This is the third in a series from Dana Goldstein of the Justice Lab at The Marshall Project, Top 10 (Not Entirely Crazy) Theories Explaining the Great Crime Decline:
Immigration and Gentrification
Given that some American cities, regardless of policing tactics, experienced big crime declines while others remained dangerous, a few criminologists began to wonder if two other urban trends of the past 30 years had impacted crime: increased immigration and gentrification.
Roman notes that cities with more Central American immigration, such as New York, Dallas, and San Diego, experienced bigger crime declines than cities with fewer immigrants, such as Philadelphia or Baltimore. Why? After upwardly mobile immigrants flood a chronically high-poverty neighborhood once characterized by inter-generational poverty, middle-class artists and professionals begin to arrive, bringing “wealth, resources, and political capital that didn’t previously exist,” he says. “It creates a virtuous cycle. Places become safer and it expands throughout the city.” The powerful intervention, Roman writes, is not displacement of the poor (which only moves crime from one neighborhood to another), but rather the positive effects of integration, in which people of different races and classes live in close proximity to one another.
In the end, each of these 10 theories probably hold some limited explanatory power. What social scientists have learned over the past 30 years, according to Zimring, is that “serious crime is a more superficial behavior” than people assumed back in the era of so-called “superpredator” kids. Most criminals are responding to neighborhood, economic, and health conditions that can quickly shift and improve. “Crime rates can change when deep structures don’t change,” Zimring says.