Issues in Urban and Suburban Communities
Strategies to reduce urban poverty in the US
Economic growth in Western societies is often accompanied by enlarging socioeconomic gaps. Immigration, fast urbanization and bad urban planning (e.g., rental housing projects) have led to increase of the amount of Americans and Canadians who live in relative poverty. The hazards of this phenomenon are many; boost in crime and drug abuse, non-supportive environment for children and adolescents and unhealthy lifestyle are just few of what some would define as a time bomb that may undermine the achievements of Western economies.
Nevertheless, poverty is not necessarily a chronic disease. Policymakers are concerned with the issue and launch treatment programs on both the federal and local level. Turner and Rawlings (2005) review some findings regarding the effectiveness and efficiency of three such projects. Examining the empirical outcomes of these projects gives us better understanding of the dynamics behind poverty.
A residential relocation program, Move to Opportunity, was based on the assumption relocating residents of poverty areas to low-poverty neighborhoods will lead to improvement in the functional aspects of life for all members of the family. In simple words, the expectation was that a better environment will minimize the negative effects of poverty.
The results of this experiment were diverse. Although the program did improve the conditions in the neighborhoods and the physical and mental health of adults, there was no significant change in their work and earning patterns. Most children continued to attend the same schools. Girls’ behavior (e.g., in terms of risky behavior) was improved but boys tended to behave worse than before.
Improvement of income and minimizing the dependence on welfare was examined in two federal programs, namely Jobs-Plus and Bridges to work. Participants in both programs were offered jobs and job services; the difference between them was that while in the first program the services were offered in poverty areas, Bridges to Work was based on job opportunities in the suburbs.
The programs aim to improve income by tackling not merely the problem of low access to jobs in poverty areas, but job performance factors such as consistency at work, quality of work (which can lead to promotion) and working hours.
Interestingly, job performance was not improved on both programs. Participants in Job-Plus did improve their earnings and received less welfare. However, the improvement is mostly related to the actual opportunity to work and not from better behaviour at the workplace (e.g., higher salaries due to working overtime). The suburban program, which included, among others, transportation services from downtown poverty neighborhoods to the suburbs failed completely on all factors and had no significant effect on people’s life.
In conclusion, it seems that poverty as a result of poor social and economic behavior is a complicated issue that cannot be solved with flashy projects. From my point of view, I find educational opportunities at childhood level as the main solution, although it is defiantly an investment with very long-term horizon.
Crime as a cause for migration out of the city
Criminal activity, juvenile delinquency and increased urban crime rates are very much correlated with poverty; they can and should be reduced by treatments such as housing-mobility (Luwig, Duncan & Hirschfield, 2001; Turner & Rawlings, 2005). We should assume that crime is a symptom of several socioeconomic factors such as low income, general criminal behavior and risk-taking due to low expectations from life. Crime has obvious direct effects (e.g., damage to properties, loss of life), but we should focus here on one of its main secondary effects, namely the migration of advantaged population from the cities to the suburbs.
Measuring the effects of crime on immigration and migration to cities, Cullen & Levitt (1999) bring up some issues that clarify the need for taking care of either the symptom (criminal activity) or the disease (poverty, among others). Interestingly, the authors estimate and show that each reported crime in a city can be associated with one person who migrates out of the city. However, most of these migrants remain in the premises of the Standard Metropolitan.
Statistical Area (SMSA), implying that while at least some of their life centres (such as their work or school) is in the city, they spend their free time outside of it. As a consequence, city centers and the businesses in it are empty, in particular during the night hours, and perhaps are becoming a platform for criminal activity.
Those who leave towns are generally wealthier than those who remain. The latter are probably much more dependent on the public services that are offered downtown. In other words, the average socioeconomic state of the urban population is declining, thus drawing the pattern of this very same vicious circle.
Additional secondary consequences are spending patterns, in particular on leisure and luxury goods and services, lower demand for housing in the city and therefore devaluation of properties and brain drafting at all levels of education.
One should pay attention to these findings and municipalities must act in order to protect city centers. Possible measures to be taken are many. Above all in this context is the idea that if the highly educated are more responsive to crime (Cullen & Levitt, 1999), than taking care of law enforcement and public safety should be in high priority.
Gun control or not?
Bad things can happen with guns, but guns can also prevent bad things from happening (Lott, 1998). The debate on gun control arises from the conflict between several issues, while the focus is always individual’s rights and public interest and safety.
Supporters of gun control do not need much more proves than randomly open every daily newspaper. Gun provides the means to channel one’s motives to attack. This is true for crime, but also for impulsive furies attacks, suicides and incidents of careless shooting in schools and universities by students, many of them are minors of very young adults. Gun ownership may also lead to lethal accidents.
As hypothesized and empirically proved by Duggan (2001), there is a direct link between gun ownership and homicides. As mentioned, we can assume that the lack of a mean can prevent the incident, or at least to reduce its implications (i.e., injury instead of death). In an urban community, where law enforcement is rather intense, supporters of gun control will find it very unneeded to hold a gun for self defense. Considering the risk of owning a gun, namely misuse by children or taking the gun in hand in a moment of anger, it is safer on both the personal and the community’s level to restrict it as much as possible.
As always, this story also has another side, in particular when considering the weakening feeling of safety in some urban areas such as low-income neighborhoods. Gun control, either by strict restrictions on purchasing or by levying costs on producers of firearms which leads to soaring prices, is a slap in the face of those who choose not to leave such neighbourhoods or are unable to do so. People who live in high-crime urban areas generally benefit the most from being able to protect themselves and their families—and they are the very people who are priced out by expensive restrictions (Lott, 1998). Furthermore, gun control policies, in particular by levies on both the seller and the consumer do not generally disturb criminals, for whom the gun is one of the main “tools at work”. Thus, an absurd situation exists: the offender has the ability to attack, but the victim, especially one who resides and lives in poverty, is unable to resist.
From my point of view, I am very concerned about the meaning of too many guns in our streets. Most of those who committed a rampage had a license for their guns, meaning that someone or some system thought that the person is appropriate for owning the device that killed innocent people. If costs are not an issue, I would promote much more accurate system to control and follow-up gun owners. For example, if one believes that he needs a gun for self defense, it is perhaps advisable that the person will be examined by a mental health professional before the purchase and also after, as a prerequisite for expanding the license, just as done in regard to driving licenses and physical examinations. Regulations on production, such as obligatory lock for the trigger to reduce accidents are also possible and should be considered by legislators.
The importance of roadside substance testing within the city’s boundaries
It is almost impossible to overestimate the risks involved with driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Most of the intoxicated drivers, as well as the victims, are young, while the driving under the influence mainly occurs at night. Thus, the risks do not relate merely to the influence, but is correlated with bad sight at darkness and relative inexperienced drivers. In addition, driving in a city, where pedestrians walk and the ways are much more complicated (e.g., turns, traffic lights and objects in the streets) is dangerous, needless to say under the influence.
One possible measure to take such drivers off the road is roadside saliva, breath and urine tests by traffic police to find traces of substances such as THC, alcohol and methylamphetamine.
One study has found that about 10% of those who travel to or from nightclubs will drive or be driven under influence of drugs and/or alcohol (Degenhardt et al, 2003). Furthermore, the authors have found that 40% report they would change this behavior due to roadside inspections. Not surprisingly, Davis et al (2006) consider these tests as extremely effective, backing this claim with a significant decrease in accidents due to aggressive enforcement efforts in the boundaries of the city of Fresno, California. This preventive and rather simple measure should be considered as a key instrument to improve public safety.
As either a direct or secondary effect, Davis et al (2006) report that not only that there were less accidents, but the average consequences of accidents, as measured by type of injuries, fatality rate and the duration of hospitalization were all significantly decreased.
Young people tend to take unnecessary risks. Clubbing is not a bad thing, but it must not add risks to the community. I tend to agree with the writers on the importance of roadside inspections and support the ideas that such checks should be expanded to the streets, parking lots, etc. Punishment for these traffic violations should go to maximum, perhaps even to be regarded as a criminal offense, as there is no justification for such behavior.
In addition, improved and efficient public transportation at night can and does help to convince people to leave their vehicles at home.
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