Cities everywhere should be “busting their butts” doing this! 🙂
Share this Article … it should serve as a wake up call across the country! … “We knew we wanted to see violence and crime go down in the community,” said Carol Naughton, who led the foundation for years and today is the president of a national group, Purpose Built Communities, that is trying to teach East Lake’s model in other cities. “But we’ve never had a crime-prevention program.” Today violent crime in East Lake is down 90 percent from 1995. But Ms. Naughton is momentarily perplexed by the question of whether she believes groups like hers have gotten enough credit for contributing to that outcome.“We’re not part of the crime-reduction world, or the public safety world, in the same way that we’re part of the health and education and housing world,” she said. “It never occurred to us that we’re not getting the credit, because we don’t even know that world is out there.”
Most theories for the great crime decline that swept across nearly every major American city over the last 25 years have focused on the would-be criminals. Their lives changed in many ways starting in the 1990s: Strict new policing tactics kept closer watch on them. Mass incarceration locked them up in growing numbers. The crack epidemic that ensnared many began to recede. Even the more unorthodox theories — around the rise of abortion, the reduction in lead or the spread of A.D.H.D. medication — have argued that larger shifts in society altered the behavior (and existence) of potential criminals.
But none of these explanations have paid much attention to the communities where violence plummeted the most. New research suggests that people there were working hard, with little credit, to address the problem themselves.
Local nonprofit groups that responded to the violence by cleaning streets, building playgrounds, mentoring children and employing young men had a real effect on the crime rate. That’s what Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at New York University, argues in a new study and a forthcoming book. Mr. Sharkey doesn’t contend that community groups alone drove the national decline in crime, but rather that their impact is a major missing piece.
“This was a part that has been completely overlooked and ignored in national debates over the crime drop,” he said. “But I think it’s fundamental to what happened.”
Between the early 1990s and 2015, the homicide rate in America fell by half. Rates of robbery, assault and theft tumbled in tandem. In New York, Washington and San Diego, murders dropped by more than 75 percent. Although violence has increased over the last two years in some cities, including Chicago and Baltimore, even those places remain safer than they were 25 years ago. And crime has continued to fall in other cities, most notably New York, where shootings are at a record low.
This long-term trend has fundamentally altered city life. It has transformed fear-inducing parks and subways into vibrant public spaces. It has lured wealthier whites back into cities. It has raised the life expectancies of black men. And even in an age of widening urban inequality, it has meant that the daily lives of the most disadvantaged are less dangerous now than they were a generation ago. These poor neighborhoods, Mr. Sharkey has found, have been the greatest beneficiaries of this tectonic change in safety.
Comparing the growth of other kinds of nonprofits, the researchers believe they were able to identify the causal effect of these community groups: Every 10 additional organizations in a city with 100,000 residents, they estimate, led to a 9 percent drop in the murder rate and a 6 percent drop in violent crime.
In a criminology field that has produced some eyebrow-raising ideas, this one is actually not so surprising. That national finding echoes local studies of some individual programs, like one run by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society that converts abandoned lots into green spaces and that has been linked in Philadelphia to reduced gun violence.
The group, led by Ms. McClendon’s mother for many years, was formed in the 1980s to fight a proposed waste incinerator in the neighborhood. It evolved in the 1990s to address many of the neighborhood’s other challenges. The group created dozens of block clubs to care for individual streets. It cleaned alleys and repaired potholes, and hired local ex-offenders to do that work. It established a credit union, sponsored a jazz festival and developed hundreds of units of affordable housing.
Many similar groups did not explicitly think of what they were doing as violence prevention. But in creating playgrounds, they enabled parents to better monitor their children. In connecting neighbors, they improved the capacity of residents to control their streets. In forming after-school programs, they offered alternatives to crime.
In the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta, the crime rate in the mid 1990s was 18 times the national average. The drug market in the neighborhood was estimated to be doing $35 million in business a year. There hadn’t been a new building permit issued in the neighborhood in nearly three decades, a sign of how little anyone had invested in the community other than to buy drugs there.
Then the newly formed East Lake Foundation developed new mixed-income housing to replace a decaying public housing project. It started a golf program for neighborhood children on a nearby but long-deteriorating golf course. The foundation eventually opened a charter school, where the first class of seniors had a 100 percent graduation rate in May.
“We knew we wanted to see violence and crime go down in the community,” said Carol Naughton, who led the foundation for years and today is the president of a national group, Purpose Built Communities, that is trying to teach East Lake’s model in other cities. “But we’ve never had a crime-prevention program.” Today violent crime in East Lake is down 90 percent from 1995. But Ms. Naughton is momentarily perplexed by the question of whether she believes groups like hers have gotten enough credit for contributing to that outcome.“We’re not part of the crime-reduction world, or the public safety world, in the same way that we’re part of the health and education and housing world,” she said. “It never occurred to us that we’re not getting the credit, because we don’t even know that world is out there.”
The lesson in that response, and in Mr. Sharkey’s work — that effective crime prevention doesn’t necessarily look like stop-and-frisk, or hot-spot policing, or mass incarceration — is particularly relevant today as cities rethink policing.
“A lot of these communities were in despair because they needed resources,” said Robert Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard who has studied Chicago neighborhoods damaged by violence. “And what did they get? Well, they mainly got crime control. They got increases in incarceration.” Those tactics may have contributed to the decline in crime as well. But they’ve come with costs that have become clearer over time, in antagonizing communities and disrupting families.