Much depends on how you define "safe"
The Guardian Intelligence Unit has just released its Safe Cities Index for 2019 (PDF Here) and, notwithstanding repeated attacks by Godzilla, Tokyo comes out on top. Six of the top ten are Asia-Pacific cities, two are in Europe, and two (Washington DC and Toronto, Ontario) are in North America.
A lot of people, including me in Toronto, would say, 'You're kidding. Those North American cities are safer than Copenhagen?' But safety isn't just about guns. A woman being able to walk the street alone at night is a good indicator. But what makes it safe for her to do so?
On one level, this statement seems a simple one about personal security, in particular a low likelihood of violent attack. Looking deeper, though, quickly brings up more issues. Walking alone at night also requires infrastructure, including places to walk where one is unlikely to be hit by vehicles and lighting that not only deters violence but also lets our pedestrian see where she is going. Similarly, unhealthy levels of air pollution or a lack of public health education, which mean fewer people see the value of walking, could take our notional pedestrian off the street.
So safety is measured by 4 categories: personal, infrastructure, health, and digital security. The EIU also measures resilience, "a concept that moves away from purely after-the-fact response to include system-wide preparedness and risk reduction as well." Digital security was the least obvious one, defined:
Digital security assesses the ability of urban citizens to freely use the internet and other digital channels without fear of privacy violations or identity theft. On inputs, cities are scored on their awareness of digital threats, the level of technology employed and the existence of dedicated cyber-security teams.
We focus a lot on TreeHugger about urban life, about the quality of cities, about how the police enforce the the law. That's why the definition of safety relating to infrastructure is so important:
Infrastructure security considers the built physical environment, such as city infrastructure and its vulnerability to disasters and terrorist attacks. On inputs, the index takes into account sub-indicators, such as the quality of infrastructure, as well as the enforcement of transport safety; regarding outputs, the number of road traffic deaths is included, as well as the number of terrorist attacks on facilities and infrastructure.
When you get into the detail of each of the four categories, it becomes more obvious that, except for Singapore and Tokyo, which are near the top in every category, cities can be all over the place. So Washington is down at 23 on personal security, but up at 4 on digital security, which makes sense when you have the CIA and FBI and the NSA looking over your shoulders. When it comes to personal security, you want to live in Copenhagen.
The most interesting feature of the survey is that definition of safety: the realization that one should be able to walk down the street without getting shot or stabbed, but also without getting hit by cars while walking on decent sidewalks, knowing that the police will actually enforce transport safety, without getting sick from PM2.5 particulates and pollution, with access to decent health care, safe and quality food, and without your phone being hacked. That's not too much to ask.