Does living in a diverse community make you safer?
Residential integration has long been associated with an improved quality of life for people of color in America. Civil and human rights leaders for over a century have elevated the importance of diversity and inclusion in housing as a core component of advancing the promise of our democracy.
Recent research conducted by Richard Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto has found that almost three years into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, crime rates are falling in American cities.
The study also finds that “the growing racial, ethnic, and demographic diversity of our cities and metro areas” is leading to the downward trend. Florida’s analysis found that the Latino and foreign-born share of the population is negatively associated with urban crime and that crime also fell as the percentage of the population that is non-white increased.
The study found a slight correlation between crime and the share of population that is African-American, but other studies, including a recent report by the Brooking Institution, have found that even that trend is weakening.
“The association between crime and community characteristics — like the proportion of the population that is black, Hispanic, poor, or foreign-born — diminished considerably over time,” notes the study. “The strength of the relationship between the share of black residents and property crime decreased by half between 1990 and 2008, while the association between the share of Hispanic residents and violent crime all but disappeared.”
There are many unexplained factors in this analysis, about both the drop in crime during the most recent national recession and the link between diversity and increases in public safety.
Still, most African-Americans live in racially segregated communities, which means the majority do not have access to diverse communities. As a result, racially isolated communities contribute to racial disparities among poverty, rates of victimization, arrests, and incarceration, which in turn thwart efforts in black communities to access a quality of life that would consistently produce healthy outcomes for our families.
“Since 1990, all types of communities within the country’s largest metro areas have become more diverse,” said Elizabeth Kneebone, one of the authors of the Brookings report. “Crime fell fastest in big cities and high-density suburbs that were poorer, more minority, and had higher crime rates to begin with. At the same time, all kinds of suburbs saw their share of poor, minority, and foreign-born residents increase. As suburbia diversified, crime rates fell.”
Crime rates are falling — and that’s good news. That there may be a correlation between increasing racial diversity in communities and decreasing crime is even more exciting. The findings from this study should be viewed as an opportunity to champion residential diversity across the board; but we should not lose sight of the fact that our true challenge is in maintaining and sustaining these trends over time.