When broken sidewalks limit mobility

This story from Shreveport, Louisiana discusses how poorer neighborhoods in the city tend to have more problems with sidewalks:

But Murphy’s citation for walking in the street along Highland’s crumbling sidewalks spotlights the city’s infrastructure failures in the era of the new mayor’s promises to repair and beautify Shreveport’s streets…

For now, there’s no set date when Shreveporters can expect to see most sidewalks installed or fixed, though plans are in progress. And 25 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act went into effect, unsafe sidewalks with missing or poorly-maintained ramps are a common sight…

“If they contact our offices and let us know, we will do what we can to correct those places and make it accommodating for them because a lot of the places around town don’t have those ramps available and we are aware of the issues,” Harris said.

But in terms of fixing the city’s roads and sidewalks, Harris said residential neighborhoods take a back seat to downtown and other highly-trafficked areas…

The Shreveport-Caddo 2030 Master Plan includes a transportation component to address pedestrian issues, but it likely will be years before Shreveport is brought in line with major cities, according to Loren Demerath, a Centenary sociology professor who studies the importance of pedestrian spaces to communities and has been active in local efforts to make Shreveport more bikeable and walkable.

An interesting mix of race, social class, and disabilities all having to do with a simple piece of infrastructure: sidewalks. Without well-maintained sidewalks, it is difficult to be a pedestrian as it either requires a more dangerous route on the road or walking through grass or other areas. If anything, this would be a safety issue in many neighborhoods and discussing safety, particularly when it comes to kids or others who need more protection or space (the disabled or perhaps the elderly), tends to lead to better outcomes. But, it sounds like Shreveport has some work to do in this area and I would guess the city would cite funding issues as a reason the sidewalks are so uneven.

And for those who subscribe to broken windows theory, do broken sidewalks have a similar effect? While the residents may not have much to do with breaking sidewalks, it might just suggest that the city doesn’t care as much about the neighborhood.

The mystery behind the dramatic drop in New York City’s crime rates

A new book written by a criminologist examines why crime rates have dropped dramatically in New York City in the last two decades. It’s not all due to broken windows theory or Rudy Giuliani:

In the 1980s, the city was widely perceived as a pit of chaos and fear, an urban society stumbling toward anarchy. Between 1965 and 1984, the number of violent crimes nearly tripled. In 1984, there were nearly five murders a day. In the following years, things got worse still…

In his new book, “The City That Became Safe”, Franklin Zimring unrolls a litany of statistics that almost defy belief. The murder rate has dropped by 82 percent. Rapes are down 77 percent and assaults by two-thirds. Auto theft verges on extinction after dropping 94 percent…

So what accounts for the miracle? Zimring, a criminologist at the University of California at Berkeley, surmises that the biggest factors were focusing cops on high-crime areas and closing down outdoor drug markets, which helped curb gang conflicts that often turned deadly (though it had little effect on drug use). But much of what happened is a mystery.

That’s the bad news, since the New York experience yields no easy formula for safe streets. But it proves we can realize vast improvements in safety without first solving all the problems that supposedly cause crime — poverty, bad schools, out-of-wedlock births, drug use, violent movies and so on.

It would then be really interesting to see what lessons Zimring says can be applied to other cities.

It does seem worthwhile to conclude that this is a hopeful tale: crime rates can truly be reduced. We may not know exactly what to do but crime can be curbed. Yet, I don’t think it would be good if we then didn’t  pay attention to these other issues like a lack of opportunities and poverty. Imagine a world where poor neighborhoods have lower crime rates, perhaps not as low as wealthy suburban communities but lower than peak rates several decades ago. Would other problems receive as much media attention if crime stories couldn’t lead the local news? Do these issues simply fall more off the map than they already are within public and political discourse?

Explaining the continued drop in crime in 2010

The FBI recently released preliminary crime statistics for 2010 and crime was down again. While this is  good news for many places, scholars are left wondering what explains the drop:

Crime levels fell across the board last year, extending a multi-year downward trend with a 5.5 percent drop in the number of violent crimes in 2010 and a 2.8 percent decline in the number of property crimes…

“In a word, remarkable,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University. In Fox’s view, the declines signify success for aggressive law enforcement and corrections programs and comprehensive crime prevention efforts. He said the crime levels could easily rise if the current environment of state and local budget cutting extends to law enforcement measures that are working.

Some experts are puzzled.

Expectations that crime would rise in the economic recession have not materialized. The size of the most crime-prone population age groups, from late teens through mid-20s, has remained relatively flat in recent years.

Whoever could provide a comprehensive answer to this this puzzle could attract a lot of attention. In my Introduction to Sociology class, I have my students read some about the prominence of the “broken windows theory” in the 1990s and the various commentators who think it does or doesn’t work. The people involved in putting that theory into practice in the 1990s, like William Bratton and Rudy Giuliani, rode that wave for quite a while. It is interesting to read Fox’s answer above: he seems to attribute the drop to “law enforcement measures.” Even here, there are multiple strategies in play. While communities might want a single factor or strategy that they could hone in on, crime, like many other social issues, is a complex matter with a lot of involved actors.

h/t Instapundit