Polluted city air is one of the contributing factors to deteriorating individual health in cities. However, recent research suggests that the air quality may have an impact beyond its role in contributing to diseases of affluence.
Recent British government research shows that reported crime rates are significantly higher in cities than in rural area.1 The number of reported incidents of violent crime against individuals in rural areas was 14.1 per 1,000 citizens, while the rate of violence in urban areas was 22.2 per 1,000 citizens.
A part of the reason behind these crime statistics is simply that the way crime is recorded by the police has changed.2 However, even with this taken into consideration, there continue to be clear differences in crime rates between rural and urban areas, and the underlying causes behind these differences have become a cause for study.
A part of the reason for the differences in crime rates between urban and rural areas is socioeconomic stratification. While there is rural poverty and urban affluence, in general, there are higher rates of urban poverty than rural poverty.3
In a 1989 study, researchers Sampson and Groves built upon Shaw and McKay’s influential theory of community social disorganization, which essentially states that low economic status, ethnic heterogeneity, residential mobility, and family disruption lead to social disorganization in communities and consequently increases crime rates.
In this study, Sampson and Groves replicated Shaw and McKay’s initial United States-based findings in England and Wales. Thus, they demonstrated that the social disorganization theory does, in fact, explain macro-level variations in crime rates.4
Even in studies where the economic status of areas was controlled for, there continued to be a clear difference in the statistics between high versus low population density. Those who lived in less densely populated areas found life to be less stressful than those who lived in the city.5 What then, is the overarching uniting factor between these cases? The settings: large cities.
Breathe Better, Feel Better
One theory to explain these disparities is that the terpenes—aromatic hydrocarbons with health benefits—in the environment help individuals relax. People who live in rural areas are exposed to more terpenes, and therefore are generally less stressed, which becomes evident in their behavior and interactions with others. Additionally, research into urban planning shows that more green space has been linked to less stress.6
It’s easy to forget that modern, bustling cities are a relatively new thing. It wasn’t all that long ago that people lived in the wilderness and constantly being out in nature was more common than the alternative. This is yet another example of human evolution not keeping pace with the rate of human progress.
The world, as a whole, is a system. There are food chains, as well as organisms that have symbiotic relationships with other organisms. Humans are unusual in that they have broken out of a lot of those natural relationships, and it could be possible that this separation from nature is actually harming individuals.
The increased aggression, tension, and bad mood that so many individuals experience could simply be a side effect of spending so much time at desks, breathing polluted air, and barely moving around.
Better Air for Better Cities
As evidenced above, the environment that individuals spend time in affects mood and well-being, and people who are stressed or anxious are more likely to engage in disruptive behaviors. If humans spend time improving the environment, then that will pay off in the long term. Not only will environmental improvement make individuals feel better, but it will make them more inclined to partake in positive behaviors, which could consequently decrease crime rates.
In an ideal world, everyone would have the chance to breathe clean, terpene-rich air. Of course, individuals can’t change the air in the whole city, but they can still change the air they breathe on a small scale. Going out into nature, using essential oils topically or as part of aromatherapy, or adding more green areas to cities are all easy ways to breathe in more terpenes even in the bustle of city life.
Though terpenes alone won’t completely solve the problem of crime in cities, they could help contribute to improving the overall well-being of individuals, offering a wide-sweeping answer that can be used to then pinpoint and resolve specific issues more easily.