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July 23, 2013

Boston compared to Detroit

An op-ed by Tom Keane in the Boston Globe. In 1980 Detroit and Boston were similar. Population had dropped. They both suffered from white flight to the suburbs. Crime soared. Properties sat vacant.

Since then Boston's population has climbed, it has a large middle class population, and property values are headed for the sky again. What made the difference? Keane says it comes down "to one key essential: public safety." He says that from 1980 to the present "crime in Boston dropped precipitously, thanks in large measure to a series of crime-fighting reforms dubbed the 'Boston Miracle.' Boston was soon being called one of the nation's safest big cities."

I moved to Boston in 1980 (but I'm not ready to attribute all of Boston's improvements to that fact) and while it did get safer while I lived there, I don't recall anyone referring to a "Boston Miracle," nor do I remember any talk about crime-fighting reforms. I do recall that every time I dealt with Boston Police (I was always the innocent victim of some crime, never the perp) the great majority of the cops were incompetent or rude to me or both. I avoided dealing with them as much as possible.

Public safety undoubtedly played a role in Boston's recovery, but I think Mr. Keane is overlooking other major influences on it, especially the economy. Detroit's economy was based mostly on traditional American heavy industry. Boston's was mostly education (including medicine) and the arts. The high-tech industry grew out of that. Boston's old traditional industries (shoes, export/import) died away long before Detroit's heavy industries, so Boston didn't have to deal with that over the last 30 years.

Googling "Boston Miracle" shows me that the term came into use after I left Boston and referred to programs that began in the mid 1990s including Operation Ceasefire: Boston Gun Project which was a complex operation that focused on "a small number of chronically offending gang-involved youth responsible for much of Boston's youth homicide problem." Credit is given to David Kennedy and he's published a book about it entitled Don't Shoot

Filed under Books,Cities/Urbanism,Public Safety | permalink | July 23, 2013 at 11:34 AM


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