Living in a “safe” community is good for you in more ways than you may think.
Of course a lower crime rate may lead to a reduced possibility of physical harm coming to you or your loved ones. But beyond that, there’s the idea of peace of mind.
That’s the underlying notion of a recent analysis by SafeHome.org, which used FBI data and Chapman University Survey of American Fears to come up with the top 101 safest cities in America. Not surprisingly 16 of California’s cities made the list in the top 100 safest cities in the country. And, the top five safest cities in California are in Orange County: Yorba Linda, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Niguel, Mission Viejo and Lake Forest.
“Having grown up in Orange County since the 1980s, I am not surprised with these findings at all,” says Dr. Corine Giesemann, a family medicine physician with Hoag Medical Group. “In fact, I feel that as a ripple effect, all the surrounding cities listed on this list are equally as safe. I believe that the reason is multifactorial.”
She adds that, for one, police departments are actively engaged in the community.
“They deliberately know their communities intimately and have a clear plan for preventing crime and how to respond,” she says.
She also points to the planning of the communities themselves.
“These cities intentionally create master-planned communities with foresight and close collaboration of city services,” Giesemann says. “These cities coordinate and offer numerous community services, activities and events with the thought to create community and togetherness. These cities promote healthy lifestyles and environmentally-friendly solutions.”
And finally, she points to the residents themselves.
“Like-minded residents are attracted to the high quality of life and sense of community that the cities promote and enhance,” she says. “All the above, create a culture of a tight community.”
We tend to gravitate toward these areas for the sake of safety, but is there a larger impact on the health and wellness of our families?
“I believe that a safe surrounding allows all beings to thrive,” says Giesemann. “We know the effects that stress have on all biological beings; it may adversely affect mental health, decision-making, blood pressure, sleep, weight, cardiovascular health and so forth. Having a safe environment allows for relaxation, growth, creativity, tolerance, outdoor recreation (exercise) and a venue to easily gather with others in the community.”
And of course, these same kinds of benefits extend to children.
“There are a number of known health benefits for those living in a safe community,” says Ashley Kranjac, assistant professor in the sociology department at Chapman University. “Chronic daily stressors are diminished in communities where people feel safe to exercise or to allow their children to play outside under minimal supervision. Living in a safe community in early childhood significantly impacts children’s cognitive, behavioral and physical development.”
Kranjac says safe neighborhoods encourage health in other ways as well. “Safe neighborhoods are characterized by health-oriented, supportive social networks of family, friends and neighbors who tend to engage in healthy behaviors, which have spillover effects and function as protective factors for things like obesity,” she says. “Safer communities also generate greater trust between community members, helping to produce norms of reciprocity that in turn facilitate benefits in health and health behaviors.”
Ideal as it may be to live in one of these safe cities, it may not always be possible. “Every parent wants to provide the best environment for their child to thrive, however, not everyone can afford to live in the safest community since the safest places also tend to be the wealthiest,” says Kranjac. “One way to provide similar health gains for you and your child is to create a safe and nurturing environment in the home. The benefits to health brought on by safe communities center around a heightened sense of personal control and social support, which parents can provide regardless of where they live.”
Dr. Gina Posner, pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, says it can also be as simple as a car ride to pay a visit to one of these cities. “Take advantage of it, it’s not like they’re walled off,” Posner says. She says that beyond the idea of living in a safe area, you can’t beat the weather here—which adds to the advantage of families being able to go outside and do something healthy like take a fun bike ride.
“Just go out,” she says. “Take advantage of the fact that we really do live in an amazing place. … There’s really no excuse why you shouldn’t be outside playing and doing activities.”
Giesemann says that although it’s nice living and visiting these cities, it’s still very possible to create this idea of a safe environment where you currently live.
“Gather, collaborate and create a sense of community in your schools, faith communities, neighborhoods and community centers,” she says. “When we gather, we help each other out and look out for each other. That is how Neighborhood Watch works. When we know each other, we can pick out those who don’t belong in our neighborhoods or unusual events. This is how the police departments here work as well. Get involved with your community and become an active member.”
Kranjac agrees it’s about a sense of community. “The best way to create a safe space is by garnering a sense of community and commitment among residents,” says Kranjac. “This means a shared willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good by attending to things like public safety and maintaining clean environments. For example, participation in voluntary neighborhood associations might develop shared expectations within one’s community and help to generate a sense of mutual trust.”
By Jessica Peralta