Over the weekend, I went home with the latest issue of The Next American City, which featured a special report on crime in the United States.
There are myriad theories as to why some cities in the United States are experiencing a resurgence in crime; the availability of firearms, stagnating wage rates, money diverted from urban projects to anti-terrorism measures, just to name a few. However, the last theory proposed in the article stuck out to me, especially while I’ve found myself on the topic of violence in Philadelphia.
Data shows that cities with high legal immigration rates have lower crime rates, whereas crime has increased in cities with low legal immigrant rates.
Its a pro-immigration school of thought supported by criminologist Lawrence Sherman at the University of Pennsylvania. He argues that there’s an obvious relationship between the two. Because immigrants bring hope and an entrepreurial spirit with them, they often act as the catalyst for change in low-income communities. In other words, their optimism is contagious.
Philadelphia has a relatively low immigrant population when compared to other major cities; only 9% of its citizens are foreign born, compared to 29% in New York City, 50% in Miami, and 19% in Chicago. Whats most startling about this is that the immigrant-infused cities are thriving in comparison to Philadelphia, and all have stagnant or declining crime rates.
I’m inclined to agree with Sherman; after reading Mike Davis’ book, Magical Urbanism, it became resoundingly clear that immigrants (especially from Latin America) are often responsible for reappropriating, and thus transforming once-blighted urban spaces. And when I reflect upon the vibrant poor communities I mentioned in my posting on Friday, they have one thing in common — a thriving Latino community. I would also add to Sherman’s praise of immigrants by saying that they can play a valuable role by acting as a buffer in situations that have historically been understood in limiting black/white dichotomies.
So Philadelphia, maybe its time you sent a press kit to El Salvador with a few incentives thrown in. Tell them to bring their friends.