My focus on North American cities results from my current travel agenda, not because cities elsewhere are very different when it comes to crime. Recent news about the French presidential election provides a reminder that we are all very much alike.
Consider France. To experienced travelers France is known as the place for exceptional cuisine, wine, and enviable high speed rail. France is celebrated for progressive social programs: eight weeks paid vacation for most employees, the world's best public healthcare.
Yet as elsewhere French cities too have high crime neighborhoods where misery outweighs civility. One is Chichy-sous-Bois, a so-called Banlieue (what Americans disparagingly call "the projects").
Chichy is a poor, run-down suburb of Paris. Some writers describe Chichy as a nondescript suburb without a center, wedged between high-rise apartments and four-lane highways. No public transit means two hour commutes downtown, only 10 miles away. Residents feel isolated and ignored. Except for public transit, that is also an apt description for Toronto's Jane/Finch corridor where San Romanoway is located.
Journalists describe Chichy as a "high crime area where police rarely bothered to venture". Crime and violence seem endemic. Until recently, that was an apt description for Hollygrove, the New Orleans neighborhood featured earlier.
There is discrimination against Chichy's immigrant residents. When two Chichy teen boys were accidentally killed while running away from police in October 2005 it erupted into three weeks of violence, looting and arsons that later spread nation-wide. Over 9,000 cars burned, 3,000 arrests. Ironically, last year the same thing happened in Tottenham, UK.
Referring to the Tottenham riots I wrote that festering poverty and deprivation dries up collective goodwill, what sociologists call community efficacy.
The French in Chichy, Canadians in San Romanoway, Americans in Hollygrove, or British in Tottenham. Same lesson: If you respond to (but don't prevent) crime, underfund public transit, ignore repairs to dilapidated homes, fail to address racism...you get a tinderbox.
The French are pinning their hopes on $500 Billion urban "renewal" in areas surrounding Chichy (completely ignoring Chichy) and a new police station in a nearby neighborhood. Hopefully they'll discover throwing cops and money at nearby neighborhoods seldom works to tamp down tinderboxes. Meanwhile, Hollygrove is coming back from the brink and San Romanoway was the first SafeGrowth success.
They don't have to reinvent the wheel to fix Chichy.