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U.Va. study reveals suburbs more dangerous than cities

By Jane Ford

Leaving home to go to work and other activities is more dangerous for residents of outer suburban areas than for many central city residents and for nearly all inner suburban residents, concludes a recent U.Va. study.

From Baltimore to Minneapolis to Houston, some sparsely settled outer suburban counties are the most dangerous parts of their metropolitan areas, according to a study by William H. Lucy, professor of urban and environmental planning, and graduate research assistant Raphael Rabalais. Their findings are contrary to the conventional wisdom that cities are dangerous and outer suburbs are safe.

The metropolitan areas examined in the study are Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The study used data for the years 1997-2000, when available.

Lucy and Rabalais analyzed traffic fatalities and homicides by strangers to test the common belief that outer suburban areas with low-density housing and quasi-rural settings are safer places to live and raise children than cities and inner suburbs.

Potential dangers in any residential location arise from leaving home to travel to work, shop, attend school, attend church, visit friends, or go to civic functions and family gatherings. Tabulating traffic fatalities is the best method of measuring these dangers, the researchers concluded.

They also examined homicides by strangers, because they are the murders most likely to be associated with going about one’s routine business out of the home, and they may be related to proximity to dangerous areas. FBI data indicate, however, that only 17 percent of homicides grew out of felony circumstances, such as robberies and drug law violations, in 1999.

Instead, most homicides are committed by people who know each other. Some of these homicides, such as among family members, may occur inside the home, but they are not associated with intruders. Some homicides occur at work between co-workers. Some occur at friends’ and acquaintances’ residences, or between friends or acquaintances at places of entertainment. The rates of homicides by strangers were obtained from state police sources or, if these were not available, a national FBI estimate for the rate of homicides by strangers.


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