Judging the Strength of a Neighborhood

My wife and I have enjoyed living in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood in Minneapolis for the past 4.5 years.  Our neighborhood is viewed with some skepticism by a lot of people.  People (mostly those who have chosen to live in a more suburban setting) aren’t always sure how to react when I tell them I live here.

When my wife bought the house back in the summer of 2006, she was excitedly telling a friend about her new home.  Her friend’s response was a snarly, “Oh, why did you buy there?”, a not-so-subtle implication that my wife had chosen a poor neighborhood.  On several occasions since, people have said something like, “Oh Powderhorn! That used to be such a nice neighborhood.  I lived there for 10 years.  I was sad to leave, but it just got too dangerous.”

Powderhorn has been in the news a lot over the past week after an unfortunate event where four teenagers committed a string of sexual assaults one evening – all of which was within a couple blocks of my home.  It’s unnerving and frightening to hear about stories like this.

When we judge a neighborhood, we tend to focus on the bad things that happen there.  We look at crime rates, and decide that the best neighborhoods are the ones with the lowest crime rates. It’s natural and wise to want to minimize the risk that you or a family member will become a victim.

But there’s another important metric we could use to judge the strength of a neighborhood.  Maybe we should give more consideration to how neighborhoods respond when something unfortunate does happen.

Last night, hundreds of neighborhood residents attended a candlelight vigil in Powderhorn Park in a symbolic response to the unfortunate assaults that happened there a week earlier.  This is not a response you’ll find in every neighborhood.  The strength of the Powderhorn Park neighborhood is not that it is free from crime.  Unfortunate events happens here (and will continue to happen here and elsewhere for the forseeable future).  But when they do, the neighborhood has a history of responding with strength and solidarity in support of the victims in ways that not all neighborhoods can match.  And I wonder if that isn’t more important than preventing crimes in the first place.

What do you think readers?  How does crime influence where you choose to live?  How do you judge the strength of a neighborhood?

12 thoughts on “Judging the Strength of a Neighborhood”

  1. I have been to your house and been through good portions of your neighborhood. While I wouldn't want to live there it has nothing to do with the crime but more the age and condition of the homes (I do not have the money nor technical ability to do home repairs) there.

    But yes, crime rates do play an important part of how I view the stability of a neighborhood but I am realistic and realize that those rates can and do change drastically over time (up or down depending on how things go).

    As for judging the strength of a neighborhood, I have to admit that in Minnesota an entirely different methodology must be created due to the nature of the individuals who live here and the relative difficulties in gaining their interest, trust, and friendship.

    While a candlelight vigil to bring attention to a heinous crime is wonderful it doesn't show strength to me. As of right now it shows a one-time event created to deal with a string of heinous crimes one-time. I'd love to see what happens as a result of this happening. Will the neighborhood change as the negative elements are pushed out by a collation of strong neighbors? Only time will tell.

  2. @Bill Roehl – re: the vigil… yes, it's a one-time event, but that's more than most neighborhoods can boast. No, I don't think a one-time vigil will have any significant impact on crime rates. The folks most likely to commit crimes in the neighborhood probably don't even know it happened.

    But I'm talking about the victims, though. The one-time event is potentially very meaningful for the victims, to help their recovery process.

    Surely, or first objective should be to avoid being a victim in the first place. But to some extent, I don't know that this is entirely within our control. People are victimized (at different rates, i suppose) regardless of where they live. So when we become victims (to various extents), shouldn't we want to be in a community willing to offer support?

  3. Go by the percentages or you will end up on Nancy Grace!! AND she will not be happy that you let yourself be a victim.

    Reuben, I kid because I love.

  4. Being a former teacher, I always look to the schools and parks in a neighborhood to provide me with a more well-rounded idea of what the neighborhood is like. If you go to the Minneapolis Public Schools website, there is a link to a page that will help you find schools in your area. Type in your address (or the address of the homes you're looking at) and see which schools are available. See how involved the community is within the school and see if the local park has ties to the school.

    If I lived across the street from where I am now, my kids would go to a different school. If we were a block and a half in another direction, they'd be at another school. That can be rather divisive to a neighborhood.

    PS: we were looking for a house when we first moved back to the Cities, and were pretty much told by one owner that if we made an offer within $5000 of the asking price, they'd take it. We said no after doing some more research on the neighborhood and discovered a string of rapes at a bus stop a block away.

  5. We didn't do any research on the neighborhoods and crime rates when we were buying our house. We went by the "chain link effect". The more chain link we saw in a neighborhood, the less we wanted to live there.

  6. I lived in south minneapolis near Lake Nokomis when I first moved to the area. I loved it & the access, trees, lakes, etc. But after my unfortunate mugging, car break-in…I didn't feel safe & as you guys know I moved to St Paul. Crime now plays a role in how I view a neighborhood even though I'm still not a good judge of it. I like almost everything about old neighborhoods.

    It seems like here in lovely COS, people buy based on school district and there are mainly 2 that people really want. There is ALOT of sprawl here which I do not like (most of the crime happens near the airport & army fort).

  7. Tough thoughts… I think you're right: So often we do judge a neighborhood based on statistics or rates. Those things generally worry people for their own safety. But, you're also right that perhaps we should look deeper into what composes a neighborhood and get to know the people before we judge.

  8. yes, we do have a chain link fence in the back yard. I almost said something about my hypocrisy in the first comment and then figured you wouldn't remember we had a chain link fence. ha. Well the chain link effect doesn't bother me as much in the back yard as in the front yards.

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