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America’s Safest City

America’s Safest City: Delinquency and Modernity in Suburbia

Simon I. Singer
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    America’s Safest City
    Book Description:

    Since the mid-1990s, the fast-growing suburb of Amherst, NY has been voted by numerous publications as one of the safest places to live in America. Yet, like many of America's seemingly idyllic suburbs, Amherst is by no means without crime-especially when it comes to adolescents. InAmerica's Safest City, noted juvenile justice scholar Simon I. Singer uses the types of delinquency seen in Amherst as a case study illuminating the roots of juvenile offending and deviance in modern society. If we are to understand delinquency, Singer argues, we must understand it not just in impoverished areas, but in affluent ones as well.

    Drawing on ethnographic work, interviews with troubled youth, parents and service providers, and extensive surveys of teenage residents in Amherst, the book illustrates how a suburban environment is able to provide its youth with opportunities to avoid frequent delinquencies. Singer compares the most delinquent teens he surveys with the least delinquent, analyzing the circumstances that did or did not lead them to deviance and the ways in which they confront their personal difficulties, societal discontents, and serious troubles. Adolescents, parents, teachers, coaches and officials, he concludes, are able in this suburban setting to recognize teens' need for ongoing sources of trust, empathy, and identity in a multitude of social settings, allowing them to become what Singer terms 'relationally modern' individuals better equipped to deal with the trials and tribulations of modern life. A unique and comprehensive study,America's Safest Cityis a major new addition to scholarship on juveniles and crime in America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7030-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    I was raised in the South Bronx, several blocks from Yankee Stadium. My parents settled there in August of 1951, impoverished after spending their post-war years in Germany’s displaced persons camps. They survived the war, concentration camps, and the death of nearly all their close family members. The trauma of their war-time lives, the inability to properly speak the English language, and a lack of marketable skills made their early years in America terribly difficult. Like so many struggling parents in my neighborhood, they spent much of their time, days and evenings, trying to find work or at work. They...

  5. 1 America’s Safest Cities
    (pp. 15-45)

    America’s safest city is located on the northeast border of Buffalo, New York. In 1996Money Magazinepublished its safest city list and named Amherst, New York, the safest of all American cities.¹ Amherst is still considered relatively safe. AlthoughMoney Magazineno longer publishes its safest city list, its initial ranking of cities still receives plenty of circulation on the web and in print. More recently (2010), the list’s current publisher, Congressional Quarterly Press, designated Amherst as the safest of all American cities.² In 2012,Money Magazineproduced its list ofAmerica’s Best Places to Live, and in that...

  6. 2 Confronting Modernity and Adolescence
    (pp. 47-83)

    In contrast to the youth of America’s most dangerous inner cities, safe-city youth are less often arrested, and as a consequence less likely to be adjudicated delinquent. Without having been officially designated delinquent, they are more likely to successfully transition into adulthood. But success means more than just avoiding being brought into juvenile court. In an affluent suburb, it means meeting the expectations of a society composed of parents, teachers, coaches, clergy members, friends, and a range of youth service professionals. The pressure to succeed exists not in a pre-modern, village-like community where status is often determined at the time...

  7. 3 Relational Modernity
    (pp. 85-107)

    Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and Terribly Young could successfully transition into adulthood because they and their parents could recognize adolescent troubles. Bill Gates had the good fortune of having parents who could afford the assistance of a professional therapist. They also had the money to pay for young Bill’s private school tuition. Terribly Young’s upper-middle-class parents could afford the hourly fees of a high priced attorney, a neuropsychological evaluation (which was not covered by their health insurance), and private tutoring. Both sets of parents sought the expert advice of professionals. Barack Obama was equally fortunate. He had the opportunity to...

  8. 4 Beyond a Street-Corner View of Delinquency
    (pp. 109-137)

    The public street corners of car dependent suburbs like Amherst are the least desirable places for adolescents to hang out. They prefer the more private areas of shopping malls, fast food courts, diners, parking lots, and the wooded areas of their suburban subdivisions. They also like the privacy of their suburban basement recreational rooms. Suburban partying often takes place in the privacy of a house, especially on weekends when parents are away.

    Hanging out on a public street corner is not only less common in suburbia, but also less relevant to the lives of today’s youth. In an earlier, industrialized...

  9. 5 The Trouble with Youth in America’s Safest City
    (pp. 139-177)

    The youth of a safe city are able to share their difficulties, discontents, and serious troubles. In comparison to the youth of impoverished inner cities, they are more able to be relationally modern because of the adults in their lives. As a consequence, their troubles are not the same. Yet the youth of Amherst do have their share of concerns, worries, and conflicts, and at times, their difficulties can also culminate into the sort of troubles that lead them into frequent offending.

    This chapter is about the troubles of Amherst youth. It avoids trivializing their troubles by identifying their stated...

  10. 6 Suburbia’s Discontents
    (pp. 179-201)

    The middle category of offenders is more of the average than Christine or Luke. Any statements generalizing about this group of youth based on a high school survey or personal interview risk neglecting some of the biographical details that go along with a more focused look at each subject. For instance, Jackie did not become a frequent user of drugs and alcohol until her first year of college, while Bill quit soon after his first year. At the risk of neglecting several personal details, this chapter presents the narratives of the remaining youth who describe their personal and social discontents....

  11. 7 Safe-City Offending
    (pp. 203-243)

    Official arrests represent only a fraction of adolescents who could be arrested and adjudicated delinquent. As I noted in introducingMoney Magazine’s designation of Amherst, New York, as America’s safest city, few acts of delinquency are reported to the police. Crimes recorded by the police are more accurate indicators of serious categories of violent and property crimes. By relying exclusively on the FBI’s index of part-one offenses,Money Magazinehas ignored the larger spectrum of non-index offenses. To suggest the extent to which that broader spectrum of offending is more or less common among Amherst adolescents requires me now to...

  12. 8 Safe Cities and the Struggle to Be Relationally Modern
    (pp. 245-270)

    I began this book by wondering about the safety of city life. I observed that there was more than one type of city to consider in a large metropolitan area. I argued that the suburban city is the latest city to emerge in a globalized information economy. It has become the preferred place to live for most Americans, and the preferred place to create large office parks and university campuses. The suburban city fits a post-industrial economy—one that has less of a need for the centrally located downtown of an earlier era. It exists as a city because of...

    (pp. 271-276)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 277-292)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 293-304)
    (pp. 305-305)