The primary goal of Rational Urbanism is to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to issues of city living in not so fashionable municipalities. While there are dozens of themes which are discussed in that regard crime and schools are by far the most significant and for that reason I have written dozens and dozens of posts on those topics.
Because of the demographic and economic trends of the last 40 years in the United States in general and in the Northeast in particular my hometown has gone from being a solidly middle class and working class White community to a relatively poor “majority minority” city. An isolated city consisting increasingly of the poor, and disaffected minorities in late 20th century America is likely to have a certain level of social dysfunction leading to endemic crime; Springfield is not the exception.
The critique here is that, real as the crime problem may be, it ought to be put in the proper perspective by people contemplating establishing themselves and their families in such a city. Chris Martenson of PeakProsperity.com makes the argument that any rationalizing regarding crime is in effect an attempt at self deception and that dysfunction of this sort is the primary indicator of a community which should be avoided. My response to that assertion is twofold: first that there are other dangers, automobiles and suicide in particular, which are as positively correlated to rural living as crime is to the city; and secondly that since he and I both see a major economic discontinuity on the horizon, that my community has already entered “collapse” and therefore what I am witnessing is a response thereto that his currently very prosperous rural community is only just starting to experience and therefor it is impossible to know how this economic reversal will impact behavior in those heretofore prosperous, and I would add “logistically dysfunctional” (Read “places not having a car really sucks”) exurbs.
I should clarify that I do live in a very high crime area. There are any number of places in Springfield where the problem of crime really could be waved away as being absolutely no more significant than in any other place in North America, but I live at the confluence of three official “neighborhoods”, two of which really do have high rates of crime. On any given weekend the streetwalkers I see from my front window are more than likely just junkies looking to buy heroin a block or so away from here. I live perhaps 50 feet from the corner of Maple and Union streets. Any Google News search of those streets in Springfield will give you a handful of articles on just such criminal activities.
This is what prostitution looks like here:
Would that it were not so. This beautiful, historic neighborhood, with world class museums, spectacular restaurants, authentic Italian pastry shops, cafes, and delis, a great library, and stunning architecture has a crime problem. But the problem is not what most people think it is. I don’t live in fear of being shot; I’m annoyed by the constant attempts to grift me when I’m just trying to buy a grinder. I don’t worry so much that my home will be invaded as that my backyard will be used as a place of refuge for drug use and sex. Parsing those differences and discussing the compromises one makes living in this Heaven and Hell situation are the point of R.U..
That said, homicides were down nearly 30% in Springfield last year. It’s actually not a significant number. Homicides are the best barometer for comparing crime between more or less “like” communities, but it must be done skillfully. It works well as reference point because there are relatively few differences or difficulties regarding the definition of the crime, and reporting is nearly 100%. Other crimes, particularly in places where police and community relations are strained, or where the police are viewed as ineffectual, are less likely to be reported and can heavily skew data and lead to enormous errors in comparing communities. Because homicides are relatively few in number, the best way to use them is in a rolling average of a handful of years.
That is why last year’s drop from 18 to 13 murders, while not bad news, is more or less within the expected range: it reduces the rolling average from 16.8 to 15.4 homicides per year.
What is entertaining is the entirely predictable response of the media to these yearly fluctuations. Over the last 5 years (going backwards) homicides have numbered 13, 18, 13, 22, and 11. At the close of two years with the numbers at the higher end series of articles have been written about the scourge of violence in the city with headlines proclaiming enormous spikes in the murder rate specifically naming SPRINGFIELD as DANGEROUS. In the three years clustered at the bottom of the range the much fewer articles published on the topic do not have Springfield in the headline at all and go to great pains to explain the nuanced and accurate idea that homicide data tends to fluctuate.