Crime's New Address

The Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

Crime's New Address


THE SOURCE: "American Murder Mystery" by Hanna Rosin, in The Atlantic, July-Aug. 2008.

EIGHT SHOTS EXPLODED outside a police station at the end of a suburban road recently, routine for a Tuesday night in what is now one of Memphis's crime hotspots. A little more than a decade ago the area was quiet, but that was before Memphis launched a noble social experiment, the demolition of inner-city housing projects and dispersal of residents into peaceful neighborhoods where they would be free from the debilitating effects of concentrated poverty. What happened instead, writes Hanna Rosin, an Atlantic contributing editor, was that crime followed their path, devastating new neighborhoods, spreading robberies and murders across a wider city swath and, in 2007, turning Elvis's hometown into the nation's most violent city.

How could such good intentions have gone so wrong? Surely the old barricaded and claustrophobic public-housing complexes deserved the wrecking ball. But cities fell in love with federal programs that seemed to promise a better life for folks living in ghettos while freeing downtown land for spiffy redevelopment. And instead of counseling the departing residents and carefully helping them get established in affluent neighborhoods, most cities handed out vouchers and told them to move in a rush, without support.

Crime increased, Rosin writes, because the former residents of public housing chose moderately poor neighborhoods that were already on the decline, and the addition of thousands of poor newcomers pushed these areas beyond the limit of what a community can tolerate before crime and other social problems take off. …

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