Monday, March 16, 2009

What do we mean by "safe?"

City Living Sundays is coming the weekends of March 21 and March 28! The City of Rochester, Landmark Society, Greater Rochester Area Association of Realtors team up each year to host a comprehensive "expo" for those thinking about city living: dozens of open houses, city neighborhood information, home buying resources and assistance, neighborhood bus tours by the Landmark Society, and more! Click here to learn about City Living Sundays events on March 21, 22, 28, and 29.

Here at the Landmark Society we understand that "restoring the core”— revitalizing our city—is critical not only to preserving our architectural heritage, but also to the current and future vitality and prosperity of the entire region. Our initiative, which promotes city real estate, neighborhoods, and city living as a whole, is our constant effort to extol the many virtues of city living and contribute very strategically to regional "smart growth."

With no shortage of real and perceived problems experienced by our city, we inculcate our city living work with a combination of candor and correction of misperceptions. Sure, there are some areas of the city where walking alone at night probably isn’t a good idea. Sure, there is major industry in the midst of the city. And for sure, there are some boarded up homes and blighted blocks.

But many perceptions of urban living are unfairly distant from reality.

Let's discuss the issue of safety for a minute. The statistical truth is that the chance of being hurt or killed in an auto accident in suburban or rural locales far exceeds the chance of being hurt or killed by a stranger within the city limits (assuming you’re not involved in drugs, gangs, or other kinds of dangerous relationships).

Dr. William Lucy is a colleague of mine and an urban planning professor at the University of Virginia, and has conducted important research that necessarily throws a wrench in the conventional (and erroneous) notions about ‘safe’ and ‘dangerous’ communities. Frustrated and motivated by "safest city" surveys that get oodles of press nationwide but use formulas that irresponsibly and ironically include auto theft but not auto accidents, Lucy crafted his own formula that factors in the most dangerous thing any of us can do in this society: operate or ride in a motor vehicle. When he ran the numbers, he determined that rural areas are more dangerous than the cities. See this link:

Ironically, people have been moving in droves away from cities, to places they perceive are safer but most likely are not. This goes especially for parents seeking safe living for their children. But these suburban/rural children end up more dependent on the most dangerous thing they can do. Auto crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in this country, and 40% of 16 year-old drivers have accidents severe enough to file insurance claims. Also, there is no empirical evidence whatsoever that suburban and rural cul-de-sac neighborhoods—which are marketed by real estate agents as the safest setting—are safe at all. (In fact, tragic accidents--such as parents backing over their own children in driveways or cul-de-sacs—are occurring in these settings all too often, perhaps because of a combination of poor design and a false sense of security.)

Of course we believe that reality checks are as important as dispelling myths about city living, and we are here to tell you the whole tale. We do promote city living unapologetically, but our promotional work will not be at the expense of the full picture. With this said, though, we firmly believe that the full picture of city living is overall a pretty one!

See you at City Living Sundays.

Evan Lowenstein is the Coordinator of at the Landmark Society.

Photo credit: Glenn Sperling, Bluffton (Indiana) News-Banner



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