[Editor's Note: The relationship between crime and urban form is an important, but under-discussed, phenomenon. As such, it is our pleasure to give the Spacing Vancouver readers a three-part series by contributor Ian Lowrie who is attempting to looking at Vancouver crime patterns.]
Living in Vancouver I always believed the city to be a mostly safe place. Even the “rougher” parts of town never gave me much trouble with a little common sense, and as long as I wasn’t a targeted gang member eating at a downtown steakhouse, I have usually felt safe.
This is why I was surprised to see Vancouver ranked so high on Maclean’s magazine round up of the most dangerous Canadian cities. Not only are the highest national crime rates coming from cities in the west of the country, but Vancouver proper is ranked at an intimidating 18, which is well above other major metropolitans like Toronto at 52 and Ottawa at 74. The rankings are based on six criminal offences: aggravated assault, robbery, homicide, breaking and entering, auto theft and sexual assault.
I recommend taking a look at Maclean’s interactive crime map of Canada for the full comparison.
In 2010 I became interested in mapping Vancouver crime as a means of learning about the spatial qualities that contribute to criminal activity. Admittedly, I began the exercise with the naïve perception that the most dangerous things in this city are loose granola on bike paths and closing Skytrain doors. However, I was quick to learn that behind the Cascadian zeal of group hugs and Ecotopia is a backstory of dark urban crime.
The crime maps I’ve created are based on the Vancouver Police Department’s weekly released data on occurrences of theft from vehicle, grand theft auto, and commercial and residential break and entering between January and July 2009.
It is interesting to examine the most heavily affected areas and conversely the least affected. When comparing the crime maps with additional information we can begin to see more complex spatial patterns emerge. Density is the most evident parallel data set worth comparing, and there is little doubt that denser pockets of Vancouver are hardest hit by crime.
Furthermore, layering the maps with topographic contours shows higher elevations of the city seemingly more immune to criminal activity. Notably, the Westside neighbourhoods of Dunbar, Shaughnessy, and Point Grey appear less affected by crime. One could argue that affluence increases with altitude and with that comes a greater priority for security. Without diverting to generalizations, the question of height vs. crime remains a fascinating one.
In part two of Mapping Vancouver Crime look for a change in scale as we zoom in on some of the biggest bruises on the citywide maps and look for more spatial patterns.
Ian Lowrie is a member of studioCAMP. He holds a Bachelor of Environmental Design degree from the University of British Columbia.