In the run-up to the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump told The New York Times that America’s urban centers are some of the “most dangerous,” crime-filled places in the world. Even though experts were quick to point out that violent crime has actually declined in all but a handful of America’s largest cities and urban areas, the view of cities as dense, dirty, and dangerous and suburbs as spread out, pastoral, and safe has long pervaded American culture.
But this begs a deeper question about the connection between crime and the characteristics of urban neighborhoods. Countless criminology studies show that high levels of violent crime are concentrated in a relatively small number geographic hot spots, but there are also aspects of urban life and communities that deter crime. Jane Jacobs long ago told us that dense, walkable, mixed-use urban neighborhoods with lots of ”eyes on the street” are a strategy for combatting urban crime. But there are features—from abandoned buildings to bars and nightclubs—that may make crime worse.