ANBINDER AND MORRISON: Crime in Dixwell is real

No Yale student should ever walk in fear of the city he or she lives in. Yet by the time our four years in New Haven are up, far too many of us will have gone through our time at Yale having barely ventured beyond the so-called bubble. And most Yale students will admit — some openly, others tacitly — that the reason is simple: crime. In his last column (“The Myth of Dangerous Dixwell,” Feb. 15), Colin Ross admirably tries to dispel the stereotype that neighborhoods like Dixwell, which sit right on the University’s doorstep, are simply too dangerous for Yale students to enter.

We have devoted the past six months to compiling data on Dixwell’s crime, health and housing situations and traversing the neighborhood, getting to know both its streets and some of its residents.

First, it is undeniable that recent changes in Dixwell have vastly improved living conditions for many of its residents. The redevelopment of the old Elm Haven projects into mixed-income housing took drug dealer-infested apartments and turned them into a pleasant neighborhood of single-family houses with barely any crime at all. Similarly, the Science Park complex has stabilized the east side of the neighborhood, where criminals used to gather near the abandoned Winchester Arms factory. If Dixwell was ever the most dangerous part of New Haven, it certainly is no longer.

But as much as we might wish it were otherwise, the fact is that Dixwell does suffer from dismally high rates of crime. Only two shootings have occurred so far this year, but the colder winter months see fewer shootings than the rest of the year anyway.

Looking at 2010, the last full year for which complete data is available, Dixwell had 212 incidents in the four categories that traditionally comprise violent crime: murder, rape, assault and robbery. In a neighborhood of just 5,300 people, this figure equates to a violent crime rate of 39 per thousand people — more than twice the New Haven average and well above the figures seen in even the most impoverished American cities (Flint, Mich., for example, stands at 24 per thousand).

And while the neighborhood accounts for only about 4 percent of New Haven’s population, it saw 8 percent of the city’s murders in 2010. Instead of noting that Dixwell has few crimes in terms of raw numbers, we should be shocked that such a small neighborhood accounts for so many of the city’s violent crimes.

No matter which way you cut the data, Dixwell has a crime problem.

Going beyond the pure data, disturbing patterns begin to emerge. Stores on Dixwell Avenue go out of business and aren’t replaced because no entrepreneur wants to risk opening a business on such a dangerous street. Slumlords leave their apartments in disrepair because there is no incentive to make their buildings look nice on a street where many others sit abandoned. In fact, our preliminary research has indicated that crimes seem to cluster on these particularly dilapidated blocks, creating a vicious circle in which crime invites neglect, which in turn invites more crime.

Given that this is the reality of living in Dixwell, it is easy for people to simply write off the neighborhood as a lost cause. Maybe it isn’t worth venturing into Dixwell after all, you’re thinking right now.

In fact, the lesson we should glean is the opposite. Dixwell has its problems, but it is improving in ways that should make even the most cynical observer optimistic. What’s more, many strategies to improve living conditions are simpler than most people think. Promoting home ownership, creating a mixed-income environment and working closely with local police to create beats that cover the most crime-ridden street corners are all goals that anyone who cares about the future of American cities can embrace.

Dixwell has a problem with crime. It is not a permanent problem, but no one will be able to solve it until everyone involved admits that the problem exists — even if it means acknowledging that some of the stereotypes we hear about New Haven are true.

Jacob Anbinder and Drew Morrison are sophomores in Ezra Stiles and Branford colleges. Anbinder is the head of the Dixwell Map Project for New Haven Action, and Morrison is the organization’s president .

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