Letters

Live Free and Die of Boredom

In "Live Free and Die of Boredom" (February), Nick Gillespie suggests that most people will "pay a steep premium to live in more densely populated places where things inevitably cost more money and take more time, where there are more regulations, higher taxes...most of us choose to live under the yoke of economic oppression."

No, most of us choose to stay employed. When we graduate from college, we search nationwide to find anyone willing to hire someone with no professional experience. After three to five years, assuming our specialty is not too obscure, we may have the luxury of choosing some particular major metropolitan area in which to relocate. Beyond that, our choice of residence is only to choose a neighborhood within that metropolitan area based on some sort of balance of price, safety, and commute time.

Bruce Hamilton
Redondo Beach, CA

Crime-Friendly Neighborhoods

Thanks for publishing the eye-opening "Crime-Friendly Neighborhoods" (February). History points to the securest forms of neighborhoods. In ancient and medieval times, urban residents made up for the lack of a reliable police force by building homes with walled courtyards. With the front gate closed, the family house became a fortress. A walk through Beijing's hutong neighborhoods (before they were made multifamily during the Communist era) or even a stroll through New Orleans' French Quarter grants one a view of this design style.

Tim Hammack
Saint Charles, MO

Stephen Town and Randall O'Toole assert that the safest neighborhoods are dominated by cul-de-sacs that are as isolated as possible from stores and from other streets, implying that any neighborhood in which residents can walk anywhere at all is "custom made for easy crime" because of the possible influx of strangers.

But the experiment of imprisoning residents in order to protect them has been tried in the American Sun Belt, with dismal results. In my former hometown of Atlanta, the traditional street grid disappears about two or three miles from downtown, to be replaced by a maze of cul-de-sacs. Yet in 2002 Atlanta had 1,964 burglaries per 100,000 people--more than five times as many as New York City, and more than twice as many as San Francisco. (I focus on burglaries because that crime is most likely to occur inside a house, and thus most likely to be connected to street design and land use.)

Atlanta's suburbs have tried similar techniques with equally dismal results. According to a Smart Growth America survey, Atlanta has the third lowest "street connectivity" score in America --that is, its streets do not connect with each other, just as O'Toole would like. Yet the region boasted 924 burglaries per 100,000 people in 2003--more than twice as many as in New York City, the region with the highest level of street connectivity for which 2003 regional crime statistics are available. Rochester and Syracuse, the two most cul-de-sac�dominated regions in America, also have burglary rates higher than the New York metropolitan area.

Segregating housing from commerce is no panacea either. The three regions with the lowest mix-use levels are Raleigh (854 burglaries/100,000), Greensboro (1,198/100,000) and Riverside (853/100,000)--all more burglary-prone than the national average of 757 burglaries per 100,000 people. By contrast, the three most mixed-use areas for which crime statistics were available (Providence, Allentown, and Oxnard) all had fewer than 600 burglaries per 100,000 people.

To be sure, regional crime statistics include a wide variety of neighborhoods. But plenty of small suburbs have a vibrant, mixed-use core and extremely low crime rates. For example, East Aurora, New York, is dominated by a gridded 19th-century downtown, yet it had fewer than 150 burglaries per 100,000 people (20 in a town with just under 14,000 residents).

These neighborhoods are, admittedly, high-income enclaves. But how do they stay that way? If East Aurora�style urbanism were so inherently undesirable, high-income people would stop living there.

Michael Lewyn
Visiting Associate Professor
Southern Illinois University School of Law
Carbondale, IL

Randal O'Toole and Stephen Town contend that community designs by New Urbanists "almost invariably increase crime." Yet their 3,000-word article fails to mention a single New Urbanist community in the U.S. that has increased crime. Since nearly 500 sizable New Urbanist communities are under construction or built in the U.S.--far more than in Britain or any other country--why couldn't the authors come up with a single example, let alone enough examples or studies to lend credence to their theories? The New Urbanism, after all, began in the U.S. more than 20 years ago.

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