Archive for the ‘Central cities’ Category

A couple of weeks ago, in a comment to my post “Home insecurity system“, Brian wrote,

On the other hand, I haven’t had a shooting in my neighborhood in the ‘burbs….. ever. You have shootings, assaults, and assorted nonsense in yours THAT NEVER EVEN MAKES THE NEWSPAPER. Would you go to Weeks Field after dark, unarmed?

I said I’d try to respond within a week.  Well, best laid plans and all that…

Now, I’m only guessing that Brian’s point (or part of it) was that the City of Fairbanks proper suffers from more crime than outlying areas, and that that is one of the reasons people flee the central city.  Another point might have been that the crime rate is a good and reasonable reason to live out of town with plenty of space between you and your nearest neighbors.  I think he was saying in part that the city really is a good place to live, and that it’s the fault of the police department for not cracking down on more of the drug-related crime.

Anyway, my perception is similar to Brian’s — that the city is a little more dangerous.  More drug-related crimes, more drunks, more violence.  I wonder if it’s really true?

There are a couple of ways to consider it, I guess.  That there be more crime per square mile seems almost inevitable.  According to the State’s online community database, Fairbanks’s population density in 2007 was 967 people per square mile, while the entire Fairbanks North Star Borough’s was just over 13.  (If you measure just the Borough outside Fairbanks, the population density was less than 9 per square mile.)

I realize that large parts of the Borough are uninhabited and that the actual population density closer to Fairbanks and North Pole is higher, but you get the point: where you have fewer people, you probably have less perception of crime.  Of course, the crime rate per capita might be just the same or higher — but we’d have a hard time knowing, since so much goes on in the outskirts that we just can’t see.  Are people shooting guns off their porch? singing loudly and drunkenly? getting into ass-kicking fist-fights with their neighbors? dealing crystal meth out of their cabins?  Maybe.  Hard to say.  (I recognize that there’s a place for research here, but I don’t have time to call the Fairbanks Police Department or the Alaska State Troopers, or to pore over the public safety reports in the News-Miner.)

Of course, shooting a gun off your porch probably isn’t a crime if you live on twenty acres off the Old Nenana Highway.  Nor is being a noisy drunk.  A lot of the things that are crimes in the city are public nuisances or crimes against public safety — and there is no “public” when you’re in the middle of a vast plot of land.

So let’s just talk about the things that are against the law no matter where you are: physical assault, dealing illicit drugs, cooking meth, arson… you get the idea.  Let’s assume — and I’ll stress again that this is the proper place for research — that the rate of, say, violent crimes per capita (not per square mile) actually is greater within the city.  Why would that be?

I’ll hazard a guess based on the common wisdom, and pepper it with a few facts. I suspect that crime has more to do with the income of the perpetrators than with their urbanity.  According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (a division of the U.S. Department of Justice), the Homicide Offending Rates per 100,000 Population in 2005 (the latest year available) was more than 7 1/2 times higher for Blacks than it was for Whites.  In no way do I think that race is the determining factor.  In this case, I’m using race as a proxy for income, since the BJS seems not to track criminal offenders by income.  According to the Census Bureau (PDF link), Black families in 2005 earned 60% of what White families earned.

Well, people in the City of Fairbanks earn significantly less than those of the Fairbanks North Star Borough as a whole.  According to the aforementioned online community database, the per-capita income in the City is 92% of that in the Borough; and both the median household income and the median family income in the City is 83% of those in the Borough.  If we can use race as a proxy for income or for other factors relevant to the crime rate, then the online database should help us: a look at the three largest racial categories in both jurisdictions shows that Blacks constitute 11.2% of the City population, Natives 13.3%, and Whites 66.7%.  In the Borough, those numbers are 5.9%, 9.9%, and 77.8%.  In short, the Borough outside the City is significantly richer and whiter — and far poorer in traditionally disadvantaged minorities — than the City itself.

This only makes sense to me — the income part, at least — since (1) people who live far from town tend to buy larger plots of land (in fact, I think there’s a minimum size based on how near you can put two septic tanks), and (2) living out of town while still depending on it requires owning and maintaining an automobile, which isn’t cheap.

So, insomuch as race and income (taken as aggregates, not on an individual basis) are predictors of an area’s crime rate, we could expect the City of Fairbanks to have a higher crime rate than its suburban and rural surroundings.

If avoiding crime is a major factor in your choice of place to live, moving out of town looks like the smart move: go where there are fewer people and where your neighbors are richer and whiter.

Does that sound repugnant to anybody else?

For me, the residential breakdown by income raises the question: Why have we created a city that those with the greatest means feel it necessary to leave?  And, as always: What do we need to change to make a city worth embracing rather than abandoning?


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