How Safe Do You Feel On The Streets At Night?

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg recently bragged, "Today, a woman could walk in virtually every neighborhood in this city during the day and not look over her shoulder, and most neighborhoods at night." Some women beg to differ.

The Daily News canvassed women, most of whom do not live in the mayor's placid and ultra-wealthy Upper East Side neighborhood, who testified that they do in fact look over their shoulder. (That said, it's a little unfair to overlook the numerous and valid caveats in the mayor's statement — virtually, most neighborhoods. Still, safety in those other neighborhoods matters too.)

Some sample quotes:

"Bloomberg's trippin'. This isn't the upper East Side. He's definitely out of touch with what women deal with in the Bronx."

"I know the mayor doesn't have to worry about walking home from the subway, but I sure do. If he thinks we don't still have to watch our backs, he's crazy."

"I love my neighborhood. I feel safe in it, but I wouldn't walk anywhere in New York without being aware of what's behind my shoulder. As a woman, you have to be aware of your surroundings."

It would be interesting to ask the male neighbors of the first two women whether they feel also feel unsafe walking around at night (and what they would admit to). There are some basic, unchangeable things about living in a big city, regardless of whether crime goes up and down, including being aware of your surroundings. But for women, this has sadly always been non-optional.

This is a spectrum, obviously. When I spent some time living in Rio de Janeiro at a time when crime was fairly intense and my neighbor in a tony neighborhood got mugged three times in six weeks, I would not only look over my shoulder, I would leave the house debating whether or not to take my cell phone — I'd want to use it in case of emergency, but on the other hand, it too could get stolen. (I'm told it's since improved.) Blessedly, that's never been a calculation I've made in New York, across neighborhoods.

Around the same time in Rio, a male acquaintance waxed rhapsodic about making his dream of sleeping on the streets come true there, unfettered from the bourgeois and materialistic constraints of an apartment. Not only was this this Derelique-like fantasy offensive in a city with so many people, including children, visibly living on the street, even in the world's safest city it was something I could never imagine a woman safely doing, and I told him so. I felt the same way about a GQ story in which the author went to Barcelona knowing nobody with the challenge of spending little or no money, and crashing with newly-made friends.

Will there ever be a time or place where women aren't just a little bit wary? (Or, when middle-class women can fulfill ill-conceived fantasies of camping out on a park bench without someone indicating that it was tantamount to inviting sexual assault? Not that it's a reality I clamor for.) We all deserve to be safe in public space, but it's hard to imagine a reality, anywhere, where that's truly the case for everyone.

Walk In Our Shoes, Mike [NYDN]