As Cities Become Safer, Crime Decamps for the Suburbs

Homicides are decreasing nationwide, but a federal study reveals that the rate has decreased about 17% in cities and increased by the same rate in suburbs. Two WSJ reporters look behind the numbers for the causes with a focus on Atlanta's suburbs.
daveiam / Flickr

Cameron Mcwhirter and Gary Fields report on the murder of an African immigrant who opened a store in a "violent area" in southwest Atlanta but was shot outside his "modest home on a quiet street" in the unincorportated are of Riverdale in Clayton County.  They refer to a recent study of the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and a May 2011 study by the Brookings Institution.

"Today, suburban murders, from domestic violence to robberies gone bad to massacres like the Newtown, Conn., school shootings, make up about a quarter of all homicides in the U.S., up from 20.7% in 2001, according to the BJS. The sharpest increases in violent crime appear to be in suburbs of cities, including those of Houston, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta. The violent-crime rate in Atlanta's suburbs rose 23% between 2000 and 2008, while the city of Atlanta's violent-crime rate dropped 49% (according to Brookings)."

Mcwhirter and Fields suggest that the increase in suburban crime are related to the demographic movement in and out of central cities.

"New suburban residents include people who moved from tough urban neighborhoods, lured in part by cheaper rents in some suburbs like Clayton County. Some were pushed out of cities like Atlanta by urban gentrification and public-housing demolition. Many hoped for less crime, but some who came were criminals."

While the media has been captivated by the increase in crime in Chicago, they have spent less time on the plummeting homicide rate in the nation's largest city.

Wendy Ruderman of the New York Times writes on Dec. 28 that "(m)urders in New York have dropped to their lowest level in over 40 years, city officials announced on Friday, even as overall crimes increased slightly because of a rise in thefts — a phenomenon based solely on robberies of iPhones and other Apple devices."

The prevalence of crime in fact may be among the most important aspects of urbanity, if not civilization.

“The essence of civilization is that you can walk down the street without having to look over your shoulder,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said.

Contributor's Note: Access to article may be time-limited without subscription.

Full Story: Crime Migrates to Suburbs


Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $199
Planetizen Courses image ad

Planetizen Courses

Advance your career with subscription-based online courses tailored to the urban planning professional.
Starting at $14.95 a month
Book cover of Where Things Are from Near to Far

Where Things Are From Near to Far

This engaging children's book about planning illustrates that "every building has its place."

Stay thirsty, urbanists

These sturdy water bottles are eco-friendly and perfect for urbanists on the go.