Do Abandoned Vehicles Indicate a Blighted Neighborhood?

Student: Kevin Torres

Community Partner: Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (NINA) David Corrigan

Faculty Advisor: Garth Myers

The Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (NINA) is a non profit organization that has the goal of revitalizing Asylum Hill, one Hartford neighborhood, by eliminating blighted houses and creating opportunities for affordable home ownership. They have revitalized homes in order to make them more affordable for residents to acquire. For example, they were able to repair a home on  Sigourney Street with the support of volunteers at Trinity College and funding from local officials. Below is a picture of the exterior of the home.


Picture of revitalized home on 115 Sigourney Street on Asylum Hill obtained at NINA’s website

Predicting blight in neighborhoods is critical because it can help city officials to take action in these neighborhoods to prevent further decline. Abandoned vehicles, which may be a marker of blight, are an issue in many urban environments and Hartford, CT is no exception. The current study examined the density of blight in certain Hartford neighborhoods, and explored whether these vehicles were another predictor or indicator of a blighted neighborhood. To solve this, data were obtained by the Hartford police on reports of abandoned vehicles; these data were placed on a map, showing the streets where the vehicles were found. The data revealed that many abandoned vehicles were reported in Asylum Hill, which has a history of property and violent crime. These findings support the idea that there could be a connection between abandoned vehicles and blighted neighborhoods when looking at certain types of crimes reported in neighborhoods like Asylum Hill. 

Hartford’s Definition of Blight: the direct result of population loss as excessive buildings are left behind.

 NINA has conducted research on the indication of blight in neighborhoods like Asylum Hill. Their goal is the following:

  • To identify problem properties, whether as crime hot spots or source of blight, before they directly affected the health, safety, and welfare of neighborhood.
  • To engage property owners to repair properties before substantial community and governmental investment of resources become necessary.

In terms of abandoned vehicles, this can be done by using a top-down vs. bottom up approach, where blighted neighborhoods either start with the actions of community members or government officials. Some reports on abandoned vehicles or property may not even happen because tenants are afraid of retaliation from landlords if they make such reports. NINA is looking at the environmental factors that may relate to neighborhoods being in blight. Furthermore, the organization are trying to understand if their hypothesis is similar to the broken window theory and if the criticism of this theory applies to their own hypothesis. Although indications like abandoned vehicles may not relate to the reason for a blighted neighborhood, it is necessary to consider all factors that might be affecting neighborhoods like Asylum Hill.

NINA gathered the data from the Hartford police department to test the hypothesis that the density of abandoned vehicles is associated with crime rates, a marker of  blighted neighborhoods. Hartford police retain reports of abandoned vehicles, and crimes that happen in those areas where abandoned vehicles are present. These data reveal how many abandoned vehicles were reported mostly on Asylum Avenue and Niles Street. I could not gather additional data in person because of Covid 19 and how many tenants wouldn’t want to share out on the issues of their blighted neighborhoods. However, I have had the opportunity to look at other research that relates to blight and the broken window theory in order to connect it with this research. 

Some of the research strategies I used included:

  • Google Street View to view the areas where NINA renovated homes on Asylum Hill. These include streets like Ashley Street, Sargeant Street, and Huntington Street, which are some of the many places NINA has been working on for housing renovation.
  • Using the street view option to compare streets like Ashley Streets from 2011 to 2019 to see if any changes have occurred through this time like the amount of cars increasing and decreasing in this street.
  • Evaluating whether or not these streets underwent any changes over time based on the houses and cars in the area. 
  • Asking help from Gabby Nelson, faculty at Trinity College, where she provided a map of all of the homes that NINA worked in the Asylum Hill neighborhood
  • Using data from AreaVibe, to understand the type of crimes that happens in this community, which are violent and property crime.

Photos below shows 30 Ashley Street from 2011 to 2019 and the number of cars increasing and decreasing during these years.

30 Ashley Street in 2011
30 Ashley Street in 2018
30 Ashley Street in 2019

 The crime data provided by NINA reveals the label of these vehicles being suspicious or abandoned, providing some indicator that crime is happening in these neighborhoods. This is important to judge whether or not crime is happening in this part of the neighborhood and what type of crime is happening. The data from AreaVibe showed the that the most common crime to happen in Asylum Hill are  property crimes and while violent crimes are second. This relates with the data gathered by NINA because vehicles that are reported as abandoned or suspicious because it affects the property value of these streets and hinders development of the community. Below is a map made by David Tatem, a faculty from Trinity College,  who uses the data that NINA gathered to give the audience a visual view.

The colors of the map indicate the amount of reports of each location and the geographic correlation of these neighborhoods:

  • The light blue points represent a small amount of reports of abandon or suspicious vehicles
  • The yellow points represents a moderate amount of reports of abandon or suspicious vehicles
  • The red points represents a heavy amount of reports of abandon or suspicious vehicles.
Map created by David Tatem from Trinity College.

These reports help with the understanding that there can be a connection between blight and abandoned vehicles when looking at the type of crime that happens on Asylum Hill and which part of the neighborhood. Moreover, these points represent the 911 calls being made in these areas, which shows more 911 calls being made in Niles Street. This relates to the broken window theory because it’s the belief that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages crime to happen in neighborhoods. The abandoned and suspicious vehicles in Asylum Hill is similar to broken window theory because it does show visible signs of crimes, but like the theory it is still based on assumption that this encourages crimes in the neighborhood. However, this doesn’t provide the motivation for residents to commit violent and property crimes because there is no data about residents thoughts if these vehicles encourage crime.

Abandoned vehicles in Asylum Hill can be deemed somewhat an indicator for blighted neighborhoods because of the property crimes that occur mostly in the area. By using the police data and data from AreaVibes, there is a plausible connection between crimes that happen on Asylum Hill that relates to property crimes. Many residents could be influenced by these abandoned or suspicious vehicles, however, that is all under an assumption that these types of indicators influence crime. Perhaps an answer would be clearer if the residents had anything to say about the vehicles in their neighborhood, however, that is impossible due to the fear of their landlords learning of their involvement and do something of their living arrangement. For the future, maybe working with property owners would be the best way to improve upon the neighborhood and have them corporate to understand why crimes happen in Asylum Hill and what are the causes of it.