Author: Kerri Anne Malone
The last time you stepped into a public transit station, what have you heard? In my hometown of Elgin, as well as in Chicago, I can only remember echoed conversations mixed with the sound of trains passing by. However, as an Urban Planning student highly interested in public art activism and cultural programming, I thought I'd share just one way cities are using art to prevent crime in metropolitan areas, and gain any insight into the subject from classical music professionals, admirers, and advocates.
Stripped to their essence, high-activity public areas provoke an unease and discomfort within me, a rigid stiffness among congested crowds. I've noticed this anxiety carries recurring elements in my surroundings, including dim lighting, absence of music or sound, and high and low density traffic. Obviously I'm not alone, as it was recently announced in Minneapolis that urban planners and city officials are combating this using classical music in public transit stations. As discussed in this Star Tribune article, pouring classical music selections of Bach and Beethoven into the ears of commuters have improved the public safety on the Hiawatha light-rail line from 3 to 7 on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the safest. Despite the observable evidence of the design's success, classical music lovers and young commuters are growing increasingly skeptical of the music's ability to discourage raucous teens. The absence of a classical musician's perspective in the design is debatable, and the realization that the design's success is in part due to a general dislike of classical music for youth ages 18-25 is dispiriting. Great appreciators of classical music would much rather see concertos uniting, rather than dispersing, youth.
From my perspective, the design is another initiative in increasing vibrancy and livability in public places via art. Classical music provides a restorative quality and tone in environments that may otherwise be accustomed to music heard in the headphones of those nearby, or no music at all. As urban planners, youth, and classical music lovers continue to arm themselves with arguments, more designs incorporating classical music are sure to undergo implementation in public areas with high crime. Due to disputes regarding measurability and accuracy, the long-term quality of such designs in metropolitan plans remain unclear. Yet, if progress is at all reflective of Minneapolis, reduced crime activity in public places is predicted for the future - as long as IPod headphones remain disengaged from user's ears.