Philly or SF, which is safer?
August 10, 2006 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Which city is safer: San Francisco or Philadelphia?

I know there are a million "safest/least safe" cities lists available, but most of them are based only on violent crime statistics. I'm looking for a comprehensive assessment that factors in things like the chances that an earthquake is going to destroy san francisco tomorrow, the chances that terrorists drop a bomb on philadelphia, the odds that I'd get hit by bus, struck by lightening, etc. Also I'd like to factor in the proximity to other safe/unsafe cities, just in case I happen to get lost and end up in, say, Camden or Oakland. For purposes here, I'm only concerned about things that will kill me, not so much things that might wound or emotionally scar me. All things considered, where would I be safer?

[yes, this is to settle a bet]
posted by rorycberger to Grab Bag (14 answers total)
San Francisco by far.

SF has much bigger swaths of gentrification and an infinitely lower crime rate.

Go to and read an article or two about their summer of murdermania. It's interesting!
posted by huskerdont at 11:21 AM on August 10, 2006

I don't have a direct answer, but I would start by trying to find the actuarial tables for your demographic for each city. This is how insurance companies calculate life insurance rates-- they have a financial incentive for getting them right.

But they only include historical data, so wouldn't include something like the chance of a major terrorist attack on Philadelphia, because it's never happened.
posted by justkevin at 11:31 AM on August 10, 2006

happen to get lost and end up in, say, Camden

I don't know anything about Oakland. I do know that you don't want to be lost and wandering around Camden at any hour of the day or night.

When I worked at a meatpacking plant in Philly, some of my coworkers were from North Philly, which is one of the Northeast's biggest ghettoes. They were rough, frequently got into fights during the work shift and not a one of them wanted to go anywhere near Camden.

So if the ghetto hooligan crowd, people with felony records and such, doesn't want anything to do with Camden, you probably don't either.
posted by jason's_planet at 2:12 PM on August 10, 2006

SF is way safer.
posted by fixedgear at 2:16 PM on August 10, 2006

well..i think the issue of earthquakes isn't predictable on a human timescale so no one can say which is safer.
I've heard interviews with scientists that would never drive on the bay bridge because they view it as too dangerous. To me that's more alarming than thugs that won't go to a bad neighborhood.
posted by alkupe at 2:36 PM on August 10, 2006

Yeah, I thought the Earthquake issue was a wildcard too. surely there must be some way to estimate it's probability though, right?
posted by rorycberger at 3:14 PM on August 10, 2006

Don't forget to run earthquake scenarios for both locations: the New Madrid fault could let go, and given that Philly isn't built to quake code, you're going to get some sort of numerical offset generated from the near-certainty of Philly falling down after a quake times the improbability of the New Madrid cutting loose.

You need an actuary. :D
posted by scrump at 3:50 PM on August 10, 2006

If you are worried about natural disasters, Philadelphia ranks as the 8th safest city (of the top 50) in the U.S., while San Francisco ranks 47th. The list is here.
posted by spira at 3:50 PM on August 10, 2006

In major cities, you only need to consider homicide and motor vehicle fatality rates.

It's pointless to even calculate the "safety" risks associated with earthquake, terrorism, and lightning. The sum of all the fatalities in the US from 1900-today from these three causes is less than the number of homicides or motor vehicle deaths (or even suicides) in the US in a single year.

Between 1989-1998, the mortality rate (death per 1,000) from homicide and vehicular accidents in Philadelphia county were 29.9684 and 9.3403. In San Francisco county, they were 10.3754 and 6.7996.

Stay in SF.
posted by junesix at 4:45 PM on August 10, 2006

I've spent large sums of time in both (including 5 years in downtown Philadelphia), and by far SF is safer, though Philly is becoming increasingly gentrified.

Center city Philadelphia is fine, but I can see someone randomly taking the wrong bus or a long walk with bad directions and ending up in Kensington or North Philly (or for that matter, Camden).
posted by drpynchon at 7:51 PM on August 10, 2006

Also consider that in Philly you could afford to live in a much nicer area for the same money then you could in SF, so that might be a factor.
posted by BobbyDigital at 6:50 AM on August 11, 2006

Kensington isn't so bad anymore, although Camden still isn't so nice. It's hard to accidentally end up in either Camden or the badlands in anything but a car. West Philly is safe until you get to the area where the move stuff went down.

Even still, it's likely that SF would be safer. I know people who live out there, and the random street stories they tell are nothing like the ones here.
posted by onedarkride at 7:56 AM on August 11, 2006

Also I'd like to factor in the proximity to other safe/unsafe cities, just in case I happen to get lost and end up in, say, Camden or Oakland.

I can't vouch for Camden (though it seems to have been done--albeit anecdotally--already), but Oakland and the rest of the cities surrounding SF are for the most part safer than the city proper. You have to go pretty far out of your way to get to the "bad parts" of Oakland (OK, except West Oakland, but most people pass it by without even noticing it's there).

Another factor you may want to keep in mind, depending on your hypothetical resident's health, is air quality...though to my knowledge, neither city's particularly bad.
posted by kittyprecious at 9:51 AM on August 11, 2006

San Francisco certainly isn't a crime free paradise, but it's safer than Philly. Given its peninsula location, you'd have to travel by car or BART to the nasty areas. Oakland is one of our Bay Area crapholes, but even it has nice areas. There's a fairly small section of Oakland that's filled with gang banger scum and has a high crime rate bt other parts of the city are pretty nice.

I don't know where kittyprecious is, but you don't have to go very far at all to find a crappy area in Oakland. Right around Hegenberger Loop/Coliseum/OAK is a great example. On one side of the street is a decent little shopping mall and 2 blocks away is drug dealing in the streets and unsolved homicides. (Been through it many times!)

I'm sure Philly is the same way. Take the train a few minutes in a certain direction and the landscape changes.
posted by drstein at 1:19 PM on August 14, 2006

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