My last post was really just a tangent, a digression, what I had intended to write was a much more optimistic post. It had to do with pride of place and positivity. It all started with a very pleasant conversation in a Bed and Breakfast in Troy, New York with a resident of Jacksonville, Florida. What I knew of Jacksonville came mostly from my Place Rating critiques and it dealt mostly with the ridiculous size of the city itself, not including its suburbs; some 900 square miles.
In researching for those essays I had learned that Jacksonville was not only 30 times the size of my hometown, but that it is around 30% larger than all of Hampden county. I also learned that its murder rates and overall crime rates seemed off the charts, despite the advantages gained from being a city which encompasses much of its own suburbs. What astounded me was that our fellow traveler at the B&B was so upbeat about Jacksonville. I tried to imagine someone from Western Massachusetts not just speaking so optimistically about Springfield, but doing so if it were experiencing homicides at a rate many times what it is now…to be clear, not twice the rate, but at five times the rate.
I’m not kidding. Jacksonville covers an area equivalent to the significant communities which make up Springfield’s “MSA” or Metropolitan Statistical Area but with a population about 35% greater (roughly 700,000 to not quite 1.1 million) but with a murder rate consistently well over twice as high. Currently Jacksonville police are investigating the city’s (wait, let me check) 76th homicide of the year. In Greater Springfield then we should be hearing about homicide number 48. I think the actual number is 7.
My point is not to put down Jacksonville; good luck to it and to the people who love it. My point is that many people in and around Springfield view our “crime problem” as irresolvable, and our situation as irretrievable. I have made a list of places, of cities, of regions, that I have heard spoken of with great optimism by various speakers and writers on urbanism in various venues:
Asheville North Carolina (4.2)
Birmingham AL (8.8)
Buffalo NY (4.6)
Hampton Roads, Virginia (6.7)
Hartford CT (3.5)
Huntsville AL (5.3)
Jacksonville FL (7.2)
Memphis, Tennessee (10.8)
Springfield IL (9.0)
The number in parenthesis is the number of homicides in these metro areas per 100,000 according to FBI data over the last three completed data cycles as a rolling average. These are not the San Franciscos, the Portlands, the Bostons; you know, the high flyer cities. These are also not the basket cases, the “worst of the worst” against which any community looks good. These are generally struggling metro areas about which I have heard people express optimism to one degree or another. We are not alone in our struggles against not just violence, but against the perception that we are communities which are too dangerous to visit, too dangerous to invest in, too dangerous to move to and live in.
These places all have backers, champions, supporters, and cheerleaders. These places all stand a chance.
Incidentally, Springfield MA has a rolling average of 3.4, and the next year for which data will be released will be well below that average, and the current year is lower still. We are not perfect it is true, but nor are we irretrievable.