How Dangerous Is NYC These Days?

With its police force in a “virtual work stoppage“, Ben Wallace-Wells takes stock of the city’s crime rates:

Nearly every New Yorker now lives, in some meaningful way, in a post-peak-crime city marked by gentrification and safety, even in what were very recently very poor neighborhoods. The statistics that de Blasio rattled off at the Ingersoll Houses were astonishing: 80 percent reductions in murder and robberies since the early ’90s. (Perhaps even more amazing is the statistic that the criminologist Frederick Zimring of the University of California-Berkeley likes to cite, that auto thefts have declined by 95 percent.)

The mayor is, as my colleague Chris Smith astutely pointed out, lying low right now. But when he reemerges, one way to further de-escalate tension might be to continue in the cooler vein he displayed at Ingersoll: talk about the achievements of the NYPD in reducing crime; about the accomplishments of the last year as the department has scaled back stop-and-frisk while seeing continued declines in violence [homicide down 7 percent and robberies down 14 percent since 2013]; about the false choice of the trade-off between security and freedom.

What other policies has the mayor put into place this year? From Margaret Hartmann’s list of “43 Ways New York Has Changed Under Mayor de Blasio”:

4. NYPD officers are starting to use body cameras.
About 60 officers in six precincts throughout the city began testing wearable video cameras in December as the first step toward outfitting the entire force with body cameras. The pilot program is one of the reforms ordered by Judge Scheindlin, but the NYPD said it was proceeding “independent of the order,” and it moved up the launch date after protests in Ferguson, Missouri made body cameras a national issue.

5. New York police officers are being retrained.
In the wake of the chokehold death of Eric Garner, Mayor de Blasio announced that all 35,000 NYPD officers would be retrained. The three-day program, which started in November and will end in June, covers physical tactics, such as how to properly take down a suspect, and various “de-escalation” techniques, including a lecture on self-regulating emotion in stressful situations.

6. Carrying a small amount of weed will probably result in a ticket, not an arrest.
In November, Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced a shift in the city’s marijuana policy: Now, in most circumstances, those caught with a small amount of marijuana (25 grams or less) will only be ticketed. While marijuana possession has been decriminalized in New York since 1977, the NYPD had skirted the rule by having suspects turn out their pockets, bringing their pot into “open view.” Within two weeks, low-level marijuana arrests were already down 60 percent.

And how is the NYPD faring in this continued decline in crime and drug arrests? Adam Chandler looks at a new report on cop safety:

On Tuesday, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a pro-police nonprofit, released its preliminary 2014 report on officer deaths, which listed the total number of fatalities at 126. Most striking was the number of firearms-related deaths in 2014 (50), which was a 56 percent jump from 2013 (32). The second-leading cause of death for police were traffic-related fatalities (49), an increase from last year (44), when it was the year’s leading cause, according to the group’s data. NBC added that, despite the increase, 2014’s total of 126 is well below the average of 151 for the past decade.


Max Ehrenfreund adds, “Fifteen of those officers died in ambushes, including Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in New York this month.” But Dara Lind raises several caveats for the supposed spike in cop deaths:

The Memorial Fund doesn’t distinguish between officers who are killed by suspects — what the FBI calls “felonious killings” of police — and officers who are killed by accident (for example, during training exercises). But the FBI’s annual report on Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted does count the two separately — and it consistently finds that more than half of all officer fatalities are accidental.

When the FBI counts felonious deaths alone, the number of officers killed each year is well within double digits:


Even counting accidental deaths, the FBI’s numbers are lower than the Memorial Fund’s: the FBI reported that 78 officers were feloniously or accidentally killed in the line of duty in 2013, for example, while the Memorial Fund says that 102 were. Two factors that could help explain the disparity: the FBI doesn’t collect data from every law enforcement agency in the country (its 2013 report covered 78.2 percent of America); and the Memorial Fund counts deaths from “job-related illnesses” as officer fatalities.

But even with the discrepancy between the two data sources, it’s reasonable to assume that many of the 126 officer deaths the Memorial Fund says happened in 2014 were accidents.

The Gentrification Of “Gentrification”

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Emily Badger suggests chucking the word:

Even researchers don’t agree on what “gentrification” means, let alone how to identify it. (And this is to say nothing of its even more problematic derivative, the “gentrifier.”) … The definition matters… not purely for linguistic nit-picking, but because we seldom talk about gentrification in isolation. More often, we’re talking about its effects: who it displaces, what happens to those people, how crime rates, school quality or tax dollars follow as neighborhoods transform. And if we have no consistent way of identifying where “gentrification” exists, it then becomes a lot harder to say much about what it means.

Badger has me convinced, but I’d push further: “Gentrification” has taken on a life of its own as a lifestyle-section problem. The same language gets used to discuss concerns that a neighborhood has become unaffordable for poorer residents as to lament the fact that a favorite (pricey) coffee shop or boutique has closed its doors to make way for a chain store. NIMBY complaints hide out under the socially-acceptable – noble, even – guise of anti-gentrification advocacy.

This conflation of problems is not new, but when I read a NYT op-ed over the summer by a prominent restaurant owner, who was pointing out that because of rising rents, he may have to… change the location of one of his high-end Manhattan restaurants, I started to think that perhaps it’s gotten out-of-hand in recent years. Of course, The Onion was on the case in 2008, with its “Report: Nation’s Gentrified Neighborhoods Threatened By Aristocratization.” At any rate, Benjamin Schwarz addressed the phenomenon with great precision in 2010:

It’s entirely reasonable—in fact, humane—to argue that the state must ensure decent living conditions for its citizens (and God knows we are terribly far from that situation). But it’s a wholly different proposition to argue that, in the name of what [Michael] Sorkin calls “the protection of … the local” and to forestall “a landscape of homogeneity,” the state should create the conditions necessary for favored groups—be they designers, craftspeople, small-batch distillers, researchers, the proprietors of mom-and-pop stores—to live in expensive and fashionable neighborhoods or boroughs. That effort would ultimately be an aesthetic endeavor to ensure that the affluent, well-educated denizens of said neighborhoods be provided with the stage props and scenery necessary for what [Jane] Jacobs and her heirs define as an enriching urban experience.

So these are really two additional problems with “gentrification” – that it’s used by the rich to protest the arrival of the even-richer, and that it’s sometimes code for saying that a neighborhood has gone tacky, touristy, mall-ish, i.e. that it’s become more accessible. I’m not sure any of this is reason for scholars of urban planning to abandon the term, but the time has probably come to treat it with skepticism in magazine articles, social-media posts, and the like.

How Immigrants Reduce Crime

Exploring the vicious cycle of high homicide rates and declining populations that has afflicted American “murder capitals” like Detroit and New Orleans, Kriston Capps uncovers how other cities have managed to escape that cycle:

Nationwide, violent crime has dropped in two waves. Violence fell just about everywhere in the 1990s, with rates leveling off in the 2000s. Then, around 2007, violent crime dropped again—hugely—in several cities, among them D.C., New York, Dallas, and San Diego. What’s working for these cities?


“It’s immigration, desegregation, and gentrification,” [senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center John] Roman says. “They all sort of work together [to reduce crime].”

He cites D.C. as a textbook example. In the 1990s, the city enjoyed a big immigration boom, mostly from Central America. The District was unprepared for it: Police hassled immigrants for things like drinking beer on front stoops, which is a fine pastime in El Salvador but was not okay in Adams Morgan. Hassling could turn into suppression, and sometimes riots ensued. But that was then. Nowadays, “you can transact any business you want to with the government of D.C. in Spanish,” Roman notes.

“If you look at the economic status of immigrant communities, and this is true almost everywhere, the amount of violence is far lower than you would expect given the poverty there,” he says. “Immigration and desegregation make poor places less violent. All of a sudden, they look really attractive to gentrifiers.”

Global Gentrification?


Surowiecki sees something like that in action:

The globalization of real estate upends some of our basic assumptions about housing prices. We expect them to reflect local fundamentals – above all, how much people earn. In a truly global market, that may not be the case. If there are enough rich people in China who want property in Vancouver, prices can float out of reach of the people who actually live and work there. So just because prices look out of whack doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a bubble. Instead, wealthy foreigners are rationally overpaying, in order to protect themselves against risk at home. And the possibility of losing a little money if prices subside won’t deter them, [urban planner Andy] Yan says, “If the choice is between losing 10 to 20 per cent in Vancouver versus potentially losing 100 percent in Beijing or Tehran, then people are still going to be buying in Vancouver.”

The challenge for Vancouver and cities like it is that foreign investment isn’t an unalloyed good. It’s great for existing homeowners, who see the value of their homes rise, and for the city’s tax revenues. But it also makes owning a home impossible for much of the city’s population.

Emily Badger wonders whether taxing foreign investors could be an answer:

Taxing them for the privilege – beyond existing property taxes – probably won’t deter foreigners who have a lot of money to shell out in the first place … But maybe that revenue could be spent mitigating some of the consequences of international investment. What if cities used that money to create new affordable or moderate-income housing, as communities in London are considering? Or to help pay for a proposal like Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $41 billion plan to ensure 200,000 affordable-housing units in New York? Or to support programs and infrastructure that benefit the residents who do live in town?

Cities already require such concessions of real estate developers, who have to fund public parks, affordable housing or new school construction in exchange for the right to develop a project. What would happen if we thought in similar terms about the investors who later come in to buy that finished real estate?

Update from a reader:

That graphic is pretty obviously wrong. It suggests that real estate in the most expensive market in the world, Monaco, costs $400 a square foot, which is considerably less than what it costs in suburban Boston, from whence I write. It also claims that real estate in New York will cost you $58 per square foot, and that real estate in London is almost three times as expensive as in New York. I looked at the original source, and it looks like the person who made the chart converted from square meters to feet squared (i.e. the original source says $1m will buy you 15 square meters, and 15 meters is 50 feet, so the graphic presents that as $1m will buy you 50 feet squared, whereas 15 square meters is in fact about 160 square feet, and the conversion error becomes much bigger as the sizes get bigger). So, in fact, the original data say that real estate in Monaco is about $6,200 a square foot, New York is a little over $2,300 (presumably they’re talking about relatively prime real estate), and London is just over 50% more expensive than New York.

(Graphic by Simran Khosla/GlobalPost)

Upwardly Immobile

by Jonah Shepp

Gentrification may be the talk of the town (no matter which town), but Richard Florida highlights new research showing that most urban neighborhoods that were poor 40 years ago are still poor today. The study “compared neighborhood-level poverty rates in the country’s 51 largest metro areas in 1970 and 2010.” It found that “very few high-poverty neighborhoods in 1970 dramatically reversed their fortunes over the next four decades”:

Entrenched poverty was just about the most constant thing about these neighborhoods. By 2010, fully two-thirds of these poor neighborhoods, 750 tracts in all, were still beset by chronic and concentrated poverty in 2010. Overall, their populations shrunk 40 percent over those forty years, as many of those who were able to move out did. On the other hand, only a small fraction of neighborhoods had turned around in a way that approximates what we call gentrification. Just 105 tracts, or about 10 percent, saw their poverty rates fall below 15 percent, meaning a smaller proportion of their residents lived in poverty than in the nation as a whole. The populations of these tracts grew by about 30 percent over this same period.

But wait, it gets worse:

The authors traced the fate of what they call “fallen star” neighborhoods – tracts that had below-average poverty rates in 1970 (less than 15 percent), but more than 30 percent of their residents living below the poverty line by 2010. More than 1,200 of these tracts shifted from low to high poverty during this time, contributing to an overall increase in the number of neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. Today, 10.7 million Americans live in 3,100 extremely poor neighborhoods in and around America’s largest city centers.

In other words, for every single gentrified neighborhood, 12 once-stable neighborhoods have slipped into concentrated disadvantage.

Seattle Maxes Out The Minimum Wage

The city has announced a plan to raise its minimum wage to $15 over the course of four to seven years:

That hourly wage would effectively be the world’s highest government-set minimum rate in a major city, unless Switzerland adopts a $25 minimum wage in a referendum scheduled for later this month. While other economies have higher minimum wages in exchange-rate terms (Australia’s is roughly $16 an hour), when you take into account spending power, the highest current minimum wage is Luxembourg’s, at the equivalent of $13.35 an hour.

Seattle’s proposed wage hike, produced by a special committee of business, labor and political leaders, is expected to be approved by city lawmakers, and will affect about a sixth of the city’s more than 600,000 residents. It will be instituted gradually, reaching $15 in 2017 for companies with more than 500 employees, and in 2021 for small businesses that offer their employees benefits or tips. After that, further increases will be indexed to inflation.

Eric Liu, who served on the advisory committee that developed the plan, holds it up as an example of how the minimum wage battle is becoming increasingly local:

This is, as the vice president might say, a big f-ing deal. It’s not just the $15 figure, which sets the floor higher than in any other city or state. It’s the fact that a broad coalition with significant business support made it happen. That makes this deal a model for other cities—and further evidence that norms are changing.

It suggests that it’s becoming less acceptable in America to run a business in a way that relies on poverty wages. It’s becoming less acceptable to suggest that the go-to remedy for the pain of working people should be tax cuts for the wealthy. And though a minimum-wage increase is not an innovative tool, its revival is part of a widening repertoire of policy ideas for closing the opportunity gap.

Seattle’s action shows we’re entering a new age of bypass. Washington is stuck and will be for the foreseeable future. So it falls increasingly to cities to act—and in increasingly coordinated ways.

But Jordan Weissmann worries that the plan might backfire:

The truth is, nobody has any idea what would happen if the minimum wage jumped that high. But there are good reasons to worry that results would be ugly.

The research literature on whether minimum wage increases kill jobs is decidedly mixed. Some economists have found that hikes lead to small job losses among teens and in industries like fast food. Others have found that losses are nonexistent, or at least negligible. In the end, I tend to argue that even if you assume reasonable job losses, middle-class and poor families come out ahead in the bargain. Though some workers end up unemployed, enough get raises to make the tradeoff worthwhile.

But that assumes we don’t lift the pay floor too high, too fast. Minimum wage studies have typically looked at small increases, somewhere around 50 cents or a dollar. Seattle’s proposal would be far larger. It would also have virtually no U.S. precedent.

And Reihan thinks the higher minimum wage might end up pricing more poor Washingtonians out of the city:

Poverty in the Seattle area is a largely suburban phenomenon, and it is a suburban phenomenon because the poor have been driven out of Seattle in large numbers of high rents. Even in a happy scenario in which a higher hourly minimum wage leads to higher market incomes for low-wage workers, restrictions on new housing development mean that more income earned by low-income Seattleites will be chasing the same limited stock of low-rent housing. And it’s hard to see a higher hourly minimum wage deterring price-insensitive high-income people from continuing to settle in Seattle. These high-wage workers will continue to gentrify low- and middle-income neighborhoods, putting still more pressure on the low-rent housing stock.

Gentrifying Isn’t A Personal Choice

Daniel Hertz sees no way for the well-off to avoid it:

Whether or not you say “hi” to your neighbors, your presence in a relatively low-income or blue-collar community will, in fact, make it easier for other college graduates to move in; to open businesses that cater to you; to induce landlords to renovate or redevelop their properties to attract other new, wealthier residents who want access to those businesses. If your city restricts housing supply (it does) and doesn’t have smart rent control policies (it almost certainly doesn’t), you’ve ultimately helped create an economically segregated neighborhood.

But it’s worse than that: it doesn’t even matter where you live.

Moving to a higher-income neighborhood – one where market and regulatory forces have already pushed out the low-income – means you’re helping to sustain the high cost of living there, and therefore helping to keep the area segregated. You’re also forcing lower-income college graduates to move to more economically marginal areas, where they in turn will push out people with even less purchasing power. You can’t escape the role you play in displacement any more than a white person can escape their whiteness, because those are both subject to systemic processes that have created your relevant status and assigned its consequences. Among the classes, there is no division between “gentrifiers” and “non-gentrifiers.” If you live in a city, you don’t get to opt out.

Whom Does Gentrificiation Hurt?

Profiling some of New York’s newly mixed neighborhoods, Justin Davidson notes that the “link between a neighborhood’s economic fortunes and the number of people being forced to move away, while anecdotally obvious, is difficult to document”:

In 2005, Lance Freeman, a professor of urban planning at Columbia, examined national housing statistics to see whether low-income residents move more often once their neighborhoods start to gentrify. His conclusion was that they don’t. Mobility, he suggested, is a fact of American life, and he could find no evidence to suggest that gentrification intensifies it. Instead, it appears that many low-income renters stay put even as their rents go up. … [Freeman] doesn’t doubt that displacement occurs, but he describes it as an inevitable consequence of capitalism. “If we are going to allow housing to be a market commodity, then we have to live with the downsides, even though we can blunt the negative effects to some extent. It’s pretty hard to get around that.”

That infuriates the British scholar Tom Slater, who sees Freeman’s data studies as largely irrelevant because, he has written, they “cannot capture the struggles low-income and working-class people endure to remain where they are.” Freeman waves away the binary rhetoric. “You can’t boil gentrification down to good-guy-versus-bad-guy. That makes a good morality play, but life is a lot messier than that.”

Rent Is Too Damn High? Don’t Blame The Artists

Ben Davis argues that artists aren’t responsible for gentrification, warning that “until there’s some understanding that gentrification isn’t just about people’s individual lifestyle choices – of artists, or preppies – but a symptom of dysfunctional urban policy, everyone is going to continue to get herded in front of rising rents every few years”:

6641537693_3af515d488_zIn the often-bitter narrative of neighborhood “revitalization,” much more depends on huge forces like average area incomes, social stratification, real-estate speculation, and rent policy than on the magic of art. (Even in artist-led gentrification’s relatively raw form in SoHo there were bigger city planning forces in play, including the Rockefellers’ concurrent push to renew Lower Manhattan.) …  The flip side is that in places like New York, with its turbo-charged real-estate market, artists aren’t really in the driver’s seat. Even in my neighborhood, Brooklyn’s increasingly uncool and preppy Williamsburg, the spectacular transformation of the last decade has not been just some natural process of rising cachet thanks to the art scene. It’s a function of very conscious and hotly contested zoning decisions.

(Photo by NOIR Visionary Studio)

A Gentrification Cycle, Ctd

Readers relate to the correlation between bike-share and gentrification:

I live in Chicago, where we’ve just seen the rollout of the “Divvy” bike-sharing program. If you know a bit about demographics in the city, a quick glance here says it all. Stations are dense on the north side, spread out a bit south of the Loop, and cease completely south of the University of Chicago area. According to Google Maps, the Pullman neighborhood, where I live, is about eight miles away from the nearest station by foot and eleven by car.  Westward, it’s the same. There are no docks west of (the northern third of) California Avenue. The situation gets a little better if you include planned dock sites, but not by much, and those too avoid poorer parts of town in favor of the up-and-comers, with none planned anywhere near Pullman or the “wild hundreds”. Even the more affluent areas of the south side are left out.

A reader in a different city:

DC specifically put a number of Capital Bikeshare stations in the poor parts of town. DC also arranged for subsidized and free memberships for the poor. Even with that, those stations are barely used. Right now, there are several stations that have not been used in the last 24 hours. Check it out yourself.

And to New York:

Crime could be a reason for NYC’s stage one to avoid poor neighborhoods, but bike-share is not cheap. You pay for the choice of when and where to get a bike made to some else’s design specifications and to have someone else worry about maintenance. The fact is it’s much cheaper to own one’s own bike, or even rent from tourist dealers, but in my elevator-free building and aging hands and arms the yearly membership is a good investment, despite my severely limited income.