Which is riskier, the suburbs, or the cities? Cities have the ill repute of being hotbeds of crime, even assault and murder, while suburbs are seen as safe bucolic, even isolated places from crime. Abetting that isolation, both in land use stand in getting around, is traffic. We just assume traffic is a part of the suburbs, but we don’t often think of the risk of two ton vehicles routinely moving ten times faster than we can walk.
In the city, we carry the image of anonymous assault, injury and murder with us, especially in some neighborhood. Of course its dangerous. Just look at the nightly news. When I’m walking in an unfamiliar neighborhood in a city, I look for signs of high crime and dilapidation, like bars on the windows and rotting wood on the buildings. I know from these signs how much to let my guard down. Alleys can be portals of wonder, like in New Orleans’ French Quarter, or danger, like in Philadelphia’s Kensington. Whether I take my time admiring their private splendor or glance furtively into them depends on these cues of care or neglect. If I notice a bad situation coming up or worse, following me, I can cross the street most of the time, or make it clear that I belong there and am not the easiest snack on the sidewalk. In the city, I can mitigate risk by walking around danger. Safety surrounds avoidable danger.
In the suburbs, we don’t overtly carry the image of danger, but it is in fact all around us. I could walk 20 yards to my life and get killed after finishing this article, easy. The place I am sitting is surrounded by roads where I have no legal right to life when walking in them. While a dark, forbidding alley between blocks may be ten feet wide, the roads that surround my block are between 30 and 60 feet wide. I have known since childhood how to avoid death in these streets, but death is always on offer while walking in the suburbs. The danger doesn’t wish me ill intent. I am more likely to be killed by someone looking at their radio than looking at me. While I am relatively safe on the sidewalk, of I want to go anywhere I have to cross into the way of danger. I can only mitigate risk by walking through danger in the 1% of the road that allows me to cross. In the suburbs, I mitigate risk by following the rules of danger. Danger surrounds islands of safety.
It’s not even that safe for the drivers and passengers of the cars. A high speed collision is much more dangerous than a low speed one. While congestion may be annoying, it is safer than the open road. Rush hour is mush safer than the middle of the night. A traffic collision at 10 MPH is a fender bender, or a broken bone for a walker or a bike. A collision at 50 MPH, like the traffic whizzing by on that road 20 yards to my left, is a matter for emergency responders, or coroners.
In the coming weeks, I’ll work on finding some numbers to understand more about risk, danger, and hazard avoidance in the cities and the suburbs.