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The Troubling Limits of the ‘Great Crime Decline’

The fall of urban violence since the 1990s was a public health breakthrough, as NYU sociologist Patrick Sharkey says in his book Uneasy Peace. But we must go further.
Violent crime is at historic lows in cities like New York. But the stark disparities that remain should be worrying.
Violent crime is at historic lows in cities like New York. But the stark disparities that remain should be worrying.Lucas Jackson/Reuters

New York University sociologist Patrick Sharkey opened his revelatory 2018 book Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence by calling the dramatic fall in violence in American cities since the early 1990s a “fundamental change in the nature of U.S. urban life,” one that “no one predicted and that many people still do not believe.”

The book amassed a pile of crime statistics to counter that disbelief—and to show how the efforts of community activists and urban redevelopment deserved to share more of the credit with law-enforcement strategies for the dramatic crime drop American cities experienced between 1991 and 2014. As Sharkey described his research to CityLab’s Richard Florida, “it wasn’t just the police. It was about the transformation of urban spaces.”