A sociologist’s account of the “stunning” decline in urban American violence in the past two decades.
In a nuanced work based on three years of research on the ways in which dwindling crime has “altered” city life—mainly for the better—Sharkey (Chair, Sociology/New York Univ.; Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality, 2013) provides significant new data showing how, since the 1990s, cities have come back to life. Families returned from the suburbs. Poor neighborhoods attracted newcomers. Schools became safer. Fewer homicides sparked “an improvement in the life expectancy of black men that rivals any public health breakthrough of the last several decades.” Indeed, “2014 was the safest on record in New York, and one of the safest in U.S. history,” he writes. Quick to note that most Americans don’t believe these trends (largely due to crime-heavy local news reporting and outright misleading news), Sharkey shows how an era of intensive policing, punitive criminal justice policies, aggressive prosecution of offenders, unprecedented incarceration, and uncommon mobilization of community residents has produced these remarkable changes. He examines how neighborhood organizations have emerged as “guardians” of urban spaces, the roles of private security and surveillance, and the many benefits of safer streets, especially for the disadvantaged. There are excellent sections on how children are affected by inequality and violence, the changing nature of life in gentrified Harlem and Washington, D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, and the role of videos in unleashing “intense, visceral anger” in poor communities over clashes with police. With signs that violent crime has risen in the last few years, the author argues that sustained investment in stronger neighborhoods (preparing them for the coming return of incarcerated residents), with more community-minded police and other advocates, must occur under concerted action by the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
A rich, complex book that makes splendid use of data to trace the recent renaissance of city neighborhoods and how children and the poor flourish in a time of relative peace.