Will Chabun reported in today’s Leader-Post that Regina’s crime statistics continue to fall. One can potentially attribute this to several factors: policing practices, community organizations, consistently low unemployment. It is difficult to assign weightings to such factors. But one factor is often left out of this discussion that almost certainly deserves part of the credit: increased population.
Regina’s population hovered around 180,000 between 1991 and 2006. The combination of expanding employment opportunities and targeted immigration policies has since lead to steady population growth within the city, which reached 193,100 by 2011. This has brought in thousands of young professionals, who have helped fuel a successful downtown revitalization. While Downtown Regina was long thought of as a place that one only visited if necessary, it has become an attractive place for people to grab a latte, or a few after work pints. It has succeeded partially because tastes have changed, and venues such as Bushwakker, Beer Brothers, and 13th Avenue Coffee House (which is downtown adjacent) have made the downtown area a destination for people searching for specialized products that wouldn’t be found in typical suburban restaurants and coffee shops.
While it’s difficult to quantify the effect of different variables on crime statistics, the reason why increased population can help reduce crime rates is simple: increasing the proportion of people on the streets who want to be there to those who need to be there makes many crimes less likely to occur.
Consider the following picture:
Even though that picture was taken in broad daylight, it doesn’t seem particularly inviting. Given the lack of people on the street, some people might tread with caution. After all, the street’s emptiness raises questions. “Is there a good reason why no one is here? Is this a dangerous neighbourhood? If so, who will intervene if I’m accosted?” These are all reasonable questions. That thought process can lead to a vicious cycle that keeps people away from neighbourhoods, unless they need to be there.
Now, consider another picture:
While someone unaccustomed to large crowds might be somewhat annoyed by such a large concentration of people, the number of bystanders keeps away potential wrongdoers (despite what movies about urban America during the 80s have lead many to believe).
Safe neighbourhoods don’t require New York level pedestrian volumes. Even a few people on the street can make a big difference.
The above pictures of Scarth Street provide a fair, but stark comparison. Not only does the street look safer in the latter picture, but it seems much more inviting. Because it looks like the type of place people would want to be, people are more likely to actually spend tie in the neighbourhood when other people are there. The more people who move to the city — even if they live in the suburbs — the more people are likely to be downtown at any given time. That is good news for public safety.