The midterm elections take place November 6th and there’s more to the ballot than Congressional candidates.
Pulling back the layers on Newark news and trends
The FBI recently released its annual Uniform Crime Report for 2013. The report ranked Newark as the city with the third-highest murder rate in the United States, behind only New Orleans and Detroit.
It is a damning and alarming statistic, and the rate of murders here in Newark should spur urgent action. Nothing we tell you about how to read crime statistics can change that. Nor should it.
But statistics like this should also make us ask more questions and think critically about what the numbers actually tells us. People tend to give statistics a lot of authority because they assume stats tell an objective truth. But stats can cover up some significant details. Read on to learn six things you should keep in mind when you encounter crime statistics about Newark, or any other place.
#1: Statistics and trends tend not to matter when it’s you or your loved one
Almost by their very nature, statistics about murder and other violent crime cover up the total loss experienced by the affected person and their loved ones.
Mayor Ras Baraka recently spoke about the murder rate in Newark for 2014, which is expected to be lower than the murder rate reported in the just-released Uniform Crime Report for 2013. He was quoted on NJ.com as saying, “If you were one of the 84 victims of the violence [in 2014, as of December 1] that took place…the reduction in homicides doesn’t matter to you.” For those immediately affected, the loss feels total, and that human element should not be overlooked as we consider overall trends.
#2: Understand what’s being counted
Let’s define “murder rate” as murders per 1,000 people. We know the FBI reported that Newark had the third-highest murder rate in the United States in 2013.
But when BrickCityLive.com reviewed the Uniform Crime Report statistics for the state of New Jersey alone, we found four municipalities that technically have a higher rate of murders than Newark: Chesilhurst, then Salem, then Essex Fells, then Trenton, then Newark. How is it possible for Newark to have the third-highest murder rate in the entire country, but the fifth-highest just in New Jersey? Isn’t that a contradiction?
Not really. The reason none of those four municipalities was reported is because the Uniform Crime Report only counted cities with a population of 100,000 people or more. Chesilhurst and Essex Fells each experienced one murder; the population of those towns is so small that this put their murder rate per 1,000 people above Newark’s.
But what about Trenton, our state capital? Their population of about 85,000 people isn’t huge — but it’s not so small either. Still, they don’t make the 100,000 population cut to be included in the ranking.
Let’s say that instead of counting cities with populations of 100,000 people or more, the crime report counted cities with populations of 50,000 and up. If the FBI did that, Newark’s ranking would drop overnight.
But this wouldn’t change a single thing about 2013. At the end of the day, the reported ranking just doesn’t say much about the public safety environment in Newark that is actually useful.
#3: Statistics cover up complexity
Imagine a conversation between two Newarkers. One thinks Newark is experiencing an exciting comeback. The other is despairing because he thinks Newark is dangerous for himself and his family. One can’t fully relate to her acquaintance’s gloom. The other can’t believe his companion’s hopefulness. How can their perceptions of what’s happening in Newark be so different if they both live here?
You’re looking at a map of crime rates in Newark by “neighborhood.” The dark blue areas report less violent crime; the lighter blue areas report more–grey the most. Newark’s ranking in the FBI crime report describes the public safety situation in the city as a whole, but what people actually experience day-to-day is their block and their neighborhood. And in Newark, the neighborhood or block where you live can make a drastic difference to the reality of public safety for you.
There are neighborhoods in Newark that are about as safe as you’ll find in any city.
But because the rate of violent crime and murder is so high in Newark overall, statistically speaking, we “pay” for the safety some neighborhoods enjoy with unbearable violence in others. In those neighborhoods, violent crime is so concentrated that the crime statistics for Newark overall actually downplay the rate of violence there. Consider what this means for how discussions around police deployment, the availability of safe and effective neighborhood schools, and real estate and housing differ from neighborhood to neighborhood. Consider the sometimes immense difference in day-to-day experiences within geographically short distances.
#4: Statistics describe ideas
If you look at the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, you’ll find two columns for rape. Why? Because in early 2012, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new definition of “rape” that would be more comprehensive than the original definition, which was set in 1927. As a result of this change, rapes spiked from 2012 to 2013, when the change took effect. Ideas about what behaviors constitute rape changed what was counted. That then changed the rape statistics.
If you read about the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, you’ll see them described as “shooting deaths” and “killings,” but not as “murders.” A lot of people passionately disagree with this characterization, but the deaths of those two young men will not be among those counted in FBI crime statistics. Trial and grand juries’ ideas about what murder is also matter when we look at statistics.
This directly affected the 2013 FBI murder statistics for Newark. The FBI counted one more murder than the Newark Police Department did. Why? Because “FBI standards for homicides often differ from those applied by local authorities,” according to Dan Ivers of NJ.com.
#5: Causes of crime aren’t always local
For the sake of this example, let’s briefly move off of violent crime to consider arrests for illegal drug sales. Statistics about arrests for illegal drug sales will give us information about the extent of the “underground economy” in Newark. But they mask information about the other side of the sale: the customer. Not all illegal drugs sold in Newark by Newarkers are sold to Newarkers. The “demand side”–the people who do the buying–are an essential part of the equation. That means people who live in towns nearby contribute to the statistic without ever being cited in it.
Violence is an effect of many causes: some specific to the situations and people immediately involved, but many others that are further away from violent incidents in location and in time. Location-based crime statistics tell us something about the location of effects, but not much at all about the varied locations of the causes.
#6: Not all crimes are reported
This one is pretty self-explanatory. In fact, the name of the FBI report containing violent crime data is, “Offenses Known to Law Enforcement.” Agencies like the FBI can only rank cities and otherwise report crime data based on crimes they know about.
The next time you encounter any statistic, and especially a crime statistic, sit that statistic down for an interview, and ask it some tough questions. Our understanding, and misunderstanding, of what these numbers mean can affect our relationship to our neighbors and our neighborhoods. They can also affect the ways we try to solve some of our most urgent problems.
*The background behind Newark trends and news
Lean Startup has been the talk of the business and startup world since the book that bears its name was published in 2011, and it has been a notable presence in Newark since early 2013. But what is it, how does it work, what benefits could it confer to Newark-based businesses, and how can local entrepreneurs get involved?
What it is
Lean Startup is a business methodology pioneered by Eric Ries, a serial entrepreneur who uncovered this startup process in the course of failing and succeeding with his own businesses.
In his book The Lean Startup, Ries defines a startup as “an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” Because of that uncertainty, he says, jumping to conclusions about what a new business’ customers want and need, and how to deliver it, can be very risky and ineffective for an entrepreneur.
In fact, Ries says entrepreneurs’ false sense of certainty about what customers want is one of the primary reasons many of them fail. The “allure of a good plan, a solid strategy, and solid market research” can lead them down the wrong path, he says, because that preparation might be setting entrepreneurs up for a business that has no real future.
Instead, Ries says entrepreneurs should follow the “build-measure-learn” cadence for building their business.
First, entrepreneurs should define what they think the customer problem or need is, and then create a “minimum viable product” (MVP) that addresses it. This is a product that has just enough features for initial customers to be able to give feedback and react to it. Sometimes, early customers will even pay for a minimum viable product. Getting an MVP in front of potential customers early lets entrepreneurs expend the least possible time and energy to start learning what their potential customers want them to create.
BrickCityLive.com exists because we saw a gap in news coverage about Newark. But if we were wrong about that assumption, we could have wasted a lot of time creating a website and reporting and publishing stories that nobody read. How could we have made sure people wanted what we were offering before creating the website? Our minimum viable product could have been a weekly email newsletter with just one or two news stories in it, or a Facebook page where we posted updates about Newark written by other journalists.
Second, entrepreneurs should get that MVP in front of a few potential customers, and gather customer feedback. This feedback isn’t just what customers say about the product — it’s also how they use it, which aspects they use and which they ignore, and other information that entrepreneurs can only gather if they’ve put a product or service in front of actual people.
If Brick City Live had started as a newsletter, our “feedback” could be which types of headlines got people to open our emails more often, or which types of people opened them. If we’d started as a Facebook page, our “feedback” could be what age groups liked our page, and which types of posts got the most “likes” and shares.
Third, based on customer feedback, figure out what to keep, what to adjust, and what to throw away — or if the business idea is completely off-base.
Brick City Live might have found out that older audiences like education stories, and younger ones like business stories. Or that audiences read stories about politics if the stories are presented as lists, but not so much if they’re written in paragraphs. Based on that feedback, we’d have a better idea of where to focus once we built the actual website. We would be less likely to spend time and effort writing stories people won’t care about.
After adjusting the product based on the customer feedback, the cycle of putting the product in front of customers starts again. Once BrickCityLive.com has a website, we’d continue to look at website data and listen out for customer feedback to refine what we do.
Businesses that follow Lean Startup should require less money to get started, spend less time developing products their consumers don’t want, and can even make money from early customers.
If a business is destined to fail, this method enables that to happen before the entrepreneur has invested too much time, energy, and money into it. And if the method is followed correctly, the entrepreneur should also leave the experience with new knowledge that might help them with their next venture.
Here in Newark
Newark city council candidate Lynda Lloyd chats with developer Gabriela Levit at a Lean Startup social event at Center Stage Cuts in Newark. August 29, 2013
Lean Startup organizers around the world host three-day workshops where aspiring entrepreneurs form teams and put Lean Startup into practice under the guidance of startup coaches. They’re encouraged to “get out of the building” to start talking to potential customers and validating their ideas very quickly. The weekend culminates with the teams’ presentations of their results, which is judged by a panel of entrepreneurs and other key figures in the business community.
Steve Royster, who was at the time a venture officer at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, and was working on a business idea himself, brought Lean Startup Machine to Newark. Its first three-day workshop took place from March 1-3 of 2013, the second was November 8-10, 2013 at SEED Gallery, the third: November 7-9, 2014 at =Space. This year’s Lean Startup tickets cost up to $150, with discounts for those that signed up early.
Royster stepped down as organizer in May of 2014, and his co-organizer, singer-songwriter and tech enthusiast April Peters, took the reigns as organizer once he left. BrickCityLive.com published a story about the fall 2013 Lean Startup weekend, discussing how the workshops exposed potential entrepreneurs from outside of the city to the possible advantages of launching businesses in Newark.
Lean Newark also hosts more regular programming through its meetup group, including workshops and social events.
*The background behind Newark trends and news
Pop-up shops. Perhaps you’ve seen a flyer or email announcing one of these around town. But what is a pop-up shop, and why have they become a trend?
What they are
Pop-ups are short-term physical stores where one or more sellers offer their wares. These temporary stores can be co-located in other retail stores, or in galleries, converted shipping containers, street markets, church basements — just about anywhere.
A pop-up shop inside a converted shipping container in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: Andaiye Taylor
Although seasonal stores aren’t new, shops that sell goods that would appear in regular retail stores or boutiques year-round trace back fairly recently — to the nineties.
According to the New York Times, Vacant store owner Russ Miller went to Japan in 1999 and witnessed a version of the concept there. He tried to launch a pop-up retail space in London two years later, but with great difficulty. In 2003, he perfected his formula in New York City when he opened a shop for 30 days at 43 Mercer Street. What made the store popular? Not only did it have items people wanted, but shoppers had to be “in the loop” to know it even existed.
Today, many entrepreneurs who launch pop-up shops aren’t interested in secrecy, but the shops offer lots of other benefits to owners. They can help kickstart a business, even if it will be a mostly online business; they can be a great publicity tool; they can create urgency due to their short-term nature; they can help entrepreneurs test-drive a particular location or a partnership; and they can help them test products by observing what sells, and by talking directly to customers.
Here in Newark
Here’s what the entrepreneurs behind some of Newark’s upcoming pop-up shops have to say about why they chose this method for showcasing their products.
Upcoming pop-up shops in Newark:
- Geek Supply Co. Pop-up: Saturday, November 1, 2014, 11 a.m., Center Stage Cuts (402 Broad Street)
- HelloBeautiful Pop-up Shop: Thursdays – Saturdays, November 29 (Black Friday) – December 20, 12 – 7 p.m., Gallery Aferro (73 Market Street)
- Brick City Varsity: Thursdays, 5 – 8 p.m., 58 Park Supper Club (58 Park Place)