Critical Essay on New York City Life

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New York City had come a long way since the dark days of crime in the late 80s and early 90s when it was called the “murder capital” of the United States. Today, It is common to hear in the news that NYC is the safest metropolis in the United States with a crime rate per capita lower than the national average- something almost unheard of among big cities, like Chicago. Many factors attributed to the declining rate and supplemented the city’s overall safety, such as NYPD’s immense contribution and the reinforced defense system after 911. Before my journey to New York, as a college student began, I was always told by my parents to be cautious in the city. I asked them why and they simply returned because “it’s New York.” The images of the iconic and dangerous era of the 70s and 80s New York conjured fear among many individuals, such as my conservative Korean parents, and still take place in their perception up to this day. Consequently, it leads them to believe in the city’s danger in an exaggerated manner. Even the media emphasizes the bilateral nature of New York, in which one side is the fancy, exciting city life and the other is the ugly street life, and its need to avoid the latter at all costs.

New York City was indeed full of crime in the 70s and 80s: murders, burglaries, drug deals, car thefts, and so on. Bryant Park, located at the heart of midtown and next to the New York Public Library, was an open-air drug market; the Port Authority Bus Terminal was where passengers had to dodge beggars, thieves, and drug addicts. Not only that, NYPD arrested 2,383 for prostitution citywide in 1976 (Carlson). Shockingly, 1,165 of them were girls between the ages of 15 and 20. That is about 50%. Also, the National Institute of Drug Use estimated 200,00 people to have abused heroin in New York City by the mid-70s (NIDA). As a result, New York City saw 1,814 homicides in 1980- three times what we have today- and by 1990, peaked at 2,245: the city lived in fear (Sawe). Although NYC experienced a steep decline in crime rate since 1991 and until today, many people, like parents and immigrants, still perceive New York as dangerous to some extent. Judging only from the history, any non-New Yorkers would acknowledge the city unworthy of ever calling it “home.” For those specific people who have misjudged New York, numbers can prove them wrong: New York City is statistically one of the safest places in the world.

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The city achieved a record-setting reduction in numerous major crime categories in 2018, setting new records for crime reduction and public safety in the modern era. According to NYPD, New York has hit the lowest number of index crimes in the contemporary period: there were 1,207 fewer incidents compared to 97,090 in 2017, or a 1.2% decline (O’Neil). In detail, the city experienced a most significant reduction in murder and grand theft autos by 39.3% and 13.7%, respectively, compared to the last year 2017 (O’Neil). The statistics tell us that New York has not only retained its safety but also that it is safer than ever, Comparing the statistics with another big city, like Chicago, gives insight into what made New York experience a significant decline in all sorts of crime. NYPD reported that New York had seen 435 shooting incidents, a record low in the past 20 years. Chicago, on the contrary, has seen over 2,000 people shot and 315 killed in the first half of the year, an increase of 50% from last year. While Chicago has a lower crime rate today than it did in the 80s or early 90s, it is still more dangerous than its peer cities: As of 2014, Chicago had a violent crime rate 32 percent higher than that of New York though yet about half of the cities like Detroit and Oakland. By juxtaposing crime rates in these two metropolia, one can answer how cities develop, how certain communities are integrated and isolated, how violence is transferred between people, and how environments shape the behavior of the citizens. New York and Chicago are very different when it comes to the environment, and the difference plays a role in what makes the city safer than the other. Due to systemic housing discrimination, and zoning laws that isolate the poor from the wealthy and middle class, Chicago has significant amounts of concentrated poverty, especially for black Americans, with its rate above 40 percent, compared with 26 percent in New York (Jargowski). The concentrated poverty leads to what sociologists call the “neighborhood-level effect,” in which the neighborhood environment can predict behavior.

The economics professor at University at Buffalo Qingyan Shang explains that concentrated poverty creates a culture on the street where violence becomes endemic. He explains that these individuals who reside in poor neighborhoods have to show the capability of violence so that he or she isn’t constantly victimized- not because they want to be a murderer but as a form of self-defense (Shang 640). Meanwhile, New York’s neighborhood-level effect is isolated to a few places, making New York less susceptible to the creation of a neighborhood that encourages violence whether by means of murder or self-defense. The skill and dedication of the police officers of the New York Police Department put into keeping the city safe cannot be understated. With its immense focus on increasing connectivity and engagement with the community, the NYPD has established Neighborhood Policing where the same officers work in the same neighborhoods on the same shifts (Bratton). They have familiarized themselves with residents and their problems by attending community meetings with neighborhood leaders and clergy, visiting schools, and following up on previous incidents. NYPD recognizes the building of trust with residents as the key to making the city safer. Also, this shows that NYPD wants to handle matters in the least violent way possible The NYPD has taken the unparalleled step to improve communication and collaboration between police officers and the community residents by making much of the crime data developed in the CompStat model available to the public. This unique software offers up-to-date information about crimes, such as category, date, and exact time of the incidence, through an online interactive map. This tool helps citizens to avoid a particular area of the city in a specific time zone and look out for potential danger.

The Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio recognizes the work and effort of officers and publicly states: “Our city is yet again the safest big city in America thanks to the work our NYP officers and community leaders are doing block by block across our five boroughs (qt in Leigh).” From the tone and wording, one can feel a sense of pride and confidence in the mayor of the ultimate safety that he and the city can offer to the citizens. City security was strengthened after the 9/11 incident, with soldiers patrolling the public places and increased investment in gates, traffic barriers, and building-entrance security. Out of all, air travel is one transportation mode that was most affected by the lessons of 911. The TSA enacted changes to airport security checkpoints and practices; security consists of both carry-on and checked bag screening, as well as pat-down screening. Furthermore, the events of 9/11 affected how immigration takes place in the U.S. Following the adoption of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (the law aimed to minimize vulnerability to terrorism in the U.S), the Department of Homeland Security screens and collects data from international travelers, interviews them, and shares information about people from selected countries (AHIMA). Not only the city ensures safety within the city but also makes an effort to prevent external threats. Most importantly, my experience tells a different story. Eight months into my college life at New York University, I consider New York City as my second home not because I am forced to live here for the next three years, but because the city ensures safety and homeliness. The beauty of New York is that everyone blends into the city. There are people of all colors and sizes, dressed in all kinds of things, speaking in all sorts of languages. I never felt like I am an outsider; that for me is one of the major things which enables me to relax and feel safe in this city. I don’t stick out nor do I draw attention. The diversity in the city makes me think that I am not so different from the rest of the people. Along with the reliable and effective protection provided by NYPD, the diversity of people in the city offered me a sense of belonging: I feel as safe as back home in Korea.

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Critical Essay on New York City Life. (2023, July 20). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 21, 2024, from
“Critical Essay on New York City Life.” Edubirdie, 20 Jul. 2023,
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