A child from Springfield died this week after being run over, “backed over” actually, in his grandmother’s driveway in another community. In fairness, Springfield has a least as many homes which are suburban in style as East Hartford, but I was struck by the numbers cited in the story which indicated not only that 300 people a year, mostly children and the elderly, die in this way, but 18,000 people are injured. Just another way in which traditional design works and the suburban model doesn’t. My townhouse makes no provision for cars, the space on the road in which I park my car cannot be confused for a place a two year old can safely play. My daughters were never at risk of being run over in our non existent driveway, we took them to parks and plazas to play on their scooters.
Two teachers in different school systems, both working in white, wealthy communities located just outside Boston, and Reno respectively, were murdered at school. The usual platitudes about those communities being “safe”, and not being “the kind” of communities where anyone would expect this sort of thing to occur were communicated. Left unspoken, as usual, was the idea that there are communities where this would be expected to occur in the United States, the implication being that those would be poor, urban, communities of color. The Sparks, Nevada incident in particular, being both gun related and ambiguous in terms of its targeting, took place in exactly the kind of community where past experience would indicate that “this sort of thing” would occur. That fact not only goes unspoken, but apparently, unthought.
About twenty years ago a teacher was killed in Springfield. Springfield being a poor, increasingly minority community that event was taken as an indicator of the city’s decline. That no teacher, before or since, has ever been killed goes unmentioned. Again, there is a narrative and it will be elaborated. The much smaller, much more affluent, much more white community of Danvers has now experienced the exact same number of teacher murders…but, of course, there it means nothing as far as the general safety and well-being of the community at large. I agree, I just happen to think that both events were equally anomalous.
An article at theatlanticcities.com this week focused on the “open season” attitude toward cities contrasted with the kid glove treatment which suburban and rural communities receive from the media. For me it scratched the surface of the anti-urban bias which exists in reporting. I want to make clear that I think it’s pretty obvious that “the media” in this country is an urban entity, but that, paradoxically, is what leads to rural and suburban communities constantly getting the velvet glove treatment. It’s like the dad forced in to refereeing his own child’s basketball game who, in an effort to not be seen as biased towards his kid’s team is actually harder on it.
Whatever the cause, it is a statistical fact that children are safer in denser communities and are at greatest risk of dying in automobile accidents and by suicide, together creating more than three times the rate of mortality of homicide, in communities of lesser densities. The media not only avoids connecting suicide and motor vehicle death to sprawl, they treat every instance as though it were negatively correlated and anomalous in spite of the fact that the evidence shows them to be positively correlated and potentially causal.
40 children are run over in private driveways every day in the United States. It’s less likely to happen to your child if you don’t have a driveway, and there are fewer driveways per capita in cities than in suburbs. Not one of the school shootings from Columbine to Newtown to Sparks has occurred in a poorer than average majority minority community, but that connection has not only never been discussed in the media, it is also treated as though the connection were negative statistically.
Is it any wonder, then, that the people most entrusted by society to make the decisions involving children and safety, namely women, continue to miscalculate the relative danger? My experiences of the last few years have lead me to conclude that women with children are the cohort of people who must be convinced that urban living is safe. I don’t mean that to come off as misogynistic, but rather as descriptive. Much as my ex-wife was under much greater, though unjustified, scrutiny after our divorce regarding custody, women, I think it can be shown, are given much the greater weight of responsibility when making decisions which involve the well-being of their children.
A number of times men I have known have told me that they were interested in living in the city but, because of their wives and how their wives perceive the urban situation “it wasn’t going to happen”. It is also true that cities provide different experiences for men and women in some cases. For decades I have walked, run, and jogged around the downtown for exercise and only once has any woman ever commented on my looks, and it was not meant for my hearing as she had no way of knowing that I understood Spanish (and yes, it was complimentary…woo hoo). My wife, on the other hand, has only lived downtown for two years, and only last year started to run/walk around the downtown regularly. She has since decided only to walk downtown for exercise with me because nearly every day she does so she receives an abundance of attention of a sexual nature from men. I’m not surprised. She is beautiful, blonde, and shapely. Perhaps if I received the same type of attention from women I would grow tired of it over time, though I doubt it. Whatever the case, I don’t and I won’t because, whether biological or socially constructed, the sexes are different.
Andrés Duany spoke at some length recently about the importance of the “risk oblivious” to urban revitalization. As usual, his comments were insightful. Although he didn’t say so, at the opposite end of the spectrum from the artistic types, bohemians, young people, and gays in terms of risk obliviousness are women with children, who are risk obsessive. There are too many options for the risk oblivious, and not enough of them to maintain the number of citizens needed in cities in need of revitalization. Most cities are going to need traditional families to come and live in them in greater numbers in order to thrive, and women aren’t going to let that happen unless the information they are receiving indicates that it is a reasonable option…from safety to schools. The evidence is out there that such is the case, but most of that evidence suffers the same fate as the proverbial tree falling in the forest.