While it is necessary to have a well-trained, equipped and motivated police force, other factors that drive down crime are even more important.
During the past decade, the Atlanta Housing Authority has replaced its crumbling public housing infrastructure with mixed-income communities. Economic development initiatives such as the Beltline and Atlantic Station have attracted private investment to blighted areas of the city. Perhaps most importantly, individual investors and homeowners have moved into neglected neighborhoods and transformed them into thriving communities.
As the urbanist Jane Jacobs pointed out almost 50 years ago, what makes a community safe is the community itself. The safest neighborhoods in Atlanta are not safe because they are swarming with police officers. They are safe because residents demand it. The job of government is to make sure that the city is designed in a way that encourages citizens to take ownership of their streets and those that use them.
As we look to Reed and his new administration to continue on this path to a safer city, I urge us to focus on the importance of neighborhood rejuvenation. A study recently released suggests that Atlanta has four of “25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the country.” The neighborhoods cited in the report also happen to be neighborhoods where little public or private investment has occurred in the past 25 years. That is no coincidence.
Rather than hiring more police officers, the city should invest more of its resources in public infrastructure — such as streets, parks and sidewalks — to attract private investors and new residents. We should accelerate investments in projects like the Beltline and Fort McPherson that have transformative potential. And we should find new and creative ways to support those “urban pioneers” who ultimately do the hard work of turning marginal neighborhoods into prosperous communities. As our experience of the past decade clearly demonstrates, public safety “emerges” from functioning neighborhoods. It cannot be imposed upon them.
David Edwards, a consultant for IBM’s Smarter Cities Initiative, was a senior policy adviser to Mayor Shirley Franklin from 2002 to 2009.