SIX TOUGH TOWNS: You Don’t Want to Live Here!

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    Planning your next road trip?  Considering a move to a cheaper locale?  Eager to escape the big city? Here are six tough towns you’d be well advised to avoid.  All rank among the most dangerous places to live in America, standing shoulder to shoulder with dangerous cities ten times their size.  All have histories, some of which are full of grandeur. However, all have seen great declines from their halcyon years, and some have remained in the same quagmire for generations now. Here’s a closer look at some of the more interesting cities at the top end of the FBI’s crime statistics pages.

    Newburgh, New York

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    What it used to be:

    Located on the banks of the Hudson River sixty miles to the north of New York City, Newburgh was settled over 400 years ago.  It served as headquarters for the Continental army during the Revolutionary war.  It became the second American city to install street lighting in the 1890’s.  It was also an important railway freight transit point, and the first city in which a television signal was tested in 1939.

    What it is now:

    A dilapidated, dirty, and dangerous shell of a city, dotted with historical markers.  Residents have a one-in-fifty chance of becoming victim to a violent crime in a given year.  Many of its historic landmarks were demolished in the 1960’s-1970’s to make room for an urban renewal project that was never completed.  Street gangs rule wide swaths of turf, much of it home to the impoverished and unemployed.  Substandard buildings built to accommodate those displaced when the ill-planned urban renewal project was launched are already decrepit and crumbling.

    Chester, Pennsylvania

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    What it used to be:

    Located on the Delaware River, Chester was originally settled by Swedes, who named the area Finlandia, in the 1600’s. By 1682, it was the most populated city in the Province of Pennsylvania.  It was the location of a critical shipbuilding site during the Civil War.  It is also considered as one of the birthplaces of rock music, as home and base of operations for Bill Haley & The Comets.

    What it is now:

    A bricked-up mess of two-story walk-ups and obsolete storefronts. Its rapid decline began in the 1960’s when it lost its automobile manufacturing and most of its shipbuilding industries. It has lost half of its population since the 1960’s, and abandoned row houses sit beside rubble-strewn and weedy vacant lots.  Crack hit the city in the 1980’s and never really went away. The streets are narrow and frequently poorly lit.  Despite some localized revitalization, the city remains one of America’s most blighted.

    Bessemer, Alabama:

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    What it used to be:

    Bessemer began life in the 19th century as a postbellum company town, administered by the Bessemer Land and Improvement Company which was owned by coal magnate Henry F. DeBardeleben. First appearing on a government census in 1890, the city has always had a black-majority population in a state notorious for racial issues.  Bessemer’s economy largely relied on iron ore mining, which fell into severe decline as the iron was depleted.  The city also manufactured Pullman railroad cars, another industry that suffered steep decline by the 1950’s.

    What it is now: 

    Unemployment soared to over 30% in the 1980’s, and revitalization efforts have been feeble although some edifices have been restored and some business has trickled in.  Still, in 2013 you had a one-in-seven chance of becoming a crime victim, and violent crime in Bessemer is five times the state average.  Expect largely deserted commercial districts surrounded by dilapidated wood frame houses.  And nothing to do.

    Saginaw, Michigan

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    What it used to be:

    Located on the Saginaw River, where the thumb meets the rest of the mitten-shaped Michigan, Saginaw was settled by the Sauk people, who were later forced out by the Ojibwe. European settlers moved into the region in 1816, in the form of French traders.  Saginaw grew to become a major Great Lakes port city, with a thriving lumber industry.  This led to rapid industrialization in the late 19th century. The city eventually was home to a huge automobile manufacturing industry. As the car industry declined, so too did Saginaw’s fortunes.

    What it is now: 

    Like Detroit and Flint, Saginaw is a sad, degraded shadow of its former self.  Vacant lots, burned out houses, bricked up storefronts, and enormous rusting hulks of manufacturing sites are the most striking sights.  City services have become minimal.  A resident has a remarkable nearly one-in-forty chance of becoming a victim of violence in a year.  Gang activity is rampant, creating sizable criminal corridors within the city.  The weather is often drab and depressing, too.

    West Memphis, Arkansas

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    What it used to be:

    Located across the Mississippi River from Memphis, TN (a pretty tough town in its own right), West Memphis was settled as far back as ten thousand years.  Originally claimed by the Spanish, the land was included in the Louisiana Purchase from France when the Spanish abandoned their fort. Since then, the area has always seemed star-crossed. The original town was called Hopefield, but it was burned to the ground by Union Forces in the Civil War, and the partially rebuilt city was washed away completely by a flood in the 1890’s. A new town, West Memphis, emerged on the back of the lumber industry. The city also became an important railway freight depot.  The city was also famous for its greyhound racing track.

    What it is now: 

    A crime-infested shambles.  As the industry in the region dried up, the city went into decline. A rising crime rate and a particularly infamous murder case in the 1990’s darkened the city’s reputation.  You have a one-in-forty chance of becoming a violent crime victim here in a given year.  Expect to see a lot of hardscrabble working-class residences interspersed with hovels of abject poverty.  There are also signs of revitalization efforts, but the city remains one you don’t want to be caught in after dark.

    Stockton, California

    What it used to be:

    Located in the San Joaquin Valley, one of the most agriculturally-dense areas in America, Stockton was originally a gold rush city, settled in 1848 after gold was discovered in the region.  A wave of Chinese immigration took place in the 1850’s.  Most jobs were in the railroad industry and land reclamation projects; the growth of the agricultural industry resulted in a steady stream of migrant workers.  Stockton now has a sizable Hispanic majority population.  The city was hit particularly hard by the real estate crisis on 2008, and became the second largest city to declare bankruptcy.

    What it is now:  Stockton remains a major transportation and shipping hub, and is still largely dependent on agriculture.  You’ll see more obese people in Stockton than in any city outside of Montgomery, Alabama.  Forbes ranked it the eighth most miserable city in America in 2012. It has one of the highest rates of auto theft in the country.  The city ranks very high in illiteracy rates, and the majority of jobs are of the low-skill, low-pay variety.  It is one of the most dangerous cities in the west, with a crime rate rivaling that of Oakland.

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