On the whole, American cities have become much safer. After years of declining rates of violent crime, they are now about as safe as they were in the 1960s. But violent crime is still a problem in lots of cities. And while the gap between urban and suburban crime rates has narrowed, suburban spaces still tend to be safer than urban places.
Echoing that trend, it seems the safest cities in America are predominantly suburbanized middle-tier cities with moderate population density. They tend to be relatively affluent ‘satellites’ in the shadow of larger, denser urban zones with higher violent crime rates. They have a lot of people, but there’s more land and jobs to go around. Most of the safest cities can be counted among the highest-income ones, too.
As the nation veered into 2014, the following cities claimed the lowest violent crime rates in the country, per FBI statistics from the preceding year. Unlike most American cities, all the ‘urbs on this list have violent crime rates substantially below the national average. Take a look:
10. Chula Vista, California
A SoCal suburb adjacent to San Diego, coastal Chula Vista is a pocket of more than 240,000 peaceful residents, some 20 miles north of the Mexican border. Neighboring San Diego is pretty safe, too, with below average violent crime rates.
Chula Vista’s claim to attractively low levels of crime seems to rely heavily on its affluent east side, where million-dollar homes and plush resorts sit amicably, several miles from the methamphetamine-fueled gang activity that blights the east side of the 805.
9. Garland, Texas
The suburban inspiration for ‘King of the Hill,’ Garland, Texas is another prosperous, low-crime nook within the Dallas-Forth Worth urban corridor. Its population is comparable to that of nearby Irving.
Garland has gone from a dusty railroad stop to a growing postwar exurb to a millennial tourist economy over the course of the last century. Tourism seasonally swells the city’s native middle-class population. G-Town’s ability to sustain economic growth even through recession is a boon to the tightly-knit community and helps keep violent crime at bay.
8. Irving, Texas
Another older, business-friendly suburb in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, Irving, Texas is home to nearly 230,000 people. The city has a humming innovation-centered economy with plenty of job opportunities to keep people from wanting to pummel each other.
It’s the headquarters of 50 different Fortune 500 employers, including Exxon Mobil. It’s also the historic home of the Dallas Cowboys, whose diehard fans are widely known for their genteel nonviolent sportsmanship – just kidding.
7. Virginia Beach, Virginia
As one of those American suburbs whose population now exceeds that of its nearest urban zone, Virginia Beach is by far the largest city on this list with a population of 450,000. For its size, the FBI says, this major East Coast tourist destination is quite safe. Balmy Virginia Beach reports one of the country’s lowest violent crime rates.
However, crime statistics alone may not tell the whole story. If personal safety is a concern, you may want to avoid the west side of town facing Norfolk – a more criminally inclined urban area with reported gang activity. Does Norfolk’s violent crime spill into Virginia Beach? Local officials say ‘no - Virginia Beach is for lovers.’ Others say Virginia Beach is for hustlers.
6. Henderson, Nevada
The richest suburb of Las Vegas, 270,000-strong Henderson, Nevada has a minuscule violent crime rate. Instead of urban desperadoes, it’s got a largely nonviolent population of middle-class retirees with a penchant for Mediterranean-style villa homes.
There are lots of families in Henderson, too, and a decent economy built on modern infrastructure. It’s got the most parks and rec amenities per capita in the state. Violent crime in this part of the world is concentrated in Las Vegas proper, about 20 minutes northwest and a world apart from Henderson’s haven.
5. Scottsdale, Arizona
A gentrified Phoenix suburb of approximately 227,000, Scottsdale – the ‘Beverly Hills of the desert’ – houses an affluent population of older working professionals and retirees. Nearly 9 in 10 residents are white and over age 45.
Scottsdale is known for manicured golf courses, branded resorts, spas, and upscale shopping. Some people call it ‘Snobsdale,’ but if you enjoy luxury consumer amenities, you’ll stay awhile. If you like black people, though, head elsewhere. The city has one of the lowest per capita rates of African-Americans of any American city.
4. Fremont, California
A clean technology capital of America, California’s coastal Fremont in the south Bay is a socially diverse, highly educated residential mecca for Silicon Valley venture capitalists and computer industry professionals. It is home to almost 225,000 permanent residents. Although it’s a nicer part of the Bay Area with pricey real estate, there is more income diversity compared to Irvine, a five-hour drive down the coast.
3. Plano, Texas
While it’s not the only suburb in the sprawling outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex on this list, Plano is the wealthiest. In 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau said this Texas population center is, in fact, the most affluent of any big city in the country. It’s also got one of the lowest poverty rates in the nation for a city with 250,000-plus residents.
Plano’s super-low violent crime rate is tied to its rosy economic outlook. The area is practically spilling over with good jobs from big-ticket employers like Frito-Lay, Bank of America, and Dell. The bounty is all nouveau riche. Today’s bustling urban economic hotspot was mostly farmland just a few decades ago.
Fremont has nationally recognized public high schools, the nation’s largest synthetic grass dog park and, allegedly, some of the best curry in the States. Highly progressive with low overall unemployment, this middle-class retreat has the lowest police-to-population ratio of any city on this list. Fremont begs the question: why can’t we all just get along?
2. Gilbert, Arizona
Gilbert, Arizona – pronounced ‘Gill-bear’ – is considered the largest ‘town’ in the United States solely because local officials refuse to change its designation as an incorporated town to a proper ‘city.’ Today, this rapidly growing non-city is home to not quite 230,000 people.
As a wealthy Phoenix suburb, Gilbert has one of the highest median incomes in the state of Arizona. It has fine public schools, reasonably affordable healthcare, and a slew of family-friendly neighborhoods. Gilbert is nearly an ‘honor system’ city – er, town – with one of the lowest police-to-resident ratios in the nation. Who needs police when you were 2005’s largest U.S. city with zero murders?
1. Irvine, California
Irvine, California is a pampered beach community south of the Bay Area on the West Coast of the United States. Irvine is a very clean and notably beige ‘bubble’ of not quite 237,000. It lies in Orange County, a conservative island in an otherwise very liberal sea. In 2012, it was voted the most fashionable city in America for its residents’ posh taste in designer clothing.
Little is left to chance in this purpose-built company town. Since its inception, Irvine has been carefully planned down to the last detail. If there was much violent crime in town, it would have to be micromanaged by City Hall and painted beige prior to its commission.