On January 29th, Penn IUR and the Department of Criminology hosted an urban book talk with Patrick Sharkey, Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology, New York University, in a discussion of his newest book, Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence (W.W. Norton, 2018). The talk was moderated by Penn IUR Faculty Fellow John MacDonald, Professor of Criminology and Sociology, and Penny and Robert A. Fox Faculty Director of the Fels Institute of Government and touched upon the striking consequences of everyday normalized violence and the effect that American cities have experienced with the decline of violent crime over the past two decades. Sharkey states that in 2014, most U.S. cities are safer than they had ever been in the history of recorded statistics on crime. This resulted in improved school test scores, since children are better able to learn when not traumatized by nearby violence; better changes that poor children will rise into the middle class; and a striking increase in the life expectancy of African American men.
Sharkey also delineated the combination of the forces of the decline of violence and crime, some positive and some negative, that brought about safer streets, from aggressive policing and mass incarceration to the intensive efforts made by local organizations to confront violence in their own communities. By using case studies in cities such as New York’s Harlem neighborhood to South Los Angeles, Sharkey drew on original data and textured accounts of neighborhoods across the country to document the most successful proven strategies for combating violent crime and to lay out innovative and necessary approaches to the problem of violence. After spending several years conducting field work and analyzing the typologies of cities, he concluded that the changes of violence that are occurring, in addition to the scale of change, are drastic. However, there are many substantial changes taken place that we don’t see and are now transforming the most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
At a time when crime is rising again, and powerful political forces seek to disinvest in cities, the discussions and insights presented during the conversation are indispensable. The discussion following Sharkey’s talk examined the logic behind the fall of crime and violence since the 1990s to today, looking towards the transformation of both government and communities as indicators of change. Additionally, the growth of technology and data have contributed to the decline, providing further overlays to a transformative movement.