It’s important to revisit the primary purpose of this blog from time to time in a very focused way in order to understand the broader purpose of what is written here. There is a lack of choice for the middle class in this country in terms of living arrangements. This lack of choice is in fact mostly a mirage, but as such it is so powerful and pervasive that in its impact it is as if it were as real as anything tangible. The belief is that the only truly healthy place to raise a child is a suburb, although raising children in rural areas, or even the wilderness is also reasonable because suburbs somehow contain the positive essences of farmland and hinterland.
Where thou shalt not live is the city.
Having now raised a family, not only in a city, but in the downtown of one of New England’s most populous cities, I can say with out equivocation that you can raise a family, healthily and happily even in what consensus says is a dying, decaying, even “dangerous” urban center. The reasons for this are that, primarily, even in decline communities constructed based on traditional living patterns formulated over centuries and centuries are healthier than the experiment in living patterns which is today’s sprawling American drive thru suburban dystopia.
An example of just how true all of this is was made very clear to me in the last week. On Monday night I was obligated by circumstance to drive through one of the region’s most affluent suburbs. It was just before 6 o’clock, perhaps closer to 5:30, and there was a steady stream of motor vehicles headed in both directions on the two lane north/south corridor I was navigating. Traffic was moving at around 50 mph. I did not see a single person outside the protective shell of an automobile on the entire 5 mile length of road I was traversing.
One of the myths associated with city living, one of the powerful mirages, is that after nightfall you cannot leave your home for fear of the crime and the violence endemic to the city. Every night the TV news shows more footage of another shooting, another stabbing, another robbery, and it’s clear that simply leaving your house is to play Russian roulette if you live in a city.
Having been engaged in this analysis for so long (30 years at least), and having experienced how inaccurate this perception is, I began to ask myself how this sleight of hand was achieved by the media. As a sideline I want to make it clear that in this case I’m not proposing any conspiracy, as I have written recently, there clearly are conspiracies and any rational person will use the tools which understanding conspiracy provides when the circumstances and the evidence so warrant, but in this case the mechanisms appear to be much more of the “invisible hand” sort: TV news wants viewers, viewers are attracted by the type of fear generated by connecting violence with the “other”. The otherness in this case being mostly of the racial, ethnic, and class variety.
So, on to trick number one. In a city like Springfield, where there tends to be approximately a murder a month, you re-engage the same story every night during every newscast giving it a slightly different angle OR adding whatever new tidbit of information or whatever new step in the process I’d being taken. For people not focused on the fact that this isn’t a new occurrence of some sort, but rather a re-telling of the same story told yesterday, and the day before, and the day before, it seems as though there have been two murders, three murders, seven murders, over that time.
At this point, perception starts to create its own reality and “multipliers” begin to create erroneous impressions. The multipliers are population and demographics, the impression is that location is more closely related to security relative to violent crime than it actually is. In my current example the city of Springfield has over 10 times the population of its suburb, and so even having 10 times the number of murders would mean that they were statistically equivalent.
The demographic multiplier relates to exactly who is being killed and who is doing the killing. Suburbs tend to be wealthy. The middle and upper classes stay away from cities in droves…see the opening paragraph of this essay. While many members of the upper and middle class use illegal narcotics, they tend not to traffic in them. I, for example, make somewhere around $80,000 a year. For all of the decades and decades I have lived in Springfield I have never once been tempted to give up my job in order to make it big as a drug kingpin. I think it’s safe to say that most people tempted by the potential income of drug retailing and wholesaling are not lured away from high salary jobs to do so. People who sell drugs don’t sell drugs because they are in the city, they are in the city because they are likely to sell drugs. What that means is that, given the inevitable connection between engaging in the sale of contraband and the need to exercise violence in the practice thereof, anyone who lives in the city but chooses to not directly engage in the process of drug trafficking, is very unlikely to be killed as an innocent bystander.
This same connection holds for victims of domestic violence, et cetera. I have addressed this recently: women who leave men are statistically in a group which is in danger of being victims of violence, and tend to have their incomes drop, especially if their support network isn’t strong. Again, they live in cities because they are more likely to be victims, not the other way around as tragic as the whole ugly truth is.
The erroneous impression left by all of this creates, getting back to the media here, a sensation that violence IS urban. Some years back a woman was raped and murdered on Interstate 91 in Springfield’s wealthiest suburb, Longmeadow. The follow up report was done with a reporter standing in front of the Springfield skyline asking the question: “Are the city’s highways safe?” It was so obvious and clear to the reporters and the producers of the story that murder was an urban story that even when the murder took place on a relatively isolated and wooded stretch of the interstate, the only logical backdrop for the report was the city.
This manifests itself when murders do take place in wealthy white suburbs and rural areas in a slightly different way. Now these murders, like nearly all murders in cities, involve perpetrators and victims who know each other. They frequently stem from domestic situations, and the neighbors who are interviewed are always “shocked” that something like this could happen “here”. In cities they never address the neighbors with this question, the assumption is that they are used to “this”. If they are it is because the media has told them that it is normal for who they are and where they live.
When I introduce myself to some people and I sense their disbelief that I live “downtown” I add “Yup, and never once been murdered”.
So what is believed is that city dwellers like myself spend their nights barricaded in their fortress houses waiting for daybreak to once again sally forth, meanwhile suburbanites are free to come and go at will, day or night. But that is simply not the case. I do think it wise to use judgement when leaving my house in my neighborhood. I know that I wouldn’t feel safe or secure at 2 a.m. wandering in a northeasterly direction from my house. But at 5, or 6, or 7, or 8, 9,10, or even 11 p.m. I would feel very little insecurity at leaving my house to walk, yes WALK, to dinner, or a show, or to buy some milk, or to return a book to the library or whatever.
On the other hand, as I witnessed first hand last week, it is the suburbanite in the post war developments who lives trapped inside his home after dark unless he enters into the metal shell of an automobile to sally forth. The road upon which I and my fellow motorists were traveling had not a single linear foot of sidewalk along its entire length. The narrow shoulders and frequent mail boxes and bushes and landscape design elements make walking parallel to the road nearly impossible, the total lack of street lights makes visibility difficult and, the bottom line is that walking or biking at night along any stretch of this road would be insane. It would be to court death in a way that any gang member would see as irresponsible. And that is why on a mild evening in November on a stretch of road consisting of house after post war suburban piece-of-shit house I did not see one, single, solitary human being for 5 miles.
On Wednesday, however, I did have to walk my 6 year old step-daughter to dance class. There were dozens of people on the street, yes, even in the city at night. The Christmas lights were already up and illuminated and people were walking into bars and restaurants, people were meeting friends on SIDEWALKS and discussing their plans for the evening. And my stepdaughter danced, and twirled and spun around on the extra wide sidewalks of a traditional Main Street.
This is the truth, and this is what is rational. Walking is made much more dangerous when traffic speeds are higher, and when sidewalks and crosswalks are absent. If you live in a neighborhood where cars drive fast, and there are no sidewalks then the street in front of your house is a death zone; you’d be wise not to venture from your home without wearing an automobile for protection. I, on the other hand, require no such encumbering outerwear. I live in a city.