Urban Resiliency and Chronic Violence

May 31, 2016

By: Harley Jones, Regional Disaster Officer, American Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois

Chronic violence in America claims more than 33,000 lives and injures 88,000 Americans a year. Every day, isolated neighborhoods in American cities bear the brunt of this epidemic. Residents of these areas, often the most vulnerable citizens, are gunned down while going about their everyday lives.

The reduction of chronic violence in America is hampered by the lack of a robust research environment and political arguments about the nature of chronic violence.  Global studies on violence in cities give us a road map for the future. Chronic violence must be viewed as a public health epidemic and addressed with the same rigor and data as that of other health issues. In fact, statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that homicide will overtake heart disease as a killer of Americans in the next five years.

Current approaches in the United States show great promise but lack a strategic framework that encompasses the systemic roots of violence in American cities. The United States must learn from progress around the world and adopt a comprehensive resiliency strategy that encompasses the best of violence prevention while attacking it at its roots.

Global research highlights commonalties in the roots of this violence. The physical, cultural, and economic isolation of city residents create glaring discrepancies in unemployment, education, and investment. The physical environment of these areas has deteriorated dramatically, while city investments in these areas pale in comparison to those in large business districts. Economic isolation destroys opportunities and creates crushing unemployment, poverty, and crime. The roots of this isolation create a population of unengaged and frightened citizens who view city authorities as illegitimate.

Addressing chronic violence in the United States will take time and require the leadership of community and government officials. Only visionary leadership and collaboration can transcend political barriers to create the culture of research and data needed to impact public policy. Cities must adopt a comprehensive resiliency approach, separate from the rigors of the political cycle that includes but is not limited to the problems of unemployment, education, development, the isolation of at-risk populations, citizen engagement, gangs, and drugs. 

Urban Resiliency and Chronic Violence

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