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Workers Fear Downtown Crime, But It Is Not On The Rise There

Three years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic emptied them, downtowns are still hurting. White-collar workers are back in their offices only bout half the time, and far less on Monday or Friday. Many businesses that service workers have closed. Between 2019 and 2022, office rents in Manhattan fell about 14 percent. Many white-collar workers no longer need to commute to their offices, assuming their company even leases one. Another major factor that doesn’t get nearly as much recognition: crime. “The No. 1 barrier that we heard from people was that fear of crime was what was preventing them from going downtown, particularly within the central business district itself and on their commutes there,” said Hanna Love of the Brookings Institution, Vox reports. Love is on a team studying the health and future of downtowns. While crime has risen since the pandemic in most cities, it’s not spiking in downtowns, the study found.

The Brookings team collected statistics and interviewed 100 interviews office workers, small business owners, and others in New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Chicago, four cities where the downtown business districts have been slow to recover. They then broke out data for violent crime and property crime for each downtown. All four cities reported an increase in violent crime during the pandemic, but the share of property crimes happening downtown remained relatively stable or declined. Violent crime downtown also stayed relatively stable, declining by 2 percent in Seattle, ticking up by 1 percent in Chicago and Philadelphia, and by 2 percent in New York City. “People aren’t necessarily thinking about citywide statistics when they’re thinking about how they want to feel safe,” says Love. “People are hearing about people getting shot. People are talking to their friends ... there is this mismatch in perceptions and reality, but it still matters because people are still afraid.” Violent crime has long been concentrated in low-income Black and Latino neighborhoods that have also been marked by segregation, discrimination, and disinvestment. Crimes in those areas, Love said, tend to get less media attention than those that occur downtown.


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