by Greg Saville
Seasonal celebrations are now underway. Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and National Don’t Make Your Bed Day (Yes, there is such a thing! I’m a believer). Each event celebrates a different aspect of life – seasonal, religious, cultural – and, in so doing, each celebrates our human community. Given the mess that is 2020 - inequity protests around the world, the Racial Reckoning riots in the United States, and the scourge of COVID-19 - we desperately need to celebrate something this year!
Human “community” is an elusive animal. It means different things to different people, and consequently, it means nothing that you can put your finger on. Of course, since we’re not testing a theory in a lab experiment, who cares? It’s okay that we have regular celebrations of community; it’s needed now more than ever.
To some, “community” is their immediate family and circle of friends. (I’ve been particularly lucky in this regard.) For others, it is their social circle or their affiliation with sports teams. To yet others, it is those who share political affinities or who occupy the thousands of groups in Meetup.com.
TO EACH, HIS-HER OWN
For my part, I recently became obsessed with a YouTube group that takes virtual rides on famous trains around the world (yes, yes… I know how pathetic and uncool that sounds. COVID cabin fever takes a toll!)
Yet there is another important part of this story worth telling. For those of us in the community-building and crime prevention world, the term “community” is too elusive. We prefer using local geography to describe our neighborhood – those buildings, neighbors, parks, shops, and other places within a 15-minute walk of our home. After all, it is within those neighborhoods where we actually live much of our lives.
Our immediate neighbors, for better or worse, matter a great deal! And it is in those very places where we experience, recover from, or hide from, crime and fear. Mateja Mihinjac and I describe some of these ideas in our Third Generation CPTED article last year.
Neighborhoods matter and neighbors matter. So let’s celebrate our neighbors too during this holiday season. I’ve been fortunate to have some great neighbors over the years. We may not always agree about politics or see eye-to-eye on our philosophy of life, but we agree it is important to be a good neighbor. When neighborliness works well, it costs you little, it means a lot, and it contributes to your quality of life. In an upcoming blog, Mateja will describe how we encourage neighborhood engagement. In the meantime, let's celebrate our neighbors.
To the great neighborhoods and to the great neighbors who care, thanks. You rock!
by Gregory Saville
As our COVID ravaged cities impose social isolation, working-from-home, and cabin fever, those who live in high-density apartments and housing developments must be confident they are safe from crime and violence. And, more than ever before, residents must feel their home is a sanctuary. Crime prevention through environmental design - CPTED - is an ideal answer for these difficult times, especially 2nd Generation CPTED and SafeGrowth.
Next Thursday, Dec 17, I and some colleagues are running a free educational webinar for property managers, realtors, and housing groups seeking residential safety. The “Virtual Property Management and Safety Summit” is sponsored by real estate safety expert, Tracey “the safety lady” Hawkins.
THE ANTI-CPTED MEME
All this stands in stark contrast to recent calls for the abolition of CPTED from municipal codes and city planning due to the perception that CPTED can exclude minorities from public life. Consider the Vancouver City Planning Commission website or articles by Bryan Lee Jr in Bloomberg City Lab website.
According to Lee:
“While CPTED principles are said to help discourage crime by orienting building windows and entrances to aid in providing “eyes on the street” that monitor activity, in practice this strategy can end up serving the same suppressive purpose as stop-and-frisk policing — to assure that anyone considered suspicious is made to feel uncomfortable.”
The solution, say these latter-day gurus who would protect us from the current Racial Reckoning, is to abolish CPTED, a crime prevention strategy that has brought safety and security to millions of citizens all over the world – as you will discover by reading some of the hundreds of scientific publications regarding CPTED.
ABOLITION OR ACCREDITATION?
In my view, CPTED is not the problem. For example, while aspirin has been an effective pain remedy for over a thousand years, improper use can result in overdose and stomach problems. The solution is not to abolish aspirin. Same with CPTED. It is vulnerable to improper use by poorly trained practitioners. No doubt some practitioners indiscriminately lock and fence properties without regard to alternative options. CPTED can produce racial exclusion if placed into the wrong, untrained hands. But the solution isn’t abolition. It’s proper training and certification through legitimate accredited courses – the very thing the ICA has offered for years.
In his 1972 landmark book “Defensible Space”, architect Oscar Newman wrote
"The question to be asked is how does one initially achieve thoughtful building groupings rather than having to resort to barbed-wire fences and locks after the fact?"
One answer appeared on the International CPTED Association’s “Special ICA Webinar: Exclusion versus Inclusion – In CPTED Everyone Has a role”.
On Thursday, Dec. 17, we will provide another during our Safety Summit.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
Around this time last year, I wrote a blog about self-care and new year’s resolutions. I suggested that the best self-care we could engage in, was to take care of others. Through connection and social engagement, we not only are happier and healthier, but we even live longer.
This year, such a suggestion may seem out of touch with reality. The second wave of COVID-19 is well underway in many North American and European neighbourhoods and many places are, once again, increasing social distancing restrictions and locking down. While the promise of the vaccine is on the horizon, most people are preparing for a quiet holiday season that doesn’t involve much social interaction.
These steps are necessary to keep people safe until the vaccine is easily accessible and widely distributed. However, it is hard not to feel a bit distraught at the thought of spending the holidays separated from family and friends.
While we often think about how this pandemic has affected our personal lives, this time of year encourages us to think outwards. For many, the holidays are a time to volunteer and give back. But, COVID-19 has changed this as well.
This was made clear to me when I reached out to a local homelessness charity to donate some clothing and other necessities. Although grateful for any support, the charity has been unable to accept any physical donations in months. The pandemic has made it impossible for them to pass along these donations safely and in keeping with the restrictions.
Furthermore, many of the ways in which these charities have supported their clients in the past, from offering clothing and supplies, to providing crisis housing has changed. All of this work requires additional personal protective equipment and financial support for food and shelter costs.
Most donation drives and volunteer supports have been reduced or eliminated due to restrictions on what can be accepted and how many people can be in a space. For example, Signal Fire, a well-known homeless charity here in Brisbane, has had to shut down or scale back their barbecues. These barbecues not only provide much-needed food and supplies to their clients, but also a chance for social interaction, support, and connection.
While the pandemic has affected all of us, this has been more dramatic than ever for society’s “underclass.” Beyond basic necessities, we also need connection and interaction to stay healthy and happy. For our most vulnerable, these opportunities are all but gone.
As the pandemic persists, those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home, support ourselves and see our friends and family over skype and zoom, may also want to take this opportunity to redirect what we would have spent on big holiday dinners and presents for our extended family and donate that money to a local shelter or charity. These services need financial support to continue their missions and connect with their clients. That connection has never been more important than it is now.
by Mateja Mihinjac
As winter is fast approaching in the northern hemisphere the trees are losing their colorful blankets of leaves. Coupled with that come cloudy overcast or foggy days with short pockets of sunshine signaling the dreary months ahead when we’d rather stay indoors than be exposed to the monotone grey outside.
However, it turns out there might be ways to break the bland world of winter and introduce some color into our neighborhoods to influence our mood and emotions.
Environmental color psychology research shows color can be used effectively to create emotional responses at conscious and unconscious levels.
In simplified terms, red, orange, and yellow colors create a stimulating cognitive response whereas green and blue have a calming effect on our nervous system. This is an evolutionary adaptation that once helped us survive, but is also is an effective strategy to stimulate desired moods in outdoor spaces.
The commercial, design, and health industry has been using this knowledge with great success to promote revenue and to elicit desired emotional responses by incorporating designs that connect us to nature, what is known as biophilic designs.
None of this is a new idea. Ethnic neighborhoods have been using colors for years to showcase their cultural identity and tradition. For example, "Chinatown's” or “Little Italy's” are often characterized by red color whereas "Greek Town's" are wrapped in blue/white designs and blue light installations. This creates a sense of identity and neighborhood attachment for people of that neighborhood’s heritage.
It turns out color psychology might also play a role in crime prevention.
COLOR PSYCHOLOGY AND CRIME
Understanding the importance of a person-environment interaction was the message of CPTED pioneer, C. Ray Jeffery, who emphasized that we must appreciate how external and internal stimuli affect our brain’s response to the environment.
There is anecdotal evidence from Glasgow, Scotland showing how blue color lights might help with suicide and crime prevention. Reports of lower crime rates and increased community ownership also emerged after the mayor of Tirana, Albania decided to use bold color design on many of the city’s buildings.
More detailed research on the color/crime prevention story is, as yet, scarce and inconclusive, but one fact remains: reports from all over the world indicate that residents respond positively to colorfulness and even crave opportunities to partake in them.
COLORING NEIGHBOURHOOD LIVEABILITY
While bringing color to the neighborhood might be an effective solution to generate interesting places that promote social interaction, such initiatives also offer a great opportunity to work in partnerships with local residents and co-create these colorful places together.
One great example is the Intersection Repair Project that creates colorful neighborhood intersections and combines that with residents who co-design their own streets. A few years later, our SafeGrowth team from Christchurch, New Zealand, successfully used the same approach for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere.
Of course, coloring neighborhoods does not magically solve neighborhood crime. We still need research on the internal workings of how our brain interprets these places – what Jeffery called internal cognition and internal environment. We have only recently seen reignited academic interest in this topic, for example, our recent study on Third Generation CPTED.
In this new approach, we link internal cognition to Maslow’s theory of human motivation. We emphasize that every high functioning neighborhood should offer opportunities for satisfying both individual and collective needs. Satisfying those needs at the neighborhood level is an important factor in neighborhood liveability. Colorful design throughout our daily public life that elicits positive moods may go a long way to satisfy at least some liveability objectives.
by Gerard Cleveland and Gregory Saville
NOTE: My colleague Gerard Cleveland and I co-wrote this second part of last week's blog on “Defund the Police”. Gerry is a frequent contributor to the SafeGrowth blog. He is an attorney, a specialist in school violence, and the co-chair of the Police Society for Problem-Based Learning.
Occasionally, SafeGrowth programmers benefit from exceptional problem-solving police officers. Other times they get little help from the police. When that happens, residents ask questions such as: Where are the police? Why are we spending so much on policing services? What is wrong?
Why does a disconnect exist between what works to make communities safe and what currently occurs within policing? In our view, the systemic blockages first emerge within the academy. And since training serves as the entry point to police subculture, we must start reforms at that early stage if we hope to create a different style of police service.
THE ROLE OF TRAINING
Over the past twenty-five years, we have taught thousands of police, federal agents, military units, and security personnel from across the globe. We find a disturbing commonality exists among most police training academies from places as diverse as the United States, Canada, Australia, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea or Qatar.
Why disturbing? Because most policing academies today hold four prevalent and dangerous myths. Police leaders and academy directors think these myths are unassailable truths. They are wrong.
POLICE TRAINING MYTH #1
Academy instructors have no choice but to lecture to ensure that they get as much information to the recruits as possible. They do not have time to do otherwise. They must follow legally prescribed, State and Federal regulations and therefore lecturing serves as the most expedient method to get all the required information to the recruits. They assure everyone that they would like to do more adult learning and problem-solving in the classroom, but such efforts “take too much time.”
This “no time to train properly” mantra undermines the long-term success of new employees. If the objectives of the academy genuinely state a clear intention to focus on student learning, then agency and academy leaders must abandon their ineffective instructor-focused lessons and institute problem solving and adult learning strategies.
We described antidotes to this absurd “no time” mantra in our book You In Blue and in our work on National programs that we wrote such as Police Training Officer and Police PBL: Blueprint for The 21st Century.
POLICE TRAINING MYTH #2
Defensive tactics and weapons training necessarily fill a substantial portion of the academy agenda because of the inherent dangers on the street that officers will face from day 1 of their careers.
Defensive tactics (DT) and firearms instructors have hijacked police training schedules and are responsible for much of the fear that exists both within the force and throughout the community. The DT and firearms instructors may have good intentions, but they are doing serious damage to the profession and to police-community relations.
We must stop allowing tactical or firearms instructors to “call the shots” when it comes to crisis training. These instructors are important and they provide a necessary skill, but their mandate must include broad-spectrum problem-solving options, coupled with a focus on working collaboratively with community crisis providers (such as mental health professionals) prior to, during and after violent escalation. Firearms and DT instructors should be trained extensively on the impacts that shootings, violence and vehicle accidents involving police have on the officers as well as the community.
POLICE TRAINING MYTH #3
Discipline and adherence to a para-military code of behavior in the academy builds character, cohesion, respect for agency hierarchy and fosters professional pride among the recruits.
This is blue babble!
The concept that we must break down and then build up a new employee makes little sense when recruiters claim they hire only the best candidates. Boot camp may work for soldiers, but police must work within communities, engage intelligently and problem-solve cooperatively.
Yelling and shouting at new employees and telling them they know nothing achieves little except to waste precious training time and stoke the egos of the instructors doing the yelling. Further, we argue it creates an unhealthy role model in the minds of the recruits as to how they should treat people over whom they have power.
POLICE TRAINING MYTH #4
Police trainers should discourage recruits from questioning orders, engaging in divergent thinking and challenging up the chain of command. Those practices increase dangers to officers because they may not, at critical times, follow orders when required to do so.
Discipline within the ranks serves as a safety mechanism for agencies and instilling that obligation to authority must begin at the academy.
No one doubts the need for discipline and following orders. These requirements exist in all professions and occupations. Numerous professionals learn to respect authority while engaging with each other to solve problems and employing problem-solving/adult learning methods in their training. Why then do police academies spend so much time on artificial discipline when there are much better techniques to enable self-controlled and socially motivated police officers who think critically?
REPLACING BLUE BABBLE MYTHS WITH TRUTHS
Public safety agencies need to work as part of the communities they serve, not apart from them. They must do more than spout community problem-solving and catchwords in their mission statements and public speeches. Agencies must adopt those methods as their primary style of policing. For decades this has been the central goal of the Problem-Oriented Policing movement and the Police Society for Problem-Based Learning.
Those are the movements that police leaders, political representatives and particularly police trainers need to support.
On many police vehicles it reads “to serve and protect.” The logical question arises, “how can the police serve and protect the public from a distance with officers clad in camo clothing, carrying tactical gear and framing interactions with the public as perilous to the officer’s survival?” The incessant high alert, ‘fear factor’ that has crept into police work – again perpetuated at the academy – has led officers to spend far too little time working directly with residents on local crime and violence concerns.
We will not achieve different responses from our police agencies so long as police leaders allocate inordinate amounts of resources to security and suppression equipment as well as tactical training and so little time to community engagement initiatives. We propose that diverting funds to problem-solving training in cooperation with the community will not only garner better crime reduction, but it will enhance police and community cooperation, trust and positive engagement.
If city managers and police leaders fail to act, the noise from the activist groups calling to Defund the Police will grow louder and soon begin to resonate with more and more reasonable, pro-police members of the community. The time for the combat cop has ended. We should reinvent the age when officers and the community work together to make neighborhoods safe for both the police and the public.
by Greg Saville
These are trying times, a statement that qualifies as the understatement of the year! This is especially so when it comes to policing and racial protest. While protests and riots are a global phenomenon – especially recently in places like Hong Kong, Europe, and South America – in the past few months the latest Ground Zero for police and racial unrest is in the USA.
Since May, America has seen over 14,000 arrests during protests in 49 American cities, extremist violence caused by racist groups like the Alt-Right, and the Black Lives Matter movement protesting police shootings of unarmed black men.
And now Defund The Police!
I attended a police meeting recently in which I listened to suggestions to modify warrior-style training and rebrand police services in response to this turbulence. It felt like we were arguing over where to place our beach towel to keep the sand off while ignoring the roaring Tsunami about to crash onto us and wash us out to sea.
Over 20 major city police chiefs have resigned in the past few months, including Rene Hall, the African-American chief in Dallas, Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, and other chiefs in Rochester, Richmond, Louisville, Detroit, Milwaukee, Portland, and even Toronto, as the racial protests spread to Canada.
Clearly, this is not a beach-towel-moment in history. What is to be done with the police?
Since the 1980s, police reformers have worked diligently to transform police practices from rigid law enforcement-warrior style policing, to community-based problem-solving. For over two decades, I have worked alongside some of the best and brightest police officials and reformers in the world to do just that – people who I respect and who I know care deeply for both the police profession and safer, more just, communities.
Sadly, in my estimation, since at least since 9-11, the movement towards community policing has reversed and lately, it has collapsed. I speak in admittedly simplistic terms, but it seems to me that the warrior cop has commandeered the community cop. Almost in response, the defund-the-police movement represents a belated and instinctive reply to that illicit expropriation.
I have read books explaining why community police reform faltered since the 1980s, for example, Malcolm Sparrow's, Handcuffed: What Holds Policing Reform Back and the Keys to Reform. I also have read far-fetched books describing the End Of Policing. But watching police/race riots on the news this week (the latest in Philadelphia), those books now seem much less far-fetched.
THE TSUNAMI ARRIVES
And now where are we?
Forbes magazine described the immediate impact of defunding the police. In a dozen cities, municipal leaders have committed to defund, or reallocate, over a half-billion dollars in police service budgets thus far. This includes over $300 million in New York City, over $100 million in Austin, Texas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, over $10 million in Oakland, Seattle, Washington DC, Baltimore, Portland, Philadelphia, and over $1 million in Hartford and Salt Lake City.
We are told police services are already underfunded and cops are working harder than ever, running call-to-call. Perhaps that’s true. But, if so, it is only half the story.
SAFEGROWTH IN ACTION
Here is what I know for certain: In two different cities, we recently taught SafeGrowth programs to local residents, shopowners, and community groups. This included how to create action plans to cut crimes in different high crime neighborhoods – a topic in which you’d think the police have a powerful vested interest (the training was free and they had plenty of prior notice). We ended up with two local cops at one and none at the other. The police agencies in question each employed over a thousand cops on staff.
We got two.
Maybe they were understaffed and too busy to attend. But still! We were cutting crime at the roots with proven, evidence-based methods. We were teaching residents how to partner with police (and vice versa) in order to create safer neighborhoods in crime hotspots. This is the very goal that defund-the-police advocates seek!
There is an American national election next week and this tsunami will crash upon those who win it. Much is at stake.
Next blog: What can be done?
by Tarah Hodgkinson
In our SafeGrowth work, we aim to help people create integrated neighbourhoods inclusive of race, class, age, and ethnicity. We strive to promote the development of local leadership in order to attend to the needs of all residents. Most importantly, the grass-roots leaders and mentors in SafeGrowth neighbourhoods also show up in the amazing ways they build local safety and liveability every day.
I recently spoke with a community that was lamenting about the fact that Indigenous youth do not have clearly defined elders. I started thinking about the role of elders more broadly, in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and the important role they play in social cohesion and livability.
When we think of elders, we often think of Indigenous leaders who have been appointed to represent their community. They are individuals who governments and organizations can turn to in order to liaise with the group or community. For example, Indigenous leaders, as we define them today, often fill a political post that fits colonial and government needs for representation.
However, the history of elders points to leaders and mentors who emerge organically. These elders did not represent their community or have any authority. Rather they were recognized as advice-givers. According to one author, they developed slowly, asked good questions, had knowledge and were revealed by deed.
Elders are, in many ways, mentors. They hold knowledge, give advice, and care for others. And both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities need these leaders. Mentoring is one of the most consistent protective factors against offending. As noted by criminologist Irvin Waller, one good mentor can help pull a young person out of a potential life of crime.
STIFLING MENTORSHIP BY DESIGN
But the ways in which we currently set up our neighbourhoods and communities remove opportunities for the emergence of mentors and elders. In Our Kids, Robert Putnam talks extensively about how geographical divides along race and class lines have created neighbourhoods and communities in which young people never meet potential mentors or elders. He goes on to explain how this further polarizes and marginalizes certain areas so that they may never pull themselves out of poverty or cycles of crime.
When we design neighbourhood living so that it stifles the personal mentorship of elders, we ourselves commit a kind of crime: we rob young people of the opportunity to connect with another generation. It’s no wonder they often feel disassociated from neighbourhood and family life.
by Mateja Mihinjac
This week I came across a recent study suggesting that economic factors are a stronger predictor of prosocial behaviour than “urbanicity” – living in either an urban or non-urban area.
This spiked my interest because we commonly hear that small towns have close-knit communities and always-helpful residents. Yet, at a recent International Colloquium in which our SafeGrowth team presented our findings from rural environments, one of the common threads throughout the whole Colloquium was that small towns and rural communities deal with similar crime and safety challenges to larger cities.
They are not the idyllic communities romanticized about in movies and novels. Perhaps there is more to it than neighbourhood size and population density?
The study, “Neighbourhood wealth, not urbanicity, predicts prosociality towards strangers” looked at prosocial attitudes across 37 different UK neighbourhoods of various sizes. In each neighbourhood, it measured whether:
It turned out that rural or urban characteristics were less important than expected. Rather than urban characteristics (“urbanicity”) – that might contribute to anonymity and diffusion of responsibility thus resulting in reduced willingness to assist others – it was actually economic deprivation that was the strongest predictor of prosocial attitudes and willingness to assist.
While these findings might not translate into different contexts across the world (rural areas in the UK are less deprived than their urban counterparts), they do suggest that it is neighbourhood liveability that results in collective prosocial attitudes, in both rural and urban places.
It seems counterintuitive to expect that people living in deprived neighbourhoods are concerned with anything other than basic survival needs. How can they direct their energy into their neighbourhood when they are competing for available resources needed to survive?
Living in a deprived neighbourhood also means that residents are less likely to share the same expectations about the neighbourhood or to trust and work collectively towards common goals. That is why rural or urban, it is neighbourhood trust, shared expectations, and working together that helps build a socially cohesive and liveable neighbourhood.
As we describe in Third Generation CPTED, it is neighbourhood liveability that best improves the conditions that will advance neighbourhoods from a Basic level to Moderate and Advanced levels. We learned long ago that improving neighbourhood liveability provides residents and community workers an effective goal for targeted community development work.
The most powerful approach for improving liveability and prosocial attitudes is through organized neighbourhood action with the emphasis on building local capacity. This recent study provides yet more research support for our real-life discoveries about what makes places safer.
by Gregory Saville
Many years ago I spoke to Paolo Soleri, the visionary (and apparently flawed) architect who created arcology, the marrying of architecture and ecology into a new type of city.
I met him at Arcosanti, his experimental city lab in the Arizona desert, and asked him where, among his artistic walls, curved roof apses, and dense architecture, did he plan to include greenery, parks and nature trails? He replied that arcologies attempt to build high density in every direction, including vertically, but do so by leaving nature alone as much as possible. However, Soleri assured me, access to nature will be easier in an arcology because no arcology dweller will ever be more than a kilometer from nature, untouched and pure – parks, streams, and forests.
That was an inspiring vision, one that seems far away today. I’m unsure how realistic, or desirable, it is to remove nature from within cities, especially given the many environmental and psychological reasons for walkable green space as Stephen Mouzon reports in his book The Original Green.
As we describe in Third Generation CPTED, nature, parks, trails and greenways have a deep psychological role in creating safe places and they will remain an important asset within large cities – whether it's New York’s Central Park or the massive Stanley Park in Vancouver. This is especially true in a time of COVID when everyone wants to get out from cabin fever.
What about crime along those trails? Park pathways, greenways and nature trails are known in the CPTED business as “movement predictors”, sometimes called architectural desire lines. It is possible to design movement predictors safely or otherwise (unintentionally), depending on where and how designers construct them.
A few years ago, we were asked to help design a Rails to Trails bikeway from a California train station through some very high crime neighborhoods. The project never happened, but it became clear to me that the single most important method for designing safe movement predictors is insuring users of those spaces are part of the design process. That's why it is such a central feature of all SafeGrowth programming.
Collaborative design far surpasses the landscape architect’s penchant to look for published design guidelines, design the trail, show residents the results afterward, and hope for the best.
Our COVID world is creating a powerful impetus for city dwellers all over the world to take to the trails and experience nature. That is a good thing. Let’s ensure those trails are shared and safe.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
September marks suicide prevention month. Numerous events and strategies are popping up around the world from RU OK? Day in Australia to #Bethe1To in the United States. All of these strategies are attempting to address suicide and mental health.
In many of the neighbourhoods where we work, suicide and mental health is a common topic. Indeed, I spent time with a rural community a few weeks ago in which residents recounted the loss of several young lives to suicide. This has only been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19 related to social isolation and financial insecurity. Fortunately, there are suicide prevention strategies that can make a difference.
Suicide prevention can take many forms. Target hardening approaches try to increase the effort to take one’s life in the hopes of saving lives by making suicide more difficult.
Some of these efforts include physical barriers, such as fencing on tall bridges to prevent jumping. Others are somewhat unintentional, such as removing carbon monoxide from domestic gas supplies in the UK that resulted in almost a 100% decrease in suicides by gas poisoning.
HOW, BUT NOT WHY
While these kinds of target hardening prevention strategies are useful, and often successful, they do not address the why of suicide. Suicide is often the last resort, an attempt to escape inconceivable pain and trauma. This pain and trauma do not occur in a vacuum but are influenced by a person’s mental health and their environment. One example is long-term mental health problems arising from adolescent bullying in the neighborhood. Another example is adverse childhood experiences within the family.
Clearly, suicide prevention can do much more than a marketing campaign to tell people to reach out, or by making suicide more difficult.
While the risk factors for suicide range from individual to ecological, there are numerous ways that we can make our neighbourhoods and communities more resilient to suicide. These include structural changes such as affordable and accessible housing and shelter, paying people a living wage, creating neighborhood opportunities for youth and the elderly and inexpensive access to health care including locally-based, mental health and trauma-informed care.
If we are to fully address and mitigate suicide, these structural changes are integral in the creation of a healthy neighborhood.
Healthy and liveable neighbourhoods, where people are connected, cohesive and cared for play an important role in improving mental health and preventing suicide. And we all have a role to play in that kind of prevention.
by Gregory Saville
Today I spoke to some colleagues in Europe about teaching a virtual course in SafeGrowth to students at a Swedish Technical University. It was remarkable in a number of ways. First, although cultural differences between countries make it difficult to apply anything from one place to another, I was amazed at the many similarities between different people in different cultures. It seems we are not all that different.
But it was another dimension to our conversation that struck me as surreal.
We were using Zoom, speaking in real-time, watching each other’s expressions thousands of miles, and many times zones apart. We showed different images on our computer files and used shared digital calendars to plan the workshop. I had never before met one of those colleagues and yet here we were, quite comfortable getting to share ideas and stories.
We dialed into our call as easy as changing chairs in a coffee shop. There was no difficulty or stress in setting up the meeting (aside from me fumbling with the wrong dial-in code). There was no fear of sharing with someone I had never before met in person.
Such is the reality of daily living in, not only a pandemic, but in the second decade of the 21st Century.
You may think that is all so, well, ho-hum. But it is actually quite remarkable!
FLASHBACK TO 1961
It's a hot and muggy summer afternoon in 1961 and journalist Jane Jacobs is banging away on her Underwood typewriter in New York’s Greenwich Village. Her ideas will later turn into one of the most famous urban reform books of her generation “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. Consider the reality of her world at that time, only one lifetime ago.
Overseas commercial jet travel was less than a decade old and a rare event for average citizens. Propeller airplanes were commonly used for overseas travel. Passenger ships were popular for commercial passage to and from Europe (I travelled to Britain on one as a kid 6 years later). Television was a novelty and broadcast in black-and-white. TV signals arrived via cumbersome TV “rabbit ears”.
Suffice to say the internet and computers did not exist for private citizens. Laptop computers would not be invented for decades to come. For entertainment and amusement, kids would go outside and play. Just imagine! Music was unrecognizable compared to what airs today – the Beatles appearance in the U.S. was still 3 years away.
In many neighborhoods, ice trucks transported huge ice blocks for home freezer boxes. Widely distributed electronic refrigerators were just being manufactured. Milk arrived at the front door of many homes in the form of a milkman placing milk bottles on your doorstep. Newspapers were delivered by the paperboy to each doorstep and the main source for immediate news was radio.
During hot and muggy days of a New York summer, apartments like those of Jacobs became sweltering ovens, even with fans and open windows. Air conditioning units were far too large for common use – the rotary compressor was invented only four years earlier.
Crime flourished in many neighborhood pockets and, in the decades that followed, many American cities, in particular, would experience an unimaginable explosion of urban crime. The justice system of 1961 was, frankly, utterly unprepared for the crime storm on the horizon.
Now fast forward 60 years from today to 2080!
What new technologies will shape daily lives? How will we travel and how will we communicate? Will this pandemic, or the next, force us into permanent social distances and some futuristic face covering? Will personal intimacy be relegated to staged meet-ups and software date matching? We have worked with the Swedish Helsingborg City 2022 Smart City initiative and they ask these very questions about our cities of tomorrow.
What will our streets and neighborhoods look like? Will we get climate change under control or will the number and intensity of weather catastrophes erase coastal cities and trigger mass migrations like never before in history? Or will renewable technologies create electric vehicles and flying drones to transport us in highways in the sky? Certainly, those technologies are already in our grasp. Will artificial technologies transform our cities into Smart Cities in which we need no longer worry about car crashes, traffic jams, or traffic? Will cars exist?
The technologies we take for granted today would be fantastical to the Jane Jacobs of 1961. As she pounded away at her typewriter in a humid and stuffy hot New York afternoon, today’s world would be as alien as a Martian from the 1950s science fiction film, War of the Worlds.
If we are to believe Einstein (I place my bets on Albert), then time travel is quite impossible. So, there is no way to know what will unfold by 2080. Some of you reading these words will be alive to see those times and I wonder what you will see.
Today, as I chatted with friends far away, with technologies unimaginable long ago, it occurred that the ideas we develop, the actions we take, and the virtual courses we teach, represent an important drop in the proverbial pond of time. Jacobs wrote well. We learn from her words even today. For the sake of our progeny, may we offer the same kind of wisdom for their future!
By Mateja Mihinjac
During coronavirus lockdowns, there is much talk about essential and frontline workers and how we depend on their services. Indeed, they have been paramount in supporting us for many months.
After weeks of the crisis, essential workers are exhausted from working overtime. Many others in lockdown, quarantine, shelter in place, or any other manifestation of physical distancing, experience psychological effects of cabin fever.
In this new reality, many of us experience mental tension and emotional distress, in some cases resulting from the serious psychological impacts of isolation, including depression and anxiety.
It is no surprise that so many of us are finding ways to alleviate these symptoms through nature. Green urban parks are busy offering refuge for local residents during sunny days. In my own neighbourhood I regularly meet walkers and hikers despite being instructed to stay home. Similarly, people in our coastal towns cannot resist outdoor sun craving while lying on the beach – many were fined for doing so during stay-at-home orders.
Others feared the consequences and remained at home.
As I noted in March in my blog on Resilience during COVID, in European countries such as Italy, France, and Spain that practice stricter forms of lockdowns, thousands of residents sit on their (often tiny) balconies to enjoy the fresh air, soak in some sun, and connect with their neighbours on other balconies. Yet far too many citizens are deprived of that opportunity as well.
Those living in city apartments without balconies are stuck between four walls. One example is Melbourne public housing towers where residents are ordered to remain in their small apartments for weeks without balconies to resort to in lieu of green space.
Unfortunately, similar stories of essential space deprivation are common for those living in socially and economically deprived areas. In these places, people are deprived because their neighbourhoods have the least green space and few places to socialize, which in turn contributes to poor physical, social and emotional health. The deficit of essential green social spaces repeats itself across North America, Australia, and Europe.
ESSENTIAL GREEN SPACES
We know very well about the benefits of green infrastructure for health and emotional wellbeing. The effect of green space on alleviating the symptoms of mental tension and improving emotional and physical health outcomes is well documented.
Because of their prominence, I consider green spaces essential spaces. Access to essential green spaces is indispensable and should be widely accessible in all cities.
Green infrastructure has even been associated with lower crime and has well-known benefits for building social capital. Green urban spaces will help us buffer the effects of negative social impacts that will ensue from this period and they will speed the post-pandemic recovery.
In SafeGrowth we consider these essential green spaces the linchpin for planning safe and livable neighbourhoods, especially those neighbourhoods already employing advanced neighbourhood governance and planning systems like SafeGrowth.
My hope is that with the many changes unfolding in post-pandemic cities we prioritize essential green spaces over grey spaces of concrete and asphalt. We owe everyone access to essential green spaces in all corners of our future neighbourhoods.
by Gregory Saville
I came across an interesting artifact while digging through some old conference files this week. It brought to mind a story…
He was already a legend when he attended A Crime Prevention Workshop, the 1975 Toronto event that introduced CPTED to Canada. He had been a one-time cat-burglary (until his arrest and prison term) and he was a former Hollywood stunt man on the original Mutiny on the Bounty. University of Alberta’s Professor Gwynn Nettler delivered what must have been the most provocative paper at the event – he questioned how it was possible to do crime prevention with such poor quality science within the social sciences – a topic that would later come back to haunt today’s social sciences.
By all measures, Professor Nettler, a Stanford trained sociologist and arguably Canada’s most pre-eminent criminologist, was a charismatic, academic iconoclast. Time magazine once called him “a wonderful burglar” and later, the American Society of Criminology awarded him its highest award.
In his eulogy, the American Sociological Association wrote he “cherished music, from opera to Ellington, and cut a dashing figure with his presence, the sports cars he drove, and especially the ladies he loved.” He was the Indiana Jones of the criminology world - at least in my quarantine-deprived imagination.
SEARCHING FOR THE HOLY GRAIL
Nettler often wrote about the impotence of science within social research. “The first part of becoming a scientist…is to be able to recognize rules that merely draw circles and rules that are so phrased that everything that happens confirms them and nothing that happens disconfirms them.” As we outlined a few blogs ago, this is the essential flaw in the Routine Activity Theory of crime.
Theoretically trained scientists are taught how to recognize the error of logic circles – which is why the holy trinity of a motivated offender/capable guardian/suitable target cannot predict anything with accuracy. And without prediction, Nettler reminds us, it is neither science nor a theory. If we are to move forward in crime prevention, we must have legitimate theories on which to base our work!
For example, it might be attractive to surmise that poor lighting avails criminals to commit strongarm robberies at night when unsuspecting victims walk by. It might – if it were true. But if turning on more lights makes it easier for the crook to locate his victim, (in other words, the motivated offender adapts to the suitability of his target) then lighting provides neither the answer nor the prevention.
Or worse, as suggested recently in the Black Lives Matter movement, if CPTED controls access into some urban areas in the hope that excluding “outsiders” will prevent crime, it may end up targeting some races and income groups from others. Exclusionary crime prevention theories will not make things better, as we see in today’s racial protests.
CRIME PREVENTION MUST DO BETTER
While Nettler described some neighborhoods as triggers for crime, he was sceptical of standalone causes, like poverty and ghetto housing. The Indiana Jones of the 1970s knew enough of science to insist on clarity and reliable observations to support concepts. So what does such a theory look like within the crime prevention world today?
I have insisted at each step in our SafeGrowth work that we seize on a well-established concept of social cohesion called neighborhood collective efficacy.
Consider for a moment a neighborhood suffering from poverty, inequity, poor relations among residents, dilapidated infrastructure and housing, and hopelessness. It will be of little surprise that in such places you find yourself facing high crime and victimization risks. Incidents of street violence and fear will outstrip other areas in the city, and demands for social services will produce an exorbitant strain on municipal coffers. Locations like this are not the only place of crime, nor do they house all kinds of crime. But there is little doubt crime concentrates in such places.
Walk a short distance and you will discover neighborhoods with average incomes, adequate basic services, friendliness among neighbors, functioning infrastructure and decent housing, and some degree of happiness. Here you will uncover a fairly safe place with low crime and victimization. Incidents of street violence will be rare and municipal service providers will rarely visit such places.
Nettler described such places in his classic text Explaining Crime. Research from the geography of crime shows these patterns all over the world; crime hotspots cluster in the first type of neighborhood, not in the second. The consistency of these observations provides a sound basis to build a crime prevention theory.
So, we have.
In SafeGrowth we put this theory into practice through community development and social cohesion. Our work predicts and produces safer and more livable neighborhoods. This occurs from Christchurch, New Zealand and Toronto, to Hollygrove in New Orleans, New York, and in Philadelphia.
This is a robust theory of crime prevention that comes close to what Nettler described in his search for the building blocks of a good theory. Few social theories of any kind approach the precision of the general theory of relativity in physics. But collective efficacy and SafeGrowth are among those that aim for that quality.
When the pandemic threats and racial unrest that plague our streets begin to subside, we will search for ways out of our collective mess. Like the archaeologist seeking answers to long lost questions, we will need answers about how to rebuild safe and livable neighborhoods.
We need not look very far.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
This week we continue to watch the unfolding of the Black Lives Matter movement. As Portland becomes the new epicentre of unrest, local residents are out in droves standing against federal law enforcement. Federal authorities claim to be protecting statues from toppling and other property damage, though one could argue human life is receiving far less respect.
Residents have taken to the streets to demand a better future for themselves and their kids. Amidst the horror of watching the news about Portland, I have been reading Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg, the writing highlighted in Ifeoma Ebo and Greg Saville’s SafeGrowth presentation in Sweden last November.
A BLEAK FUTURE
I’ve always found reading Klinenberg like sitting down with an old friend. I don’t know exactly where the conversation will lead, but it will be engaging and familiar. However, just as I was settling into the accustomed pace of these ideas, a particular quotation resonated with my background thoughts of Portland. Speaking about teenagers and their tendency to shun face-to-face interactions in exchange for online communication, Klinenberg writes,
“According to research by danah boyd, director of the research institute Data & Society, young people spend so much of their social time online because adults – from helicopter parents to hyper vigilant school administrators and security guards – give them few other options”.
Right now, as mothers are forming human barricades between the protesters and federal agents, youth are rising up in unprecedented numbers. Sparked by the work done by the “March for our Lives” movement and others, our youth have their heads up and are looking at a pretty bleak future.
There is an ongoing lament about the younger generation. Books like The Dumbest Generation claim that the digital age has stupefied young people and made it so they are unable to engage in deep thought and meaningful conversations. However, this lament is not new. As research suggests, every generation has complained about the one after it. Indeed there is so much complaint about Millennials, most people forget that Millennials like me are in our thirties and forties with full-time careers and kids.
What Klinenberg describes is that when we deny spaces for youths to interact and engage without constant monitoring by adults, we deny them third places. These great good places, where teenagers can put aside family and school, have all but disappeared. Short of a few skateboard parks (that often impose strict rules) and community centres, there are no real places where youth can stumble upon other youth.
PLACES TO INTERACT AND SOCIALIZE
Young people need these unstructured and unmonitored spaces. These spaces should be flexible, inexpensive, inclusive of all groups, and located in neighbourhoods that do not fear the presence of young people. They should allow youth to meet and interact with diverse groups and grow intellectually and interpersonally. More importantly, in times like these, great good places create ways for young people to plan and engage civically. That kind of work cannot be done alone and online, as demonstrated in Dave Cullen's Parkland.
In a post-COVID world, we need to think about how we build social infrastructure with young adults. They need to be at the table and actively involved in these decisions. Many of our SafeGrowth communities have already worked alongside youth who are a part of local organizations, for example with neighbourhood Hubs in Honduras and while placemaking their own spaces in New Zealand.
More importantly, we need to be even more proactive and involve youth from across the spectrum of neighbourhood needs.
Not only will these third places encourage young people to make new friends and develop socially, but also help to build social capital and connection across diverse racial, sexual and class divides. These spaces will help us to build the better future our young people are already fighting for today.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
How do we understand changes in our social life during an exceptional event, like the current pandemic? Over the last several months we’ve watched the world change dramatically in response to COVID-19. Many places are experiencing second waves, further lockdowns, economic crises and the tyranny of the masses.
The pandemic raises a number of questions, in particular, what will happen to our social life? Exceptional events can be anything from the Olympics or other major sporting events, to major gatherings of people like G20 protests or natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires, or pandemics.
I’ve spent much of my academic career studying these events. It comes down to three main theories predicting how crime will unfold in an exceptional event;
• social disorganization
• social cohesion/altruism
• opportunity theories.
Each theory predicts a different outcome.
EXCEPTIONAL EVENT THEORIES
Social disorganization suggests that during an exceptional event, crime and disorder will increase because the usual social order has been disrupted. Exceptional events can exacerbate social inequality and emphasize the disadvantage for certain groups.
Theories of social cohesion and altruism suggest that during an exceptional event, crime and disorder will decrease because people are more likely to help each other and act altruistically.
Opportunity theories suggest that crime trends will go up and down based on opportunities for crime that are created or removed by the exceptional event.
COVID-19 is certainly an exceptional event and cities across Canada and Australia have seen declines in most types of crime. Some crime types are up in some areas, such as domestic violence and commercial burglary.
Other crime types are stable, such as drug-related crimes and robbery. Yet in the US, both increases and decreases in crime types are underway.
All of this should support opportunity theories. However, years of reading about the sociology of exceptional events, including being present on the ground for some of them, suggests there is more going on during COVID-19 than simply a change in opportunities.
A PARADISE BUILT IN HELL
Two authors come to mind. One is Rebecca Solnit, who wrote A Paradise Built in Hell. In this book, the author provides detailed evidence that in disaster situations, people engage in altruism above all else.
The second author, Enrico L. Quarantelli has debunked numerous myths about social behaviour in disaster situations. He wrote extensively about the acts of altruism across New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
This dramatically countered much of the media coverage of the disaster. So how do we explain changes in crime during COVID-19?
COVID-19 is unlike any other exceptional event. Inconsistent with much of the sociology of disaster literature, the pandemic is acting to force us apart and isolate us in a number of ways. Social distancing is counter to basic human needs for connection.
While the fluctuating trends in certain crime types may suggest that opportunity theory might be better at explaining exceptional events like pandemics, I’m inclined to believe that the significant declines in crime more broadly, across Canada, Australia and parts of the United States are more consistent with social cohesion/altruism theories.
If this is true, people are responding in ways that help, not hurt, during this pandemic, despite the social distancing. Crime trends in COVID-19 might be indicating that even with a major shift to social interaction, our desire to connect and protect – the main premise of SafeGrowth - outweighs the opportunities that these events create.
by Mateja Mihinjac
Public protests and demonstrations erupted throughout the world in recent years warning us about the perils of social inequity, racial inequality, and environmental concerns. And now, over the past few weeks, as anti-government protests are underway, much of the world has united over anti-discrimination and Black Lives Matter.
One common thread that links these protests is dissatisfaction with government leaders and their inaction that underlie these disparities.
CASE IN POINT - SLOVENIA
In my home country of Slovenia in central Europe, every Friday since April citizens protest against the government’s misuse and abuse of power related to controversial decisions masquerading under the pretense of COVID-19 interventions.
The public outcry started on March 13 as the new right-wing coalition government took over the leadership following the resignation of the previous centre-left Prime Minister (just after his government declared a state of epidemic). Very quickly, problems arose in the public eye about a lack of legitimacy for this new government.
The backlash arose from numerous questionable government decisions: Ministerial salary raises at the time when the unemployment rate had peaked; poorly communicated COVID-19 intervention measures; and attempts to drastically increase police powers and discredit journalists. It included irregularities in the purchase of personal protective equipment, which is currently undergoing police investigation. Many accuse the government of autocratic aspirations.
More recently, the government changed environmental laws and introduced another COVID-19 intervention act. These measures exclude the citizens and limit the participation of NGOs and environmental organisations from decision-making in new infrastructure and building projects, a move many see as prioritizing capital over nature.
The resulting mass civic engagement and social unrest are unprecedented in my lifetime. Weekly demonstrations across Slovenia attract thousands of people! In the capital city of Ljubljana, the public has been gathering in front of the House of Parliament shouting “thieves” and “fascists”. They wave signs such as “our country is not your sandpit” signifying that the government should not be allowed to mold the country to suit their needs.
The government responded with barricading access to the square in front of the Parliament building, increasing police controls and identity checks, and criminalizing participation in demonstrations. As elsewhere around the world, such responses signal the need for reform and confirm that government institutions must listen to citizens' voices more seriously than in the past.
A system in which the government wishes to single-handedly control decision-making is not a system that is well-suited for any democratic country, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Competent democratic governance requires that everyone has a voice and that decisions are based on broad consensus. It requires that all sectors are accountable to the public and that processes are fair and transparent.
And how can this be achieved? Various organisations call for inclusive citizen participation. They call for empowering citizens and for participatory governing processes. Protesters demand reform of particular sectors, such as the police.
ANOTHER PATH FORWARD
SafeGrowth takes another path. By proposing a system of networked urban villages, the SafeGrowth model calls for democratic local governance within each of the neighbourhood villages.
It transfers the decision-making power of the citizens from the national or large regional scale to a local-neighbourhood scale, but it does so in such a way that local, democratic and fully trained organizations can plan for neighbourhood needs. Moreover, the SafeGrowth’s Livability Academy program develops local leaders who represent the voice of residents and lead changes that address social and racial inequity. Neighbourhood-level change thereby becomes the bridge between government organisations and the wider community.
In SafeGrowth neighbourhoods from New Zealand to New Orleans residents thus become an integral part of their own governing system and they link to other surrounding neighbourhoods to coordinate how they solve problems and plan for their own future.
WHAT'S TO BE DONE?
It is no longer sufficient for governments to only ask citizens for input when mandated or when it creates top-down plans for development. It is no longer sufficient that the government expects that its citizens must trust the government and public institutions without question or dissent – the government also needs to trust the public and civic organisations, and start transferring the decision-making power back to local communities.
And along the way, we must create a more sustainable governance system in which politicians start considering the long-term consequences of their decisions beyond the expiry date of the next election. If we fail to do this, democratic governance may quickly become irrelevant and lose legitimacy. We need to turn this around. The country should be its citizens’ sandpit.
…and now for a short distraction from the awful news of late...
by Greg Saville & Gerard Cleveland
Once upon a time, crime plagued the nation. Violence flared, year after year, like a wildfire of human suffering that cities could not extinguish. Cops did their thing, and then some. Prisons were filled. Downtown blight grew and fear split the nation into racial and economic camps like never before. And nothing seemed to work.
Then the crime wave changed direction. No one knew why. Nothing was different to account for the turnabout. Criminologists went to work to explain why and one tiny group came up with an answer, an answer so simple and elegant that the theory quickly became the talk of the theoretical end of town.
The geniuses who created the concept call it the Atmospheric Theory of Crime and they described it as follows:
There are three necessary elements for crime to occur: air, water, and land. When those three elements converge, crime chances increase. Remove one of them, and you prevent crime.
Let us begin with air! People cannot breathe without air. If you remove air from a room, burglars have no chance of stealing anything. If you freeze air to 100 degrees below zero, like at the South Pole, murderers are unlikely to find a victim outside. Sure enough, if you need proof, South Pole crime rates are almost zero. In fact, as lung tissue freezes, offenders themselves will perish. Even a dullard can see that burglary and murder rates in airless places are almost zero. We say almost because the dastardly cur Jacques Yves Cousteau figured out how to travel through underwater airless environments.
And in doing that the scoundrel Cousteau invented his scuba gear as a modus operandi for coral reef graffiti and underwater arson. True, those are rare. But still...
Then there is water.
Setting aside for a moment submerged arsonists, water blankets the planet and we see it every day in clouds, rain, rivers and lakes. But our clever environmental theorists noticed that if we increase the quantity of water to a certain percentage, eventually we pass the threshold when crime becomes impossible. Our statisticians can even measure the amount of water it takes to prevent crime.
Take for example a hurricane. Granted, plenty of looting occurs AFTER a hurricane, but just try stealing a car during the torrential 150-mile an hour winds, lashing rains, and the 10-foot storm surges. Even if you can get in the car to steal it, just try to drive it through flooded roads. Same problem in a Tsunami. How many muggers ever successfully mugged a victim on a beach as they and their victim were pummeled by a 100-mile-an-hour, 30-foot high wave. Our research shows us that you will not find a safer environment from muggers than on an empty beach as the Tsunami shows up.
That leaves land as the final pillar in our trifecta of crime-busting. You must have land to have crime. People live, walk, work, and play on it. If no land exists to walk upon or to build our homes on, we immediately eliminate domestic violence. Of course, DV may occur in the air or underwater but those statistical anomalies remain quite rare in our beta tests. Earth is the equalizer and without it, crime has no chance to worm its way into our communities. Mother Earth – that lovely Gaia preventer of crime!
CONFERENCES, JOURNALS, STUDIES
There you have it – the Atmospheric Theory of crime. Remove any one of those factors – air, water, or land – and crime everywhere falls quickly onto the scrap heap of abandoned human behaviors.
So now we need to spread the Atmospheric Theory of Crime far and wide. We need to create all kinds of sophisticated criminological tests for the theory while spending plenty of conference, journal, and research time arguing for the genius of A-TOC! (We must not forget the appeal of cool abbreviations for marketing purposes.)
In the future, we can wonder, “Gosh, why didn’t we think of A-TOC earlier?” Think of all the crime we could have prevented and misery and loss we could have avoided. Remove the air from robbery locations? “Geeze,” we can retort, “great crime prevention idea!” Flood cities and high crime areas with 30 feet of water! “Ha!” we will exclaim with glee, “now, let those arsonists just try…”
The hue and cry from within the orthodox criminology schools would howl their displeasure and shower disdain upon the upstart A-TOCs. False equivalency charlatans! – imagine claiming that crime and nature are interchangeable? Or they may take a lawyerly approach and decry the environmental school of crime as reductio ad absurdum wherein the contention of those A-TOC types reduces serious and complex issues of human criminal behavior to mere naïve states of weather. We can already hear the chorus of complaint in the inevitable defense of modern criminological theory and the tried and true explanations for the true reasons for crime.
Pretty silly, huh!
ROUTINE ACTIVITY THEORY
Now, take the Atmospheric Theory of Crime and replace it with an actual criminological theory – the Routine Activity Theory of crime (RAT) – and you have the same theory. In the case of Routine Activity Theory, air is an ‘absence of a capable guardian’, water is a ‘motivated offender’, and land is a ‘suitable target’ like a victim. Remove any of the three RAT principles and you – according to RAT – reduce the opportunity for crime.
But compare RAT to A-TOC in actual criminology journals and they would be filled with comments like this: "It might sound a bit like A-TOC but any such comparison to RAT only serves to highlight….blah, blah, blah."
As we have blogged before, RAT assumes a steady supply of motivated offenders, just like Atmospheric theory assumes a steady supply of air and water. RAT predicts that crime opportunities wane when you remove motivated offenders and Atmospheric Theory predicts crime vanishes when you remove land.
RAT does not try to explain the historical or societal contexts of “why” offender motivation occurs or “how” you might reduce those motivations, regardless of the number of potential victims. It simply takes a short cut and says figuring out the fundamental “why” factor becomes an unnecessary consideration once we remove the opportunity, offender, or victim. Others, too, have raised alarms about RAT as a pseudo-scientific truism, for example Professor Mike Sutton's article on the Mindless Chemistry Meme.
The same argument holds true with Atmospheric Theory – it does not try to explain why Tsunamis or hurricanes deter criminals, but rather posits through common, observable evidence that they do. And – in spite of William of Ockham’s philosophy that simple, not complex, usually explains the truth of things – the world of crime gives rise to social issues pregnant with complexity and uncertainty. Crime and simple rarely share the same space!
So, your takeaway for which criminal theory to apply in your city becomes a choice of which fantasy to support. The only difference between Atmospheric Theory and RAT is that the former is a fantasy made-up just now.
SO SAY WE ALL
Clearly, Atmospheric Theory takes logical leaps of absurdity to the point of comedy and requires nothing more than blind faith to believe its truth. Similarly, RAT – a contemporary theory and the subject of many studies – lacks any root-cause-of-anything explanation, unless you consider crime opportunity itself a “root cause” (the bizarre cart-before-the-horse logic that RAT proponents now suggest). Yet, the best criminology journals continue to proselytize on behalf of the holy trinity of guardians, offenders, and targets in spite of it explaining everything, and nothing, at the same time.
And so, we end our Atmospheric Theory of Crime story by remembering that wonderful science fiction fantasy Battlestar Galactica. During a key funeral scene, the actors all join in unison and declare solemnly that they will follow the orthodoxy of the times with faith, purpose and commitment. In closing, we mouth their choral sentiments of blind faith with the hopeful chant, “So say we all”.
GUEST BLOG by Carlos Gutiérrez Vera
At a time when the United States is convulsing with protests and riots regarding excessive police force and Black Lives Matter, our SafeGrowth Advocate from Honduras offers this perspective regarding unrest in other parts of the world. Sometimes a view from the outside sheds a brighter light on the darkness from the inside.
Not long ago I read about serious social uprisings taking place in Ecuador, which is my adopted homeland. There was social chaos, public discontent, and thousands of indigenous people marching to protest against what they considered an injustice unjust economic system. The police and military responded with strong repression.
A few days later a similar outbreak began in Chile, my original native country, an outbreak with serious consequences in for human lives, damage to public assets, and also to for social coexistence.
The violent uprisings in Ecuador and Chile led authorities to re-think the way cities and communities are currently built and promote public policies to encourage and support building smaller community systems.
And now we see similar social unrest and rioting across the United States with similar results.
In response to these events, the International CPTED Association posted a webinar regarding Social Unrest and CPTED.
My view is that SafeGrowth has the strategies and tools that can lead to building non-violent communities for the 21st Century. It represents a powerful long-term strategy to the problem of street violence.
These social divisions have been attributed to social inequalities and injustice. In the United States unrest is currently fueled by racial conflict and police excessive force.
There has been much talk that social outbursts have deep roots in social inequities and injustices. However, this is only part of a larger problem. It's also possible that, as a society, we have lost that ability to build our communities together, to work in mutual cooperation, to love what we build. Destruction and vandalism have a lot to do with emotional disconnection, the sense of non-belonging, and lack of identity.
The construction of our cities has been entrusted to developers to feed a real-estate market dedicated to commercial profits, but seldom to build a sense of “community”. We have lost the sense of living communally. All over the world, cities have been growing chaotically, breaking the order of social and community relations that, in the past, gave them sustenance and habitability on a human scale.
The disintegration of these urban networks has resulted in the breakdown of the social fabric with the consequent deterioration of cohesion. It is no longer just a matter of poverty or inequity, it is also a matter of quality human relationships.
We have known this for a while. Consider Putnam's Bowling Alone, or McKnight’s Community and it's Counterfeits. SafeGrowth, in particular, calls for building non-violent communities with social stability through the restoration of healthy community relations and organizing collaborative neighborhood work.
To get started in this task, there needs to be a balance between the geometry of social relations. That geometry is based on three areas: public, private and social.
The public sector is the government, which can provide public goods and offer an impartial voice to help monitor social justice. The private is businesses, who have an important role, and stake, in public safety. The social involves community associations, non-profits, and others in the neighborhood.
Birner and Ege propose coordination and cooperation between these three areas to promote social stability. But the most important aspect of all this work is social factors that encourage citizen participation. Cities and communities cannot be built, and safety cannot result, without citizen participation. Public and private sectors are not enough.
This has been the focus of the SafeGrowth movement from the beginning and it's featured throughout the book on SafeGrowth.
The SafeGrowth philosophy and practice aims to construct a system of interconnected neighborhoods so that, in collaboration with public and private sectors, they can jointly plan and coordinate actions that strengthen their development.
For example, we presented a blog on our work to build social capital and enhance mutual care by building a network of Neighborhood Hubs in Honduras. This is one of the SafeGrowth building blocks for livability.
Another example is the SafeGrowth Livability Academy, a tool for community organization and problem-solving. Livability Academies lay the foundation for building resilient, self-managed, and non-violent communities.
Our vision is a 21st Century City in which networked neighborhoods work for livability, peace, and equity are organized in ecosystems throughout the city. Livability Academies teach ethical leadership and the Hubs help with local projects on crime reduction, reducing inequity, and collaborating with public, private, and social sectors.
That is the long-term means by which we will prevent social outbursts that harm society so much.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
Over the past two weeks, the United States erupted after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Centuries of violence and mistreatment of people of colour in America galvanized an entire nation. Cities across the country are burning. Footage of police violence during these protests is available on every media outlet.
In response to this death and others, demands to defund the police are emerging across the United States. These arguments suggest that policing in America more than just a few “bad apples,” but rather a “bad barrel.” While the support for this suggestion is mixed, there are several successful policing reforms that deserve more attention. One of those appears in You In Blue and it encapsulates the decade-long movement to reform police training with Problem-Based Learning and Emotional Intelligence.
However, defunding the police does not mean shutting down policing altogether. Rather, it is a process of redistributing a portion of police budgets towards community-based models of safety and prevention. Policing accounts for over $142 billion in the United States each year and police budgets are continuing to grow. This is occurring despite the fact that many other social services, like health care and education struggle for funding across the United States.
REORGANIZING POLICE BUDGETS
Some cities are starting to take notice and reorganizing their policing budgets. In Los Angeles, the city cut $150 million of the LAPD budget this week. In Minneapolis, the city of George Floyd’s murder, the city council has announced its intention to disband the police department.
Canada is also being affected by the movement as Toronto city council is putting forth a motion to defund the police and the Toronto Police Chief, Mark Saunders, has announced his resignation.
What is particularly interesting about these cases is not only are the city’s defunding or completely restructuring the police, but they are using that money to reinvest in their local communities. Los Angeles mayor Garcetti is promising to redistribute this funding to local communities of colour. Minneapolis city council is planning to invest in community-led prevention.
This brings us back to community-led prevention as the main philosophy of SafeGrowth. In our book SafeGrowth: Building Neighborhood Safety and Livability, we describe how, over the past decade, we have successfully refined our approach for neighborhood-based planning and crime prevention. Perhaps someday we will look back at this moment in history as the beginning of truly significant police reforms to build safety and improve livability in all neighbourhoods?
by Gerard Cleveland & Gregory Saville
NOTE: This week my colleague Gerard Cleveland from Perth, Australia and I share this blog about drones. Gerry is an attorney, a specialist in school violence, and the co-founder of the concept called 2nd Generation CPTED.
Drones will change our lives as much as COVID-19 and the internet. The possibilities for future generations are endless. Kids today say ‘what is dial up’? In ten years they will ask ‘what’s a fire truck’? We certainly hope so.
We have nothing against firefighters - our point is about technological revolutions and the future.
Consider that much of our current urban landscape with its ugly suburbs and huge roadways are built for, among other things, the passage of fire trucks. If we don’t need the space for those huge trucks and ladders, we may just be able to realize Jane Jacobs' dream of town planners and architects designing and building more interactive, less segmented living spaces.
Once we get design of our communities out of the hands of the pragmatists with no vision, we may start building liveable spaces that we want rather than accommodating the transport needs of emergency services.
FIRE DRONES IN THE FUTURE
Over the years, visions of a different kind of city made appearances in this blog: Arcosante, the Aerotropolis, and the Smart City. This latest drone innovation tested in China and some other countries fits into the Smart City vision. It is, after all, pretty smart to adapt drones for dangerous duties.
Fire drones are only one possible way new technologies might transform how we design cities. For example, the SafeGrowth Network is currently working with colleagues in Helsingborg, Sweden to introduce crime prevention innovations at the Helsingborg 22 Smart City Exposition in two years.
In the meantime, after we eliminate fire trucks, and save a squillion or so on fire suppression, maybe someone out there can also design colour blind community protector robocops to patrol the streets?
Bring on the drones!
by Jon Munn
GUEST BLOG – This week’s blog tells a story of how COVID-19 affects the homeless, just as it does communities around the world. The blog was submitted by Jon Munn, an urban planner and SafeGrowth Advocate residing in Victoria, British Columbia. Jon is directly involved in the crisis as a member of a local neighborhood action committee. This is his story about how one city is responding to that problem.
COVID-19 has revealed long-standing weaknesses in our health and social systems. The least resilient long-term care homes are showing high death counts. Physical distancing in homeless shelters and couch surfing reveals how huge spaces are needed when health orders force marginalized people to spread out in convention centres, hockey arenas, parking lots, and playing fields.
Homelessness is tough to tackle because it’s not one issue. It’s a result of housing costs, lack of social housing, domestic abuse, mental illness, drug addiction, and so on. The easy thing to do is to combine all these issues into one hot potato and pass the potato.
COVID-19 restrictions came to British Columbia on March 17, 2020. The Provincial Health Officer made an order to prohibit gatherings over 50 people. The next day a provincial emergency was declared and local governments and agencies closed or restricted services to ensure a physical distance of 2 metres (6 feet) between people.
Victoria, a city of 90,000 people in the Capital region of 350,000, is the location of most regional services for homeless people. At the start of the crisis, hundreds of shelter spaces in the city were almost emptied, so on March 23rd, the Victoria Mayor announced outdoor shelters (tent camping) in three parks. Due to limited ability to staff the parks, Topaz Park near Victoria’s northern boundary remained the only site.
THE FIRST VICTIM
The first victim was communication. Perhaps the mayor felt she was pressured into a decide-announce-defend position by the health authorities? The police chief got stuck in the middle as an emergency spokesperson. If homelessness was a regional issue, there was a deafening silence from neighbouring municipalities. Topaz Park neighbours were not involved or notified. Whose agenda was being served by punting the homeless hot potato north? The wealthier city residents to the south? The downtown business community? Was this a plan the mayor had all along?
The provincial health order had commitments to help vulnerable populations, but there was no plan in place to move people into the many vacant hotel rooms in this tourist city. Authorities knew they needed a safety plan or risk a repeat of a 2015 homeless protest and police actions. This time Victorians generously donated tents for the first of two encampments. Tents emerged two kilometers north at Topaz Park shortly after. In effect, there were now two hot potatoes.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND OVERDOSE DEATHS
In the communication vacuum, neighbourhood activists emerged at the nearby Quadra Village Community Centre. The Board at the Centre and its neighbourhood action committee (NAC) wanted to know how to deal with what could be a permanent crime-ridden tent city in their park – one of the city’s largest. Alternatively, could better solutions be found? The federal and provincial governments were offering up money and their hands were forced to act by physical distancing.
I got involved with the NAC for my expertise in community and land use planning. The NAC needed to know how decisions were being made and if there was any way to influence the course of events, so we decided to try and break down some communication silos.
The first ally was the police chief, who was willing to attend a community Zoom meeting on April 9th. The chief brought camp organizers from the nonprofit Coalition to End Homelessness. The meeting revealed the initiative was understaffed and barely able to get sanitary and camp areas organized. Community members said they expected more. The overdose deaths of four people in the Topaz Park camp was discussed widely, as were police reports of increased property crime near the park. The situation got more media attention.
NAC members volunteered at Topaz Park and found that an assessment of the campers' needs was already done. It wasn’t complete, but work was underway to look at individuals’ needs instead of moving people in one group as ‘campers.’ Specific hotels or other locations could then be staffed with people to address mental health, drug addiction or other needs. Without such supports, the game of hot potato would return.
On Saturday, April 25, a press conference was called and a new provincial COVID order was made by Provincial authorities. The order moved homeless people into hotel rooms or other shelters by May 9, 2020, and camp areas would be cleared. In all locations, local government resources were too poor to effect change.
A second Quadra Village-Topaz Park community zoom meeting was held on April 29, 2020. Over half of the 67 registrants didn’t attend, perhaps believing the provincial actions would address the concerns. Provincial Housing and health officials, as well as local police attending the meeting, did not instill complete confidence, but they came with deeper pockets and a transition plan for campers.
ROOTS OF HOPE
The two reasons to have faith in the COVID homeless relocation come from previous commitments by the federal and provincial governments.
First, in 2016, the government of Canada gave support to a health-based harm reduction and Housing First approach to create an environment for stabilizing homeless people who were also involved with drug use.
Second, in 2017 BC Housing announced the Rapid Response to Homelessness (including modular housing) as an immediate response to the growing issue of homelessness across the Province. The magic of modular housing was that it could be constructed quickly, some projects in as little as three months.
One key question remains about Victoria’s Topaz Park: Will we have faith in the system, or will we be looking at fields of mud and used needles by the time the winter rains return?
Part of this story will unfold by May 20, 2020. Only one modular housing project, now in development, has been slated for the Victoria region. A long term issue will be to secure land for modular and other Housing First units, which is a difficult task in a region with low land supply and high costs.
Has COVID helped spur more comprehensive action on the complex issues of homelessness in Victoria? Will economic, social, or political snags trip it up? Stay tuned… these are strange times!
by Tarah Hodgkinson
It has been over a month since the world went into lockdown and we were all told to #stayhome. Much has changed since then. As we have noted in previous blogs, the world has pulled together to stop the spread of the virus and protect our most vulnerable. We are also witnessing irresponsible leadership and divisive politics. It has been a trying time and while many of us are beginning to adapt to this new normal, there are still many who are out on the frontlines of the pandemic risking their lives.
Much has changed in our communities as well. In conversations with other criminologists over the last few weeks, I have heard how crime trends are changing around the world. As people move inside and away from the public realm, the nature of crime opportunities is also changing. While these data are still preliminary, some researchers are finding early declines in burglary and theft, while others are warning of dramatic increases in domestic violence.
Indeed, the city of Vancouver has not been immune to these shifts. Commercial burglary has increased dramatically compared to previous years. This is unsurprising to many readers as there is no longer the watchful eyes of owners and employees, and natural surveillance is obsolete.
Many business owners in Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood have taken to boarding up their windows as an interim target-hardening measure. However, for those who have spent any time in communities where the downtown is failing and businesses are boarded up, you know this can be a very depressing sight.
One of these Vancouver businesses was less than satisfied with the dreary look of the boards. Local business, Kimsprints, reached out for local artists to paint a mural on the boarded-up shop. The artwork couldn’t be about just anything. It had to celebrate the frontline workers and their incredible efforts to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Soon after, murals of Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s public health officer, and Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s health officer were painted over the boards.
The trend continues with several more painted boards, paying tribute to those assisting during the crisis and brightening the appearance of a community in lockdown. While the crisis continues, these beautiful pieces of community art remind us that not only do we need to support our frontline workers – including demanding worker protections and appropriate pay – but we also should remain resilient and connected rather than divided.
by Gregory Saville
The local kids were out again after sunset tonight howling like timberwolves at a full moon, a show of solidarity for stressed healthcare workers. Millions of apartment dwellers in cities around the world bang pots and pans and now these suburban kids, ancy from weeks of quarantine, perform their own nightly ritual. In the words of John Lennon: “Imagine all the people, living for today.”
I have wondered of late how pandemics affect urbanization. Jane Jacobs tells us epidemics are defeated within cities and with new medicines, innovative planning, and science. But, as we’ve blogged over the past month, we are threatened not only with a deadly disease, but with an aftermath of social distancing, social isolation, and a future that is gated for some, exclusive for others. Fear is a powerful motivator for change. How can we make things right?
A NEW NARRATIVE
We should not be running away from urban areas into isolated rural enclaves. Some say we need to re-suburbanize and separate – permanent social distancing. They ignore our basic human nature to connect – to howl at the moon in gratitude for others.
Some claim density spreads disease, a statement that confuses density with crowding. High-quality urban design promotes connectedness and avoids crowding; Low density is not the answer.
Consider Taiwan and Louisiana. Population dense Taiwan, with 23 Million residents has (at time of writing) 380 confirmed COVID infections and 5 deaths. The rural state of Louisiana with 4.6 Million, suffers a horrific 20,014 infected and 801 deaths.
Taiwan no doubt has a better public health system. It probably has better governance. It has the luck of island geography (although the Philippines infection rate suggests otherwise). Perhaps they should have cancelled Mardi Gras in late February? Yet, none of those things are about density.
One thing is certain: A cohesive, well-informed and networked community like Taiwan moved much faster to curtail COVID-19. If you recreate that cohesiveness, education, and networking at the level of the neighborhood, you create a city of networked urban villages. We wrote about a city of networked urban villages in SafeGrowth: Building Neighborhoods of Safety and Livability.
What steps do we take to get there? With so much infrastructure already in place, how do we modify cities to create something healthier, more livable and more pro-social? Remember, there are elections all over the world later this year. What should you demand for your candidates? How about demanding they start working on the following steps:
City politicians – Stop approving low-density commercial “strips” where it is difficult to walk from one shop to another. Sprawl forces residents drive to distant shopping plazas and it separates them. When the pandemic fades, we won’t need more separation! We cannot learn neighbor skills if we cannot find our neighbors. Try clustering developments into common areas where ‘strangers’ can become friends, what architect Ross Chapin calls Pocket Neighborhoods.
And for goodness sake, put pro-social urban design ahead of new expressways and road widening.
Architects – Stop building multi-family developments without involving the users. Conduct design sessions to give everyone a say before construction begins. If you want people to truly care about their neighborhood, let them share their dreams and aspirations. And stop building such ugly townhomes. In SafeGrowth we conduct search conferences to create shared community visions. How about asking residents what best fits their lifestyle? Would they prefer a community woodwork shop or a workspace for crafters? What about a co-working office?
City leaders – Stop fighting Smart Growth development policies because you think fewer property tax dollars accrue. You do not have to reinvent the development wheel to do something different, just attend a Smart Growth conference or read some books on the topic. Try Charles Montgomery’s book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.
Bankers – Stop making it so difficult to lend to Mom-and-Pop stores. They are the blood pulsing through community life. Local stores cannot match the conglomerates for prices, yet they support local families and they better respond to local needs, like sponsoring community barbeques or craft markets in front of their stores. They need your help to reduce costs and remain a vibrant part of neighborhood life!
Mortgage lenders – Change your lending practices and encourage collaborative housing – a form of community-building that helps citizens work together, especially during crises like pandemics. One example is private equity co-housing, a proven form of neighborhood living in which residents create their neighborhoods. Unfortunately, speculation and inflation have shut down too many cohousing projects. Lenders – You can help!
Transportation managers – Stop wasting fossil fuel by sending huge, empty buses from one vacant bus stop to another. People avoid buses because they are inconvenient, unpleasant, and take forever. Any new, healthy configuration for a city should be designed around networked urban villages and they will need radical innovations to bind them together. Uber figured how to use the internet to transform cab service. Why can’t we do this with public transit? How about supplementing regular routes with smaller, comfortable, shuttles-on-demand, ordered online and paid by e-commerce? And smaller shuttles for regular routes too!
Educators and school trustees – Get your students into the community. Get them to learn history, social science, geography, and science by learning how to work with residents on real community problems. The problem-based learning movement does that and it is already in many high schools. They will learn face-to-face social skills they cannot learn on troll-infected social media. Educator and thought-leader Gerard Cleveland is a guru in this movement.
Organizers/social workers – While residents socialize superficially, after decades of computer screens and social media they have lost the deeper skills of managing conflicts and solving problems together. They desperately need shared communication and problem-solving skills. Please, help! For example, look up our friend Evelyn Zellerer who teaches peace circles and restorative justice.
Nihilists, doom-and-gloomers – Stop fearmongering! Yes, we will suffer but this pandemic will end. There might be a paroxysm of political rage, maybe economic turbulence. And as before the pandemic, we still must reverse our environmental damage before we reach criticality. Despite it all, people are not inherently evil and progress is already underway. If you doubt that, read Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.
Inexorably, in fits and starts, we will build a better future.
by Gregory Saville
Responding to our global COVID-19 pandemic, New York sociologist Eric Klinenberg recently wrote that social distancing will lead to, not only an economic recession but also to a future changed in unexpected ways.
Perhaps! But only gravestone epitaphs are written in stone and I choose to write my own future, which brings me to New York.
New York is the city where Jane Jacobs wrote about the power of social networks in her famous book Death and Life of Great American Cities, a book that launched the CPTED movement. She wrote that we keep the peace on our streets through an “intricate almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves.” In other words – us!
Strange advice coming from New York, the city with apartment towers far above urban parks, strangers yelling and car horns blaring! The endless rush hour! And today New York is the epicenter of the American COVID-19 pandemic, a city where thousands have already died in a country that leads the world’s infection rate.
Yet, despite it all, this YouTube showed up from New York City:
And it’s not only New York! This spontaneous flash of solidarity with health care workers has become a social epidemic of goodwill all over the world. It’s now in Italy, Germany, India, Israel, and in cities all across the Americas, from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Vancouver, Canada. Applauding with abandon – usually, around shift change at hospitals – New Yorkers join millions of others around the globe to cheer healthcare workers with pots, pans, whistles, hands, and anything else they can find.
This reaffirms the reality of Jacobs’ intricate, unconscious social network. Despite food hoarding, panic purchases, and obnoxious herd behavior, people eventually figure out that they depend on the social connections of everyday life to survive.
PUBLIC HOUSING AND CRIME
Never was this yearning for connection more evident than during our SafeGrowth work in New York City over the past two years. Members of our SafeGrowth team worked with the New York Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to teach CPTED to residents, including how to set up plans to improve life in their apartment towers. No small feat considering this public housing had some of the highest crime rates in the city.
Impressively, people pulled together in this biggest of cities, in places with so-called intractable crime rates, and they began to cut crime and improve safety. They created plans and they implemented many of their ideas because they knew they depend on social connections to survive everyday life. It was like Jane’s spirit hovered over the city that she once called home, a place where the velocity of daily living speeds past the average person at breakneck speed, as she whispered the ghostly incantation: “Pay attention to each other! Care for each other!”
As we face the new COVID-19 reality, the lesson is clear: We can create inclusive neighborhoods from far and wide, suburban and rural, rich and poor. We know how to build pro-social urban designs and places of connection and resilience. Perhaps Klinenberg was right; COVID-19 will change our future in unexpected ways. Still, more importantly, it is us who will shape what that future looks like!
For years, SafeGrowth Advocates (and many others) have fought against the retreat from public life, the withdrawal from the discomfort of strangers, and the overwhelming fear of violence by too many of our fellow citizens. In her blog last week, Mateja reminds us that we must battle both the physical and the social virus. Similarly, a few weeks ago, Tarah blogged that there is a big difference between social isolation and social distancing.
If we cling to social distancing and isolation in our public life after COVID-19, we will leave very little humane life to retain our humanity. The social is, after all, what makes society. Even the Council on Foreign Relations knows this truth – the future of global health is urban health.
William Fulton, planner and former Ventura city mayor, recently blogged that the post-pandemic city will lead to “an increase in remote work arrangements which will lead to more activity in neighborhoods, more flexibility in public transit options and a renewed appreciation for taking a walk.”
If that is the future we want then we need practical methods to deliver services where people can stay safe and healthy in their neighborhood. We need places where residents know each other and where they feel comfortable walking, day or night, and where they do not have to drive for food, medical care, and recreation.
THE UNCONSCIOUS NETWORK
Millions of strangers all over the world do not spontaneously bang pans and cheer outside their windows because they want isolation from their neighbors. They do it because they yearn to express their emotions in a safe public place in a way they can see and hear their neighbors doing the same. Even with a raging pandemic, they share a common realization that we all – healthcare workers, doctors, food delivery people, everyday neighbors, and police – need each other.
It’s the unconscious network in action.
How will cities evolve following the pandemic? Some claim cities will isolate, gate up, and separate. They say technology will prevail to protect us! But, in truth, we shall not find salvation in seldom-monitored CCTV systems or in the socially-hollow gated community. As King Lear says, that way madness lies!
NEXT BLOG: What can we do to create different, healthy, and safer places? There is another way!
by Mateja Mihinjac
It feels as if overnight our lives have dramatically changed. People getting sick and dying by thousands, hospitals inundated with an influx of patients, the economy heading into recession, and countries in lockdown. There is much uncertainty about what the future months will bring.
At a time when our solidarity should be at its highest, reports show how criminals (and some politicians) are exploiting people’s fear and how crises like these “bring out the worst in humanity”. Despite these bleak times, we cannot let COVID-19 also become a social virus. We need to start building resilience now so that we can tackle the challenges that lie ahead.
In the previous blog, Tarah wrote about the importance of maintaining social connections while we physically distance ourselves from our loved ones. Our positive personal relationships keep us grounded.
Luckily, with today’s technology maintaining social connections is easier than ever. And new social innovations are arising to help us connect, such as the Canadian caremonger movement.
As family members are trapped in their homes, many find it difficult to cope and maintain peace. Children and youth who lack peer support and school connections, due to social distancing, rely more than ever on their parents to provide support and reassurance.
This brought back personal memories of the 1991 Slovenian Independence War when my family had to shelter from potential bombing in a 2 x 2 metre basement space. As a young child, I did not grasp the severity of the situation as warplanes flew over us. To make it easier on my brother and me our parents made the hours of basement hiding appear like a game. As a result, my memory from then is that of closeness and safety.
For children, the quality time they spend with their parents during these weeks might define whether they remember grief and trauma in the years to come or a sense of care and safety from which they can build resilience. The family bonds they develop during this time represent a critical point in the life of children that can protect against potential future anti-social behaviour and criminality.
Our neighbourhoods are our tribe. A socially cohesive neighbourhood is resilient and able to rebound and restore quicker than a neighbourhood with alienated residents when confronted with hardship. We have published our account of how SafeGrowth provided collective action and neighbourhood resilience in a post-disaster New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
As Tarah mentioned in the last blog, the current social distancing restrictions are in stark contrast with the SafeGrowth philosophy. But we can still continue to greet local residents with a smile as we pass them (from the appropriate distance), we can talk to our neighbours and check on their wellbeing, and thank our local business and services for their work in supporting us. We can start planning local events and meetings, and set common goals to work towards as we restore our neighbourhoods post-crisis. We can activate our tribe and prepare for collective action now.
In the next blog, Greg will describe practical ways we can move forward into the future following COVID-19. As life starts to normalize in the coming months, we will slowly start rebuilding our lives. It won’t be easy. We will continue being cautious about physical interactions, travel restrictions will likely still be in place, unemployment and homelessness will be high, businesses will go bankrupt, and many of us will grieve for loved ones lost to the pandemic.
Despite the promises of a job stimulus and financial assistance, governments won’t have the resources and capacity to help everyone, every family and every neighbourhood. But there are things we can do to plan for the future.
We cannot let COVID-19 become a social virus. Our shared global experience will change us collectively. Our hope at the SafeGrowth Network is that we realise how interdependent we are and how important it is that we build resilience not only within our family and friendship networks, but within our neighbourhoods where we spend our lives.