Given such a statistic, it’s no surprise Reading suffers a higher-than-average crime rate. That in turn leads to a perception among residents of surrounding Berks County boroughs and townships that a trip into the city is akin to passing through the gates of Mordor.
I grew up in the northwest section of Reading and except for a few years in Los Angeles, I’ve lived and/or worked here most of my life. These days I reside in a township on the outskirts, about a 10-minute drive from the downtown. But I frequently come into the city for banking, shopping and visits to a pair of fine libraries, the Reading Public Library and the Yocum Library at Reading Area Community College. Four or five times a week I park downtown and couple my daily errands with a brisk exercise walk.
I feel as safe in downtown Reading as I feel most anywhere else. And I don’t carry a light saber for protection.
Does the city have dangerous streets and neighborhoods, places that encourage wariness? Of course. Just about every urban area has enclaves where a solitary walker, particularly after dark, is at higher risk for morphing into a crime statistic. But for downtown Reading, the fear seems out of proportion to the reality.
A few years ago, while a staff writer at the region’s primary newspaper, the Reading Eagle, I gave driving directions over the phone to a woman who lived in the western suburbs. She needed to get to a location on the far eastern edge of the city but demanded a convoluted route that did not cross Reading’s perimeter until the last possible instant. I tried to talk her into a simpler and more direct course, but her terror at risking an urban incursion was too great.
The fear isn’t unique to females. I’ve encountered men with Readingaphobia as well.
It’s a shame. The downtown offers a wealth of attractions: a sports arena, concert venues, an arts center and the county’s sole Imax theater, not to mention fine restaurants, specialty stores and a bakery whose sweet smells often scent the air.
I don’t consider myself especially brave. Many things frighten me: space invaders, rampaging dinosaurs, citizens who distort logic in order to deny such realities as evolution and global warming. But I’m not afraid to walk the streets of my hometown.