More violence than sex actually, sorry to disappoint! The only issue which comes close to the perceived quality of the public schools in deterring people from living in the city is the perceived level of danger connected with urban life in America. Bringing this to mind over the last few days has been the media frenzy over two murders in the city over the last week.
Leaving aside the fact that the media has very concrete reasons for hyping events such as these, for anyone interested in living in the city it actually can be very useful to closely analyze the events in question. One of the murders is being described as being directly gang related, and the other as the ubiquitous “drug deal gone bad”. To make a long story short, I’m not in a gang, nor do I participate in drug deals ergo I don’t feel particularly threatened by these recent acts of violence. These do represent two of the big three causes for homicide in the city, the third being the termination of a romantic relationship with a man, a circumstance which not only isn’t in my wheelhouse of life experience, but also represents a crime which relates much more closely to identity than geography.
Domestic violence is both unacceptable and horrific, but its victims are not selected for the typology of their living situations.
The point is not that I am an unfeeling, uncaring misanthrope who feels nothing for the victims of violence, it’s that I make decisions about my life and my behavior based on outcomes as they are relevant to me. The truth is, which is to say that facts show, that an individual in the United States is more likely to die at the hands of a stranger in a sparsely populated exurb than in an urban area. Gang violence, drug violence, and domestic violence do not usually target random strangers, and they are far and away the three most common types of urban violence. It may be true that gang and drug related violence diminish as one leaves the city for the suburbs, but those are not acts of violence where the victim is selected by the perpetrator at random.
There are, of course, random acts of violence, and I have no doubt that those random acts and the occurrence of events which lead to the deaths of innocent bystanders are more prevalent in urban areas than in the suburbs. There are, however, other ways to die, and the evidence shows that the closer one lives to an urban core, especially in regions where cities were constructed mostly prior to World War II, the safer you are on the streets.
I’ve lived in an urban core with a reputation for being dangerous for nearly three decades. In a past blog post I dealt with how violence in Springfield seems to impact the perception that others have of the city more than in Boston, even when the levels of violence are higher in Boston. Here I’m going to get “anecdotal” and report that I’ve never been the victim of a violent crime (nor have I been the perpetrator!) in the time I have lived in the urban core. Among the five other people with whom I have resided there has been one incident in that time, and it actually reflected quite well on my neighborhood. My father was accompanying my oldest daughter down to the Civic Center to see the circus animals from Barnum and Bailey’s paraded into the venue. This having taken place more than 20 years ago, my father had his camcorder with him, and a homeless man tried to run off with it. Not only did my father not relinquish possession of the camcorder (or his granddaughter!), but four (count em, 4) bystanders chased the poor guy down and he was arrested, tried, and convicted for assault on an elderly person and had to serve time in prison. My dad actually testified at the trial and asked for leniency.
The point is, many people, many years, no violence. On the other hand we all walk rather than drive (or ride) to most of our destinations. Neither one of my daughters has a driver’s license (ages 20, 22) and they have managed to get to work, to school, and to perform the usual daily tasks without using a car. As parents we’ve managed to get our children to music school and art classes, dance classes and basketball practices, soccer matches and school dances, all without getting in the car. Being a pedestrian has its dangers as well of course, but walking is safer where sidewalk networks are fully developed and cars are forced to go more slowly, and that’s what cities do. Crazy as it sounds, cities are safer.
My state, Massachusetts, has the lowest traffic fatality rate of any state, around 5 in 100,000 If you’ve ever driven here, that clearly has more to do with the relatively urban nature of the state than with our driving excellence. On the other hand, the most dangerous states are all mostly rural in nature. Beyond that though, look at those numbers again; 5 in 100,000, nearly every one of which is random. Compare that to a number between 1 and 2 in 100,000 for “stranger murder”. In around 80% of homicides the perpetrator is known to the victim and it is the relationship between the two which often explains the violence.
With traffic deaths the opposite is true, it is the design of the roads, the speeds, the lack of sidewalks, the number of miles which people must drive every day, which determine the level of danger. To sum up, people who live in cities tend to die prematurely because they are the type of people who will be killed, people who live outside the urban core tend to die prematurely because of where they live. Think about it. Oh yeah, if you’re looking for the “sex” hinted at in the title (and who wouldn’t be), ummm, my neighborhood has prostitutes. I had to justify the title somehow.