Almost all murders occur in large cities. So too for most car theft, rape, pick-pocketing, and hellacious traffic jams.
Why do we live in them then? Well, of course they also have most of the jobs, new ideas, universities, specialty grocery stores, wine bars, and cool new Spanish restaurants.
In other words, all of the good stuff too. In fact, the bigger cities get the more of each (bad and good things) they get — at an increasing rate. As a city doubles in size, it doesn’t just double the amount of schools, police, and hipster coffee shops, it increases by an extra 15%. This is true for almost any thing: flu cases, time spend in traffic, patents filed (new ideas), art galleries, yoga studios, wages, and wealth.
Watch this fascinating TED Talk video given by theoretical physicist Geoffrey West of The Santa Fe Institute, where lays out his research on this exact topic:
This is the crux of why the suburbs are (still) so popular — people want access to the jobs, but they don’t want the crime, traffic, and anything else undesirable. The problem with this is that while it may get you away from much of the crime, it creates even more traffic problems for everyone, not too mention many of the good things, like convenient walkable neighborhoods and schools, corner coffee shops, funky bars, and museums become too far away.
The ideal situation — and most antifragile — is expose yourself to all of the good things about cities, but minimize the downside. How to do this? Well, many people are already doing his organically, some consciously and some unconscionably. We’re seeing a revival in urbanism and movements by people and business back to the city center, but I think it’s helpful to think of it in a conscious and logical manner. Here are some strategies:
- If you don’t have kids and school systems aren’t an issue, live right in the heart of the city. You can choose a condo, apartment, or possibly even a house. The key is to make sure it’s a safe neighborhood, so you’re not exposed to much of the crime.
- If you have kids and the public school system is bad, live in the closest safe’ish neighborhood to downtown. Most big cities have this kind of “suburb” that’s really more like an extension of the city than a suburb. Meaning, it’s got sidewalks, storefronts, and good public transportation. It should be almost seamless to get downtown.
- You could also just send your kids to a private school and stay right in the neighborhood you like, if you have the money to do so.
- Live in a part of the metro area where your commute is reversed. I can tell you first hand that this is a big deal. I’ve had several jobs on the outskirts of the city while I lived near the city center (in a separate municipality), but the commute to work was more like 20 minutes instead of 40-60 minutes the other direction, because of the fact that everyone was coming into downtown during the morning rush hour while I was leaving it. This can definitely help you keep your sanity.
- Take practical precautions so you can get out and enjoy the city. Make sure you don’t leave your door open when you leave. If you’re worried at night but want to leave your windows open, get a window lock that make it impossible to open them from the outside. Lock your garage, etc. Anything that makes you safer and lets you still get out and enjoy all that cities have to offer.
- Make friends. Join groups. Not only will you enjoy your experiences more sharing it with others, but it also partially solves one of the safety issues.