Here is what I knew going into this: I live in the least violent region of the country and, even here, violent crime has still gone way down over the last two decades; I live in the state with the fewest fatalities per vehicle mile; and I have read in published, peer reviewed papers that “stranger danger” increases as one gets further from a metropolitan center primarily due to the combination of the dangers of driving on high speed undivided roads and the lack of sidewalks. Saying that, I really don’t know precisely how those things relate to one another with respect, specifically, to the place I live.
My frustration with the local media has grown over the last few years as it has become clear to me that one of the greatest obstacles to my hometown experiencing any kind of renaissance is the inaccurate perception of how dangerous it is to live, work, or even visit Springfield for the average person. My primary complaint with the media is that they, seemingly intentionally, fail to comprehend or at the very least fail to communicate, the endemic nature of the violence on which they report while at the same time their style of reporting creates a narrative which expands the threat in the minds of members of the public. On the other hand, the vehicular carnage connected to car crashes, and pedestrian killing and maiming are reported, but never in an interconnected way, never ever in the form of an on-going narrative, and never in such a way that the very real connection to auto-oriented PLACE is ever established.
This creates a type of paradox. Criminal violence and murder, while often occurring in an urban environment, actually relate much more closely to behavior and relationships than to place, but the public is lead to believe that merely being in a place exposes them to that danger in a significant way. Conversely, the place many of them have run to to in order to escape the nearly non existent danger, the auto-centered areas of the region, and the obligatory behavior which that entails, extreme amounts of motoring, put them at much higher risk of death and serious injury.
Having grown tired of this I decided weeks ago to track these two currents contemporaneously. I would keep track of traffic fatalities in the official region in which I live, the Springfield, Massachusetts “NECTA”, while at the same time I would rely on the local media to track homicides in the city and that would finally allow me to speak using at least some evidence and data to back up my narrative on the local level because, you see…
I really have no idea how many people die around here in automobile crashes.
I’m in the same state as everyone else. I live in a media bubble in which I can tell you, or find in an instant on Google, the number of homicide victims in my city. But the number of traffic fatalities in my region? No idea. I can find it for several communities using “city data”, perhaps I could find it in some obscure report from the local planning commission, or I could find in both a Massachusetts and a Connecticut state report some data which is correlated to NECTA or to SMSA and which breaks it down year by year. Maybe. But the number of murders in Springfield? Every news outlet provides a running tally at every new occurrence AND at the end of the year they all publish stories with maps, electronic push-pins, and links to each event AND comparisons to last year’s number and perhaps even comparing those numbers to the numbers of neighboring cities.
So I’m flying blind here.
And this is what has happened: Over the first 8 days of the new year there have been 8 fatalities in the region with perhaps twice that many people being taken to hospitals in “critical condition” with “serious injuries”. There have been a handful of head on crashes, a pedestrian killed, but not one person has died from a crash which took place in the city nor have there been any homicides. And the media has not made note of any of it except to report every event as a discrete occurrence. If one removes the arbitrary barrier of the new year, 9 people have died in 9 days in a region of fewer than 700,000 people.
And I have no idea what that means. Because I’ve never put all this together before either.
I honestly don’t think this is normal, but I don’t know enough to know if it is a statistically significant number of deaths in terms of how this…what I assume is an anomalous cluster…relates numerically to the “usual” total of auto-related deaths in the region.
And that is the point of my Death Race 2016 feature here at Rational Urbanism. I am going to make the links and keep the data which the media ignores. As of right now the score is:
You see, I know that the big fat goose egg for Springfield homicides isn’t statistically significant. The city has averaged about 15 murders per year, year over year, for a decade or more. I know that those murders, when they come, will be more or less a dozen young, mostly Black or Hispanic men engaged in the drug trade or involved in gangs, a small number of women whose partners were “bad breaker-uppers”, and at most one or two outliers; last year a food delivery guy, the year before a teen at a party, maybe an innocent bystander in a drive by, or someone shot in a dispute at a bar.
But I’ve gone into this not really having any clue about the other side of the equation, and that, my friends, is the whole point.