–157.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weisburd, D., Groff, E. R., & Yang, S. M. (2012). The criminology of place: Street segments and our understanding of the crime problem. Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Weiss, M.A., & Watts, J.W. (1989). Community builders and community associations: The Role of Real Estate Developers in Private Residential Government. In: U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ed.), Residential community associations: Private governments in the intergovernmental system? (pp. 95–104). Washington, D.C.: Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.

  • Weiss, M. A. (1987). The rise of the community builders: The American real estate industry and urban land planning. Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Welsh, B. C., & Hoshi, A. (2002). Communities and crime prevention. In L. W. Sherman, D. P. Farrington, B. C. Welsh, & D. L. MacKenzie (Eds.), Evidence-based crime prevention (pp. 165–197). Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wickes, R., & Hipp, J. R. (2018). The spatial and temporal dynamics of neighborhood informal social control and crime. Social Forces, 97(1), 277–308.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wilcox, P., Cullen, F. T., & Feldmeyer, B. (2018). Communities and crime: An enduring American challenge. Temple University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilcox, P., & Eck, J. E. (2011). Criminology of the unpopular. Criminology & Public Policy, 10(2), 473–482.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wilcox, P., & Tillyer, M. S. (2018). Place and neighborhood contexts. In D. Weisburd & J. E. Eck (Eds.), Unraveling the crime-place connection: New directions in theory and policy (pp. 121–142). Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, J.Q. & Kelling, G.L. (1982). Broken windows: The police and neighborhood safety. The Atlantic Monthly, 29–38.

  • Woodard, C. (2016, June 16). How Cincinnati salvaged the nation’s most dangerous neighborhood: Leaning on the power of local corporations, officials engineered a renaissance in the city’s heart. Politico Magazine. Retrieved from:

Download references


We thank Francis Cullen and Ralph Taylor for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of our manuscript.


No outside funding was used to support this work.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



All authors contributed to the research and writing of the paper. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shannon J. Linning.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Linning, S.J., Olaghere, A. & Eck, J.E. Say NOPE to social disorganization criminology: the importance of creators in neighborhood social control. Crime Sci 11, 5 (2022).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: