Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gentrification, or "Demographic Inversion"?

The New Republic has an article available summarizing what the author refers to as "demographic inversion" -- namely, middle- and upper-class residents choosing to live in the city, less affluent residents, including immigrants, going to the suburbs. As you might expect, Jane Jacobs comes up a few times.

I found this paragraph particularly striking:

Nor, in general, does the scourge of urban life in the 1970s and '80s: random street violence. True, the murder rates in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Cleveland have climbed in the last few years, but this increase has been propelled in large part by gang- and drug-related violence. For the most part, middle-class people of all colors began to feel safe on the streets of urban America in the 1990s, and they still feel that way. The paralyzing fear that anyone of middle age can still recall vividly from the 1970s--that the shadowy figure passing by on a dark city street at night stands a good chance of being a mugger--is rare these days, and almost nonexistent among young people.

By "young people" the author means "young professionals"; I would not go so far as to say that the majority of less affluent people, young or not, are no longer scared of crime. But if (and I would say it's quite an if) the author is right, fear of crime may also contribute to an inversion of stereotypes: the city as lively, wealthy, safe; the inner-ring suburbs as decrepit and desperate, where no one will hear you if you scream.

This assertion about fear of crime and the city reminded me of the the Atlantic piece which looked to link rising suburban crime with Section 8 vouchers (see a debunking of said article, via Randall Crane). It is possible that certain neighborhoods of certain cities will collect enough eyes on the street, and enough amenities, to establish a feeling of safety. The question then becomes, given the very different design of most suburbs, what steps can be taken to make them also feel safe -- which is not the same as actually being safe; but the feeling and the being are certainly related.

No comments: