It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood
June 8, 2010 6:57 PM   Subscribe

If you wanted to know whether a given spot in an American city or town was in a "good neighborhood" -- that is to say, safe to walk in alone during the day and early evening -- and you had only the internet to ask, what resources would you consult?

As someone without a car, I frequently find myself wanting to know whether a neighborhood is safe to walk in, particularly to walk a dog in, or to hang around waiting for public transport in. The traditional method for learning the answer is to find a person from near that area and ask them. Even if this is possible on short notice, you can get purely arbitrary determinations. I know we're all related to people who get nervous about a neighborhood if they see young men of the wrong ethnicity hanging around listening to music.

In the past, when I've needed to make this determination alone, I've googled the name of the street -- not often helpful -- or looked at local crime information, which I think gives an overly vivid impression. Do you have any tricks for finding this kind of thing out? My mother, for example, told me to be careful about anywhere with a lot of bail bondsmen storefronts, and although she's too cautious in general I do bear that in mind. Although I am living in MA, I am certainly interested in hearing about tricks that only work for certain large cities or regions, because I find myself needing to answer this question on vacation as well.

(Previously: a thread that's a good resource in general although not in particular.)
posted by Countess Elena to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I bet walkscore would be helpful for this. It doesn't give crime stats, but it does tell you how much commercial activity there is on a particular block, which is a good proxy for sidewalk activity, and places where there are a lot of people out and about tend to be safer.
posted by lunasol at 7:01 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

honestly? i'd ask metafilter. nothing is better than hearing from actual people in the area, especially once they start disagreeing about what is and isn't an issue in their town. it's not a great resource for "i'd like an answer to this in the next ten minutes", but it would more-than-likely give you a decent data set to consider.
posted by radiosilents at 7:05 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Free service that maps out areas with especially high densities of residents with criminal convictions. Take with a grain of salt, in terms of whether or not this always translates to safety, or lack thereof.
posted by availablelight at 7:06 PM on June 8, 2010

I believe that housing prices are a pretty solid indicator - people are willing to pay a premium to live in safe neighbourhoods. I'd recommend spending some time on Craigslist and comparing apartment/condo prices and rent. If a conveniently-located area is much cheaper than the average, that's a red flag at least.
posted by ripley_ at 7:07 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Along the line of your mom' advice: Neighborhoods with lots of "Check cashing" or "payday loan" places tend to be less safe.
posted by samthemander at 7:07 PM on June 8, 2010

I'd use a crime map. Some cities publish their own. Crime Reports uses a Google Maps overlay. It's pretty easy to pull up a neighborhood and see how crime there seems to be. Note, of course, that this will only include reported crimes, and there may not be coverage for your area, but it's a pretty good resource.
posted by jedicus at 7:08 PM on June 8, 2010

Some cities have detailed yearly crime reports on their web sites that say what kind of crimes happened in which wards. I used it to find out that an area that an apartment broker told me was "dangerous" had 0 murders in a year and fewer muggings than a neighborhood in which I used to run by myself at 1 AM.
posted by ignignokt at 7:12 PM on June 8, 2010

When I looked up crime stats in one city several years ago, I found that the worst neighborhoods in terms of actual crime were not the ones popularly thought.
posted by grouse at 7:15 PM on June 8, 2010

Find out if you can get pizza (particularly from major chains) delivered there. Papa John's online ordering has a link to "find your delivery store"; if you only get locations in your area and no designated delivery store, I think they don't deliver there. Could be a matter of not having a store close enough; could be that the neighborhood's too risky.
posted by dilettante at 7:16 PM on June 8, 2010

Here, or possibly the forums on .
posted by miyabo at 7:17 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

This doesn't work in every city ever, but look on google maps for vacant lots.

Usually there's a reason why they are vacant...
posted by chicago2penn at 7:18 PM on June 8, 2010

Avoid the places mentioned in this thread.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:22 PM on June 8, 2010

Personally I'd use Google Streetview to have a look at it, look for the amount of garbage and whatnot. The sketchier parts of Hamilton (where I used to live) that my female friends don't like walking alone at night in tend to have more bingo halls, check cashing places, pawn shops, payday loan places, pot stores and similar places. I can't say for sure that this is an indication you shouldn't be there: Hamilton's crime rate is still low enough I walked alone at night in that bit of town a few times, you just stick to the main streets.
posted by Canageek at 7:28 PM on June 8, 2010

When I looked up crime stats in one city several years ago, I found that the worst neighborhoods in terms of actual crime were not the ones popularly thought.

The crime statistics only tell part of the story.

In many of the worst neighborhoods, there's a no-snitching culture that effectively reduces police reports for non-homicide crimes to nil. And murders aren't nearly as common as, say, assault and battery or mugging.

So it's possible to have a neighborhood with basically no crime reported, but which is still quite unsafe.
posted by Netzapper at 7:41 PM on June 8, 2010

The above are all good, but (for something a little different) what about just looking at a map of the city? I think you can tell a lot about a neighbourhood's history and development (and especially its walkability, if not necessarily its safety) by noting the layout of the streets, the distance from the city centre, its relation to bodies of water, whether or not it has alleys....
posted by tivalasvegas at 7:42 PM on June 8, 2010

If it's a large-ish metropolitan area, I would go to or a similar site and see what the rentals in/near the area looked like over about a week or so. If you are actually looking for a rental, e-mailing the people who are renting can sometimes be productive. Ask them for references, talk to those references to see what the neighborhood is like. If you see a lot of apparently scammy rentals or crappy places, avoid.

There's a lot of variation in criminal activity within neighborhoods. If I was asking about the safety of a place, I would ask specifically about how safe it was to walk to the bus stop or metro station or other places that you might go rather than just the immediate surroundings (though that's important, too).
posted by _cave at 7:43 PM on June 8, 2010

Either city-data forums, or if the local paper has an active multi-subject forum (like the nola forums), I ask which neighborhoods are the best for trick-or-treating. That tells you everything you want to know.
posted by headnsouth at 7:48 PM on June 8, 2010

I bet walkscore would be helpful for this. It doesn't give crime stats, but it does tell you how much commercial activity there is on a particular block, which is a good proxy for sidewalk activity, and places where there are a lot of people out and about tend to be safer.

I just checked the address that Mrs. Deadmessenger grew up at in the South Bronx, and it scored 92 out of 100. Every stereotype you might have ever heard of poor urban neighborhoods in general, and the South Bronx in particular, was on full and vivid display on that block - random street crime, prostitution, a flourishing crack trade, etc.

To the OP: please, whatever you do, don't rely on walkscore as a proxy for safety.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:59 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have used everyblock" to look up crime stats by zip code. It maps out the reported incidents, so you get an idea of whether or not there are particularly problematic areas.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:43 PM on June 8, 2010

For any decent sized American city? I would consult Ask Metafilter. That's what it is for.
posted by Justinian at 8:54 PM on June 8, 2010

I should add that everyblock has more than crime info. But I like to compare an unknown neighborhood's crime stats with one I'm familiar with to get an idea of things. And also to see the time of day that stuff occurs. In the 'hoods I've lived in LA, those stats have been accurate enough that I still use them.

Looking at the street view for frequency of gang tags might also say something or frequency of banger looking dudes hanging out in clusters depending on what time of the day the google van drove through.

Bail bond places are usually next to jails, so your mother has a point there.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:05 PM on June 8, 2010

Honestly, I find that Wikipedia is kind of awesome for this.
posted by desuetude at 9:09 PM on June 8, 2010

The founder (or was it some other talking head?) from Walkscore was on an NPR show like last week and talking about the service and how eventually they want to be able to factor in safety at some point but it's just not there today. Walkscore is absolutely not a reliable indicator for neighborhood safety.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:19 AM on June 9, 2010

When I was apartment-hunting and unfamiliar with a particular area I used Google Street View to look at the neighborhood, to see how well-kept the block looked, whether places were built like fortresses with bars on the windows, what kinds of cars were parked along the street, things like that. Not that any or even all of those are reliable indicators of safety, but Street View at least helped me decide whether I wanted to visit the neighborhood in person or not. YMMV
posted by estherbester at 12:48 AM on June 9, 2010

Nthing City Data Forum for each city you're considering. Most likely there will already be postings on the boards, or you can post your own question.
posted by Elsie at 4:49 AM on June 9, 2010

Asking for opinions on a particular area especially on City Data will give you just that - opinions. Many of those will be extremely biased and unhelpful. I know because I regularly visit the forums for my city and questions like this quickly devolve into amazing diatribes about race among other things mostly from people who base their opinions from Fox news stories or AM radio rants.

Check crime maps which will give a more unbiased feel for the neighborhood. My city PD offers a nice interactive map which gives current crimes of all variety with information on date, time, and type of crime.
posted by JJ86 at 7:05 AM on June 9, 2010

I agree with looking at rental prices. Having grown up here, I already know where the bad neighborhoods are in Milwaukee, and when we looked for an apartment, the rents were a good correlation. $500 for a 3 bedroom? You'd better have a shotgun under your pillow.

Housing maps combines craigslist postings with google maps (major American cities only).
posted by desjardins at 8:07 AM on June 9, 2010

Ask wealthy people who live in that city.
posted by L'OM at 10:31 AM on June 9, 2010

Ask wealthy people who live in that city.

In my experience, wealthy people tend to think that any neighborhood that is not the most famous wealthy neighborhood is dangerous.
posted by desuetude at 6:53 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for these tips, guys; they're great, especially the point about checking housing prices on Craigslist.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:46 PM on June 10, 2010

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