If you know people who live in the burbs or the more rural areas of our fine country, chances are you’ve had a discussion about if it’s safe to go to the city. There is this widely held belief that large cities are areas of barely controlled anarchy, that you’re taking your life in your hands just by going there. Actually, it’s likely more dangerous where you live than in the big city.
I know someone who lives way out in the boonies and has worked in downtown Chicago every day for years. The amount of crime that has occurred to his person while in Chicago can be counted on zero hands. And yet, we had a conversation where he had to ask me if it was safe for his teenage daughter to come to Chicago with her friends. I answered his inquiry the way I always answer it, “Are they coming to buy drugs? No? Then they’re as safe here as they are in their home town.”
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the problem is the news, or more to the point, what makes the news. News organizations tend to be in big cities and big city stories tend to get covered more as a result. Gang shootings on the South or West Side and “black thug flash mobs” get much more play than the meth lab bust in Kankakee.
The other problem is what we subconsciously choose to remember from the news we ingest. There is a tinge of soft racism to this with most people. It is amazing to me the amount of people who think that there are roving bands of black youth prowling the city of Chicago. All because there are a couple of high profile instances of it a year. But out of a million plus people that visit downtown Chicago every day, there are very few instances of actual violence.
And that brings us to the biggest factor in people thinking cities are more dangerous than the burbs: statistics. Or, more accurately, a gross lack of understanding of basic statistics. “But we’ve only had one murder in 10 years!” Yeah, but you live in a city of 1000 people. Guess what, your murder rate is the same as Chicago’s.
None of this is to say that Chicago is safe. It’s just likely safer than wherever you’re from. It doesn’t exactly make a great motto. Chicago, you’re less likely to get killed here than whatever backwater you came from.