For a few decades between 1961 to the 1990s, people fled the inner cities to seek peace in suburbia. But was this the right approach? Reihan Salam writes about crime, cities, culture and solutions to the problems:
Back then, crime felt very much like a natural disaster. Between 1960 and 1991, the number of violent crimes per 100,000 Americans ballooned from 161 to 758. Between 1991 and 2007, that number has declined to 467, a still appallingly high number. This never-ending crime wave has exacted a catastrophically high price, most obviously in the form of hollowed-out cities. As Mark Kleiman of UCLA has noted, 46,000 Americans die every year on the highways. In contrast, 17,000 die from criminal violence. Granted, emergency medicine has had a big impact on the number of people who die from criminal violence, but the same can be said of highway deaths.
In some sense, the decision to avoid crime by fleeing cities in favor of auto-dependent suburbs is irrational: The move actually increases your chances of dying prematurely. That crude calculation ignores the angst and anxiety that my father had in mind when he told his white lie. No one wants to live in fear. And for any number of reasons, the fear of an impersonal auto collision can’t match the fear of the indignity of being mugged, or for that matter being stabbed or shot dead. The millions of middle -class Americans who fled inner cities were fleeing this psychic turmoil, and it’s hard not to sympathize with them. This fear also led to an explosion in the ownership of personal firearms and a climate of political and cultural polarization that is still with us.