“As long as you’re aware and conscious of your surroundings, there’s no reason you can’t be safe downtown.”
—Nick Trulsson of the Downtown Stockton Alliance, which held a summit on downtown safety.
That is true, but it misses the point. As does the Alliance’s call, mentioned in today’s story, for more police (which downtown deserves).
Both the reality and perception of safety in a downtown comes from the number of people on the sidewalks. People on the sidewalks are safety’s army. Don’t take that from me, take it from the genius urbanist Jane Jacobs in “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”
Police are important to making a downtown safe. But people on the streets — the shopkeeper sweeping his sidewalk, the vendor delivering goods, the shopper, the movie-goer, the dog-walker, and, of course, the resident, etc. — are vastly more important. When the good actors way outnumber the bad actors, the bad actors largely stay in line.
Which we see now. Business is down at the multiplex because people are uneasy there. They should not be. The probability of being a crime victim downtown during the day is acceptably remote. But people don’t operate solely on probabilities. Downtown doesn’t feel right. A squadron of bike cops could comb the streets, but it still wouldn’t feel right. Because there aren’t enough people.
The Downtown Alliance has every right to call for more cops, and I hope they get them. And its members are smart to address the feeling of lawlessness created by panhandlers, loiterers and other human broken windows. But what is really needed is downtown housing. Housing and people.
People, people, people. When visitors to downtown find themselves wading into a throng as they do at the mall they will be comfortable, and there will be no need for the frankly feckless talk about being aware of your surroundings in order to remain safe.