Seeing death in dots

nyt-homicideStep into the whirlwind pace of New York City, which I do once or twice annually to visit family, and for every recommendation of where to go see you’ll be implored to avoid a different location at all costs once the sun goes down.

The warnings are understandable, given that there are an average of 540 homicides a year in the city and tourists make easy targets for muggings. But are the warnings of where is and isn’t safe based on sound logic, or just urban myths?

This interactive piece by the New York Times helps clear up the debate, while at the same time drawing attention to crimes that too often get buried in the newspapers. It’s a an easy-to-navigate map identifying the locations of every murder during the past 6 years, with additional sorting information available with a click or two. Once you get past the initial shock of seeing the degree of violence in certain sections of the city (parts of Brooklyn are brutal) and dispel myths that whites or women are most frequently targeted, it’s easy to pinpoint the dangers of the places a tourist could realistically end up.

Which brings us to those urban myths. Chief among the warnings that ring out to New York travelers is not to walk in Central Park at night. They never stopped me. A walk in the park (which is well-lit) after the sun goes down is among the few ways to escape the bustle and enjoy some quiet introspection looking out over the city lights. Have I been tempting danger?

Not really. As the map shows, even the most touristy parts of midtown Manhattan have served as the place some have met a violent end (check out those homicides near Times Square) but inside Central Park there hasn’t been a single murder during the past six years. Forget dangerous. You could argue it’s the safest place to be.

On the other hand, the map provides evidence for the other big tourist warning — not to fall asleep on the subway. The danger here isn’t that you’ll be killed in your sleep, it’s that you’ll wake up in Coney Island, the last stop for four different subway lines. There is indeed a cluster of murders to be found here, as there also is on other end-of-the-line stops in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

So the city isn’t perfectly safe, but at least interactive pieces like this help us identify the danger zones on fact and not rumor. As I’ve written before, virtual maps have lots of great uses (blog 10,000 words has numerous examples) and this is one that could come in handy for any city hoping to lure visitors or new residents. It’s delusional to think any city is perfectly safe, but it’s empowering to know via interactive media exactly which locations hold the least danger.

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