10 of the Safest Major Cities Around the World
March 11, 2015 7:09 AM   Subscribe

For the Safe Cities Index 2015, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranked 50 of the world's biggest cities on:

Digital security: Identity theft, online privacy
Health security: Environment, air and water quality
Infrastructure safety: Buildings, roads, bridges
Personal safety: Crime, violence

Lifehacker looks at the results. posted by ellieBOA (35 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm continually surprised at the turnaround in NYC.

Representing #9 (Melbourne, Aus) and feeling quite safe—though my partner is wary of the history of assault rapes in our suburb...
posted by flippant at 7:27 AM on March 11, 2015


I'm continually surprised at the turnaround in NYC.

Gentrification works!
posted by leotrotsky at 7:38 AM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Looks like they cherry-picked the hip and trendy cities of the world.
posted by Renoroc at 7:49 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think that if you're looking at things like "infrastructure safety" and "water quality" in big cities you pretty much are going to end up with the hip and trendy ones at the top of the list -- not because they're morally superior or anything, just because they're the ones that have the money to keep themselves safe in these ways.
posted by No-sword at 7:54 AM on March 11, 2015


I'm continually surprised at the turnaround in NYC.

You shouldn't be. It has nothing to do with gentrification, and nothing to do with broken windows policing, and everything to do with the *entire country as a whole* having vastly reduced crimes *of all types* compared to 1990. This is a simple fact. The statistics are compelling, and they apply to the big cities, the small cities, suburbs and rural areas.

And we're not talking down 5%. We're talking down half or more. Murders per year in NYC, in 1990: 2245, in 2014: 328. In Chicago, 1991: 928, in 2014, 432. It goes on and on and on -- crime is dropping to levels last seen in the 1960s.

You will never hear of this, because for whatever reason, there's money in portraying the US as crime ridden. The evening news will never start with a "Tonight, murders down 50 over last year", but they will happily start "Tonight, murders up 15 over last year."

The so called massive increase in crime in the US over the last decade is a massive increasing in people telling you about a massive increase in crime. Two years ago, and funny enough, in a presidential election year where one of the candidates was from Chicago, there were *national* stories about Chicago's horrific murder rate of 516.

A horrific murder rate that was half of the 1990, and exactly 3 murders more than the 2008 rate. Meanwhile, the 2013 rate was 441, and the 2014 rate was 432. Where are the news stories about that? Where is everybody crowing that murders in Chicago have dropped over 20% in two years? Nowhere, because nobody gets elected telling you that 2014 had the least murders in Chicago since 1965, and nobody gets news stories written about that, and nobody get to run an angry blog about crime telling you that.

And this isn't just Chicago. This is everywhere in the US. Not to say that we need to lower the crime rates more, we do. But the idea that crime is increasing at massive rates is quite simply a lie and anyone telling you that is quite simply lying to you and you need to find out why they are doing so when the data is trivially easy to find and when these dropping rates are covering the *entire country.*

Indeed, this report calls out the huge difference in US cities between the perception of safety and the actual safety of the city.

There are theories as to why the early 90s were vastly more violent. My favorite so far is that cars and car exhaust increased dramatically after 1960, and leaded gasoline was used until 1996 (and only until 1992 in California.) As we stopped pumping a neurotoxin into the air -- one that is known to cause problems with emotional regulation, mind you -- kids born that year stopped having their developing minds poisoned by lead. As the population of people born without lead in the air increased, the crime rates dropped. This curve explains a lot of things -- including why the rates are dropping countrywide, why they're dropping more rapidly in areas that have more expansive rapid transit (and thus, a lower percentage of car owners) and why other countries are seeing a similar thing but with a differing peak year, and that peak year of crime always appears to be around the time they stopped using leaded gasoline.

Yes, correlation/causation, I know, but the fact that this is correlating *world wide* and that we know the effects of lead in young brains lead to, amongst other things, reduced inhibition makes it pretty damn compelling. Maybe this isn't it, but unlike gentrification, or broken windows policing, or immigration into or out of the area, or population shifts, this is something that happened nationwide at the same time -- the early 1990s. We stopped putting lead into the air, and *almost immediately* crime rates started to drop - The first no-lead cars were coming out in the late 1980s, and lead in fuel was all but gone by 1996, with the very minor exceptions of race fuel and avgas.
posted by eriko at 8:17 AM on March 11, 2015 [74 favorites]


Actually, correcting something. Catalytic converters were mandated in 1975, and they can't use leaded gas, so that's when unleaded gas started to be used. Every year since, a larger percentage of cars used unleaded. So, early 1970s cohorts were the ones who had the largest dose, since that was when we had lots and lots of cars and they all ran on leaded gas, and they were late teens and young adults in the early 1990s. 20 year olds today were born in 1995, when nearly all the cars were running on unleaded.
posted by eriko at 8:24 AM on March 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


If they didn't look at every major city around the world, then what good is this list?
posted by oceanjesse at 8:30 AM on March 11, 2015


Although Japan is pretty safe - no thuggish meatheads picking fights here after last call, for example - I do wonder how safe it really is for women. I dont think status of women is included when determining the rankings.
posted by Nevin at 8:34 AM on March 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


The so called massive increase in crime in the US over the last decade is a massive increasing in people telling you about a massive increase in crime. Two years ago, and funny enough, in a presidential election year where one of the candidates was from Chicago, there were *national* stories about Chicago's horrific murder rate of 516.
A horrific murder rate that was half of the 1990, and exactly 3 murders more than the 2008 rate. Meanwhile, the 2013 rate was 441, and the 2014 rate was 432. Where are the news stories about that? Where is everybody crowing that murders in Chicago have dropped over 20% in two years? Nowhere, because nobody gets elected telling you that 2014 had the least murders in Chicago since 1965, and nobody gets news stories written about that, and nobody get to run an angry blog about crime telling you that.


Overall you are correct but in the case of Chicago looking at a citywide murder rate is very misleading as the city has become incredibly segregated and the violence is now extremely concentrated. The murder rates in the places where murders happens is as high as it was in the worst of times if not higher. Which means the violence problem is even worse because the murder rate reflects trauma medicine advancements as well (thanks decade of non-stop war!). In Chicago the current murder rate is down from its 500+ deaths year but the number of shooting incidents is actually up since then. People in the bad areas are getting shot at increasingly often, slightly fewer get hit and more than ever survive shootings (even with the shameful lack of trauma centers in the places where the trauma occurs). Is that really a safer society?

Murder is a complex outcome. Shooting incidents are what you need to focus on and you need to look at it with sufficient granularity so you don't disrespect the experiences of the people who actually experience the violence in their areas.
posted by srboisvert at 8:39 AM on March 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Hmmm, there's an interesting piece in EIU's original report on how perception and the reality of (their seemingly objective measure of) safety can be different. Given that I was mugged and pickpocketed right on Passeig del Borne, and know many many others who have been pickpocketed in the otherwise fine town, my perception of safety in Barcelona is clearly different from their objective number. Certainly not comparable to Montreal, which I found to be exceedingly safe.
posted by the cydonian at 8:45 AM on March 11, 2015


Why is the report so preoccupied with the Olympic games? The word "transit" appears only twice, and "water" receives eleven mentions, but the word "Olympic" shows up 23 times, and the overall index devotes an entire column to whether and in what years the cities hosted the summer games.
posted by Iridic at 8:53 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


As the population of people born without lead in the air increased, the crime rates dropped.

IIRC, according to "Freakonomics" it's because once abortion became legal, all children were actually wanted and therefore not abused and such. (Therefore, the crime rates dropped 18 years later.)
posted by Melismata at 8:57 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Digital security: Identity theft, online privacy
Health security: Environment, air and water quality
Infrastructure safety: Buildings, roads, bridges
Personal safety: Crime, violence


That's a really odd collection of things to bundle together as "safety," which I think for most people would be 80-odd percent crime/violence (including state violence), something-teen percent traffic safety, and almost all the remainder not allowing fally-overy, collapsy firetrap buildings.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:59 AM on March 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Keep in mind that one of the top-ranking US cities (Chicago) is the same one where the police force is effectively running a domestic "black site" - so this is really for varying definitions of 'safe.'
posted by MysticMCJ at 9:12 AM on March 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


IIRC, according to "Freakonomics" it's because once abortion became legal, all children were actually wanted and therefore not abused and such. (Therefore, the crime rates dropped 18 years later.)

And as I pointed out it's been discredited, and only gets talked about because of its author.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:13 AM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Wait, how does Toronto gets 84.82 for personal safety and Montreal only 68.48?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:44 AM on March 11, 2015


Wait, how does Toronto gets 84.82 for personal safety and Montreal only 68.48?

I can only speak anecdotally but it surprises me too -- I've never really felt threatened in Montreal, but I've had some really bad experiences in Toronto.
posted by Hoopo at 10:04 AM on March 11, 2015


Renoroc: Looks like they cherry-picked the hip and trendy cities of the world.
Effect -> Cause
posted by IAmBroom at 10:06 AM on March 11, 2015


Glad to see New Zealand's cities have been left out. Operation "Safety through convincing the rest of the world that we don't really exist" is proceeding as planned.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:40 AM on March 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


crime is dropping to levels last seen in the 1960s

But not the fifties.

(Some more interesting discussion here)
posted by BWA at 10:45 AM on March 11, 2015


Operation "Safety through convincing the rest of the world that we don't really exist" is proceeding as planned.

I never realized before that the mastermind behind World Maps Without New Zealand was New Zealand.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:25 AM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


And we're not talking down 5%. We're talking down half or more. Murders per year in NYC, in 1990: 2245, in 2014: 328. In Chicago, 1991: 928, in 2014, 432.

I agree with your overall point, but look at those numbers again. Murders in Chicago fell by a little more than half. That's great! Murders in New York fell by nearly 90%. Barring some kind of vast technological or social change, when is the last time the incidence of some measurable bad thing fell by 90%? The difference between what happened in New York and what happened in Chicago is one of multiple orders of magnitude - this isn't to trivialize Chicago's long-term murder decline, but you can't overlook that fact.

Look, I don't have any better ideas than anyone else as to why crime has fallen so much in the past 25 years in the US. And I'm not saying that broken windows policing or gentrification or whatever account for the differences between New York and Chicago here. I really don't know. But crime has declined far more in New York over the past two decades than it has nearly anywhere else in the country. Yes, there has been a national decline in crime, and yes, that is obviously a very big part of this story, but when murders fall by half in Chicago and by 90% in New York you can't just point to that one factor and say "it's all the same thing," because it clearly isn't.
posted by breakin' the law at 11:52 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The decline of the crime rate has been happening all over the rich world: Europe, Canada, the US, but there are some outliers: Winnipeg in Canada, and many large cities in the US.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:10 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I lived in Winnipeg, in a pretty sketchy neighbourhood and felt pretty safe there (it helped that I didn't have a car to get broken into). But the tap water was so bad.

Actually the tap water in Osaka is pretty bad too, so I guess they aren't going by taste for that metric.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:48 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Representing #9 (Melbourne, Aus) and feeling quite safe—though my partner is wary of the history of assault rapes in our suburb..."

This is interesting to me because so often places described as "Safe" are significantly less so for those who present as female or vulnerable in some way.
posted by peppermind at 1:18 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think it's important to note that these results include infrastructure safety, air and water quality, and digital security - so it goes far beyond levels of violent crime.

It seems like an odd choice of criteria. I didn't realize that digital crime knew borders, and they miss important other threats to safety such as natural disasters, women's safety (as noted above), etc.
posted by kanewai at 2:10 PM on March 11, 2015


eriko:
There are theories as to why the early 90s were vastly more violent. My favorite so far is that cars and car exhaust increased dramatically after 1960, and leaded gasoline was used until 1996 (and only until 1992 in California.) As we stopped pumping a neurotoxin into the air -- one that is known to cause problems with emotional regulation, mind you -- kids born that year stopped having their developing minds poisoned by lead. As the population of people born without lead in the air increased, the crime rates dropped.
Fun* Fact: Leaded gasoline and Freon (destroyer of ozone) were invented by the same man, Thomas Midgely, Jr., meaning that one man unleashed two of the most destructive chemicals known to man on the environment. Midgely wasn't just some anonymous engineer, but held a press conference where he inhaled tetraethyl lead fumes and poured it on his hands to demonstrate that it was harmless. Follwing the press conference, he required extensive time to recuperate (away from the press, of course). One could (and some have) argue that he was one of the most inadvertently (?) destructive people to ever walk the earth. Not quite Hitler, but somewhere on the list for sure.

Wikipedia sez: "Bill Bryson wrote that Midgley possessed 'an instinct for the regrettable that was almost uncanny.'" (Bryson's book A Short History of Nearly Everything contains an extended discussion on Midgely, and like the rest of the book, is equal parts fascinating and sad.)

* Not really fun.
posted by gern at 2:36 PM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Ed Begley, Jr?
posted by Nevin at 2:51 PM on March 11, 2015


I lived in Winnipeg, in a pretty sketchy neighborhood and felt pretty safe there

Winnipeg is not equally safe for all of its citizens.

The Manitoba capital is deeply divided along ethnic lines. It manifestly does not provide equal opportunity for Aboriginals. And it is quickly becoming known for the subhuman treatment of its First Nations citizens, who suffer daily indignities and appalling violence. Winnipeg is arguably becoming Canada’s most racist city.

Much like Chicago, the Police Gang is part of the problem

The province imprisons a higher proportion of its indigenous population than apartheid South Africa did its black population.

Although flagrant racism by health care professionals is also striking

Don Marks, a Winnipeg writer, recently visited an ER with an indigenous friend. They’d dropped a painting, and the broken glass had cut his friend. “Aw!” a nurse exclaimed in greeting them. “Have we been drinking and fighting again?”

"That’s just a reality of having brown skin in Winnipeg." We Canadians really shouldn't be making jokes about the American south for a long, long time.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:21 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Although Japan is pretty safe - no thuggish meatheads picking fights here after last call, for example - I do wonder how safe it really is for women. I dont think status of women is included when determining the rankings.

Indeed. Neither Tokyo nor Osaka is a safe city for women during the day or at night. Reported crime rates are low, I am sure. The reality is very different.

These lists are harmful. They leaved unexamined beliefs about 'crime' that are contingent on specific political and social contexts, and they ignore women's experiences in the private sphere and, as in the case of Japan, in the public sphere.
posted by CtrlAltD at 6:49 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


What cities are safer for women at night than Tokyo or Osaka?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:09 PM on March 11, 2015


The "at night" modifier has its own problems as well. The majority of rapes occur between people who know one another, to one extent or another. What to do with cities that have relatively equal numbers of sexual assaults, but where one city has many more of the sexual assaults occurring behind closed doors, so to speak?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:41 PM on March 11, 2015


I'm very sceptical of the reported figures for places like Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Do they include statistics on migrant workers?
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:34 PM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


eriko: There are theories as to why the early 90s were vastly more violent. My favorite so far is that cars and car exhaust increased dramatically after 1960, and leaded gasoline was used until 1996 (and only until 1992 in California.)

Come on, you can't cite talk about crime and lead in gasoline without a link to Kevin Drum's work at Mother Jones!

Kidding, but seriously, they've done some amazing digging on this story, compiling a really overwhelming case, even if it is somewhat circumstantial. There's a clear, testable hypothesis, an easy to understand mechanism, and the tests support the hypothesis remarkably well so far. Ok, so it probably isn't the full story. But it seems like a pretty big part of it.
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:18 AM on March 12, 2015


(Relevant to later comments: Lead, crime, and Canada.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:19 AM on March 12, 2015


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