Friday Question of the Day

How much information is too much information? I get emails quite frequently asking me if I think a particular street or neighborhood is safe or not. I find these questions by far the most difficult to answer. We’ve certainly discussed the issue of crime before and every time I read the comments I shudder. I think to myself I can’t imagine what folks who haven’t been to this neighborhood/street must be thinking. Personally when I moved to my home I had absolutely no idea what the neighborhood was going to be like. I basically spoke to a buddy who lived near by, really liked the house itself and just dove right in. I can’t imagine what I would’ve thought had I read some of the comments on this blog and other neighborhood blogs and/or listservs. I don’t say this as a criticism of the comments but I think if you just read the comments you are doing yourself a disservice in concluding whether a neighborhood is “safe” or not. Shaw, Columbia Heights, Petworth, Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant are huge neighborhoods. Are they Cleveland Park? Of course not. But nor are they Beirut circa 1984. So for the Friday question of the day: Can neighborhood blog posts and comments accurately portray whether or not a neighborhood is “safe”? Do they provide too much information in a vacuum or do you think the more information the better?

15 Comment

  • Blog posts are a good source of color commentary, but there’s no substitute for actually watching the game:

  • I think safety is a very personal perception. I’m in a townhouse basement with my landlords above me, and I’m pretty sure that I have a much higher estimate of the neighborhood safety than they do. Of course, I haven’t lived here for as long as they have (personal history can alter this) and I’m pretty sure I’ve lived in places much more unsafe more recently than they have (the safety of an area in comparison to other locations you have familiarity with).

    One thing that interests me is Crime Reports. I’m somewhat skeptical of the site at times (I’d like to see a comparison with the actual crime logs to ensure full reporting on the website). Based on that, you’d think people would be fleeing Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan!

    As it happened, last night I heard a presentation on walkable communities by Chris Leinberger, who is at the Brookings Institution (and has done a bunch of urban development). In the context of creating safe places, he mentioned that when the city of Aspen decided to have a few officers patrol the ski resort areas (he realized that 90% of the winter population was located there rather than in the town where the officers normally are), the perception of safety dropped- though the crime rate hadn’t changed, just the locations of the officers!

    Of course the role of police officers and the creation of safe places or perceived safe places varies from place to place; given the incessant requests for cops on foot in the neighborhood, I wouldn’t want to suggest that they not be around this neighborhood- it’s what many of the residents want.

  • I think comments are helpful to a point, however, most people who are going to comment are going to be on the extreme end of viewpoints (true for comments on anything, not just safety), so they need to be taken with a grain of salt.

  • People crave info because Petworth (and a lot of neighborhoods to the east) are unfamiliar territory. When I first moved to DC in the early 90s I remember hearing the warning not to live anywhere east of 16th St. I actually turned down an apt at 16th & R because it felt too sketchy (uh embarrassing to admit now). People figure anywhere outside their perceived safety zone must be crimeridden, and if all the houses aren’t renovated it must be REALLY scary.

    Meanwhile I have been all over the website where you can type in an address to get crime stats within a radius of a given location. I’ve entered where I live now, where I’ve lived in Dupont and Adams Morgan and Mt. Pleasant, and a lot of other locations all over the map that I figure (?) must have tons of crime. I”ve also put in the metro stations all over DC. The result? The area with the most crime that i have been able to find is the 1000ft radius around the Columbia Heights metro station, and I honestly would LOVE to live there (I couldn’t afford it).

    Bottom line: don’t freak out about neighborhoods, just find a place you like and can afford. Make sure you like the house and see if your future next door neighbors seem like good people, because they will probably influence your life a lot more than any crime stats!

  • I find the dialog on the blog useful, but there is no substitute for the websites showing crime statistics. And those of us who lived in other parts of DC know that crime can be even higher in Dupont and Georgetown.

    Perhaps there is a need to develop links to crime statistics and graphs in the Forum section of the blog, so we can direct questions to that information. Perhaps the police would like to help keep it updated with their progress. As in Dupont where we saw crime cluster with a single individual over several days before being caught (the Dupont Current has a terrific hardcopy crime report), statistics and maps help us help the police in isolating crime.

  • I agree with RaisingDC. Plus which, I think people commenting about crime make it seem much more prevalent than it actually is. The thousands of people who are not the victims of crime everyday are much less likely to report that, making it seem as though the streets are rife with criminal activity. While you definitely need to be careful and probably will be the victim of crime at some point, the perspective that the comments portray is just not accurate, in my opinion.

  • I think people are hiding behind computers. If you want to know the feeling of a street, you should go walk around there at all hours. Or at least, go sit in the car for several hours watching people pass by.

  • I think the comments can help raise awareness, but what about the fact that most of the comments about the safety of the area come from us who live in the area. I mean if it was such a terrible unsafe place how come we are all still here and raving about how great it is to live in these areas on every other uncrime related post?

  • It comes down to your own personal experiences, and your outlook on life in general. What personally happens to you, shapes your opinion about everything… and then you are asked to share it with others. Unfortunately, most people remember the bad experiences more than they remember the good ones.

  • I agree with Fonzy here – people affected by crime will talk about it, and be very vocal about their experiences and fears. The emotions that an attack or robbery will cause are much more dramatic than what someone who has not experienced can share. Thus, one incidnet of crime on one day will be a more powerful comment and leave a greater impact on the reader than anything someone who has not been victimized can vocalize.

  • I think the discussions are useful, but I think we all owe it to ourselves to ground truth the conversations. I use MPDs webpage to keep track of crime in my area around Ft. Totten Park. What I have found is that my neighborhood, though not as aesthetically pleasing as others, has far less crime. I guess the bottom line, as with most blogs, is caveat emptor and I don’t mean any offense or to take anything away from his froggieness the PoP!

  • Great questions. I don’t find discussion about crime on listserves or blogs all that useful.

    And I don’t really find crime statistics useful, either: for instance, if the stats for Adams Morgan show a number of assaults, what does that really mean? The stats don’t give you details. A bar fight can be reported as an assault. A couple fighting can be an assault. Drunk friends who get mad at each other can be an assault. These are extremely different from random assaults by strangers lurking in dark alleys. Plus, Ward 1 is the most densely populated Ward in the city. Add in the huge crowds from outside the Ward that come to U Street/Adams Morgan, and per capita, are their more or less crimes than other parts of the city? The stats give you raw data with no context.

    I agree with bogfrog: experience the neighborhood and see how it feels. Anyone who thinks Adams Morgan is a bad neighborhood has obviously never been there.

  • I’m a youngish female who has heard wonderful things about Petworth, despite being a little cautious of the area. I’ve lived in DC for almost a decade and have witnessed the neighborhood’s gradual transformation. I’m interested in possibly moving to Petworth, but would only feel comfortable doing so knowing I’d be safe here. One of my motivations for reading this site is to learn about crime and safety issues. Please keep them coming! Current and potential residents of Petworth need to know about crime incidences, especially when they’re contextualized to a specific corner of a neighborhood and time of day and night. We’re intelligent people. We can take each piece of information and do with it what we will.

  • Well, in the thread you linked, you asked the question of the day whether crime was overstated – a question that begs to be answered with chilling anecdotes. These stories are real, but that doesn’t mean that crime is an everyday (or ever) occurrence for most Petworth residents, but seriously, if you don’t want to hear the answer, don’t ask the question.

  • The thing is, when you ask a question, “What’s the crime like in a neighborhood?” you’re likely to get responses that detail only the crimes that the respondent has either witnessed or heard about. Posting a response about how nice and peaceful everything is is rather boring, so people who think an area is quiet, I’m speculating, would either write just a short response or not respond at all. Just like the evening news — you don’t often see stories about peaceful neighborhoods. It’s all in how you ask the question. And check out my CARTOONS by clicking on my name link.

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