Region Forward Blog

Cities as crime hubs? Think again.

May 26, 2011
Region Forward

Media portrayal is powerful. In the same way that Friends and Sex and the City made the vibrancy and diversity of big city life appealing to a generation of young people raised in far-out and often monochromatic suburbs NYPB Blue Law & Order and countless other shows and movies have made cities appear as the hubs of crime in America. That portrayal is out-dated argues Richard Florida in a piece for the Atlantic.

Now a few big cities are certainly full of crime but the stats don’t hold up across the board. In fact America’s largest cities are the safest they’ve been in 40 years according to new FBI crime data. Florida notes that 2010 was the fourth consecutive year that crime – both violent and property – substantially declined across the U.S.

The largest declines however were experienced in the nation’s metro areas with 1 million or more people and this despite the conventional wisdom that crime spikes during periods of recession and economic retrenchment. “America and its biggest cities are becoming unquestionably safer even in the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” writes Florida. “That’s news we can all celebrate.”

Brookings also commented on the findings highlighting some key trends it identified in the FBI data relating to the spatial aspects of crime:

1. Both violent and property crime declined significantly between 1990 and 2008 in the 100 largest metro areas with the largest decreases occurring in cities.

2. The gap between city and suburban violent crime rates declined in nearly two-thirds of metro areas: In most metro areas city and suburban crime rates rose or fell together.

3. Among suburban communities older high-density suburbs registered the largest declines in crime rates: Cities and high-density suburbs saw violent and property crime rates decline but low-density exurban communities experienced slight increases that are not explained by their changing demographics.

Overall this is very positive news. As more and more folks move into central cities and denser suburban communities combined with the continued reduction in crime rates the out-of-date erroneous media-driven image of cities as bastions of crime will hopefully be corrected.

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