City Crime And Neighborhood Crime

MLewyn's picture

Sprawl supporters occasionally argue that sprawl is less crime-ridden than walkable urbanism.  But this argument seems to be contradicted by the reality of citywide crime rates: New York, our country's most transit-friendly city, is also one of its safest. 

One counterargument to my argument is that citywide statistics don't matter very much, since in some cities crime is concentrated in only a few neighborhoods.  But it seems to me more likely that this is true everywhere: that is, in low-crime cities, both the best and the worst neighborhoods are safer than their counterparts in high-crime cities.  Because very few cities have neighborhood crime statistics available online, this proposition is hard to test.

Fortunately, there are some exceptions to this generalization.  The Chicago Tribune has compiled crime statistics by neighborhood.  For example, one of the city's worst areas, Englewood, has a population of just over 30,000 and has had 24 murders in the past year (roughly 78 murders per 100,000 people).    By contrast, the South Bronx's 40th precinct (dominated by dirt-poor Mott Haven) has 91,000 people and had a dozen murders in 2012, for a rate of roughly 13 per 100,000.*  Similarly, Brooklyn's troubled Brownsville  (the 73rd precinct) has 86,000 people and 15 murders, for a murder rate of 17 murders per 100,000 people (roughly Chicago's citywide average).

How do the cities' better neighborhoods compare?  The most affluent suburban parts of both cities (e.g. the South Shore of Staten Island, Bayside in Queens, the area near Chicago's O'Hare Airport) have crime rates comparable to those of affluent inner suburbs.  But there is a difference between the cities' intown neighborhoods. New York's 19th precinct (the Upper East Side) had no murders and 129 robberies in 2012.  This precinct had 208,000 people in 2000, which gives it a robbery rate of 62 per 100,000.*   Chicago's Lincoln Park, another affluent intown neighborhood, also had no murders but a significantly higher robbery rate- a little over 200 per 100,000 (149 robberies in the past year, just over 64,000 people). 

Of course, Chicago and New York are more similar than alike compared to most American cities- both are among our most transit-friendly, compact cities.

How do these places compare to Detroit or New Orleans?  These cities have just under 55 murders per 100,000 people- more than three times that of the South Bronx and only about 30 percent lower than Englewood.  So unless every single neighborhood in these cities has almost identical crime rates, it seems likely that their worst neighborhoods make Englewood seem bucolic, just as Englewood makes the South Bronx and Brownsville seem bucolic.


*If you add the 22nd precinct (dominated by Central Park) the neighborhood adds 15 more robberies, for a robbery rate of about 70 per 100,000- still lower than that of many suburbs.


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