Miami, Crime, and Urban Design

This is a dangerous place, and dangerously divided as well

According to an important 1998 report entitled Opportunity Makes the Thief by Marcus Felson and Ronald V. Clarke, crime displacement may take different forms: It can move from one location to another or to different times during the day; it can shift to a different target or be substituted by another kind of crime.

Our local increase in urban crime has social, political, and economic causes. For one thing, Miami's racially and ethnically segregated populations are physically, economically, and politically disenfranchised, facts that become significant in the analysis of urban crime. Which brings me to a broader idea of community, one that encompasses more than just something defined by physical territory.

Let's stop seeing crime solely as a subjective and isolated matter. Our civic leaders and planners need to understand that a factor in our crisis is this: We don't see ourselves as part of a greater community with commonly held aspirations. If we did, the general distribution of crime would substantially decrease. People don't pilfer when they believe they have an ownership interest.

Keep out: Gated communities are less likely to 
experience crime, but more likely to foster isolation, 
especially among the young
Jonathan Postal
Keep out: Gated communities are less likely to experience crime, but more likely to foster isolation, especially among the young

Howell S. Baum, in his book The Organization of Hope: Communities Planning Themselves, makes the point that people join a community "when they have faith in it as something greater than the routines of everyday life ... something justifying a group loyalty that may conflict with but will take priority over mundane responsibilities."

What Baum identifies as "faith" can be seen as a common civic project that unites Miami's different ethnic groups. Miami is a very complex city. We come from many different ethnic backgrounds and keep looking back home. But historic and ethnic concerns, important as they may be, should not detract from seeing ourselves within a bigger project here and now.

A community's identity is definitely more than its physical territory, more than its race, language, and traditions. Our civic leaders should take this piece of information into their crime-prevention planning. The broader question is: What is there in Miami that can bring together our best aspirations? In searching for these common objectives, we will have to look beyond our daily mundane affairs. Rising above narrow self-interest presents a major challenge, but the effort will be worthwhile.

Of course, working out better strategies will not completely eradicate crime. This may, however, reduce it significantly and -- in the process -- teach us how better to live together.

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