The town of Celebration in Florida, which is both famous and notorious (depending on your ethical and political persuasions) as the Disney Corporation’s ideology made material, has seen both its first murder and a fatal police shoot-out in the last few days.
Some reports mention that Celebration is the utopian epitome of ‘new urbanism’, except that it has always seemed to me more like a parody of the new urbanism, a version taken to ridiculous and paranoid extremes with its enforced neighbourliness and codes of conduct and property maintenance.
And the apparently unconnected events read like the start of late J.G. Ballard novel – Cocaine Nights or Super-Cannes – with all kinds of poison bubbling under the perfect postmodern surface of this nostalgic, branded ‘retroscape’ (Brown and Sherry, 2003).
Most people tend to think of Brazilian cities as divided and violent, with especially high rates of gang-related gun deaths in and around the favelas. Certainly that was the impression I was starting to get. However, there was an excellent piece last year in The Economist on falling murder rates in Brazilian cities. Yes, that´s right, I said falling murder rates. And not just falling, plummeting.
However, as the article points out, the decline is largely due to a halving of the murder rate in Brazil´s second city, São Paulo. The Economist put this down to a combination of: tighter gun control; better policing (including community policing initiatives and a large new Murder Squad, which ¨uses computer profiling to spot patterns and to act preventively¨); and, a relative decline in the youth demographic as the baby-boom cohort of children born after the mass immigration from the 1970s ages – the gangsters are getting older and getting out of crime, and there are slightly fewer young recruits to replace them. But one note of caution is that this may all be the temporary result of one particular gang gaining a dominant and unchallengable position. My view (not The Economist´s) is that if this latter development is a genuinely long-term trend, it could either result in a move to more legal community development activities by the gang (as has happened in some US cities) or a more stable but persistant pattern of criminality such as that in exhibited by the endemic gang-cultures of Southern Italy or in Japan…
Of course, I should also note that these figures are official ones from the Ministry of Health and I have no idea yet how reliable are the collection or categorisation methods for crime statistics used by the Brazilian authorities.