Suburb or city: Where are you more likely to end up in a pool of blood?

Matthew Grocoff

March 18, 2014

By: Matthew Grocoff, Green Renovation Expert

In: Green Living

I won't keep you guessing. You are more likely to suffer a violent death in suburban and rural areas than in a city.

Sure, cities have a stereotype for crime and violence. And it is indeed true that there are higher rates of crime and homicide in cities. However, in a study of 1.3 million injury deaths in the U.S., injury mortality increased with rurality. The further you live from a city, the less safe you are.

If you truly seek safety, buy a home in a place that is walkable. Living in a place that is disconnected from sidewalks, restaurants, grocery stores, banks, and schools means that you are more likely to be in your car and more likely to experience social isolation. There is strong evidence that rural and suburban areas have higher rates of automobile deaths and suicides.

The fact that cities are safer makes sense when you think of the true risks of driving. Driving is the leading cause of accidental death for adults. Far more than firearms. When you break down the numbers by geography, the data is even more compelling. The death rate due to motor vehicle crashes is more than 170% higher in rural counties than in urban counties.

More sadly, motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for children. We fear cancer, drowning, and many other risks to our children, yet we ignore the real risk of strapping them into our cars. The more you drive, the greater the risk.

The safest choice we can make for our children is to raise them in a place where they can walk to school, to soccer practice, to meet friends, or to play in the park. As a bonus, walking to the grocery store with our children becomes a time for family rather than a stress-inducing errand into a gray, barren parking lot.

I spend a lot of time writing and speaking about how we can make our homes more energy efficient. But, one of the biggest ways that a home can save energy is simply by being located in an area that has well-traveled sidewalks and tree lined streets.

In his new book, People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities, Kaid Benefield devotes a chapter to my family's 113-year-old net zero energy Victorian home. He points out that families in my neighborhood emit only half as much carbon from transportation as does an average household for our metro region. Our neighborhood has well-connected streets with services and amenities nearby.

Research shows that that these characteristics are associated with less driving, less energy from dirty fuels, and increased walking and fitness. Less time in the car, of course, lowers the risk of the leading cause of accidental death. It also helps keep us healthy. And for the record, obesity kills more Americans than even our cars do.

For more about living a happier, greener, healthier, and safer life in a city, check out the book: Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. It's a compelling read.

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