GUEST BLOG: Lilit Houlder is an urban planner working with a consulting firm in Edmonton, Canada. She is the most recent member of the SafeGrowth team and has contributed a number of guest blogs to this site. This, her latest blog, describes some recent initiatives in her municipality indicating a new reality in a post-Covid world.
Downtown communities around the world have been facing challenges since the start of the pandemic in the Spring of 2020. The work-from-home mandates resulted in deserted or sparse city core areas that left businesses dependent on office workers in a struggle to attract customers who were no longer in the vicinity.
Like other cities, Edmonton’s downtown residential and business community has also been affected by increased crime rates. Edmonton’s downtown crime has increased by nearly 12% in 2021 from before the pandemic.
Within the past two years, we have seen residents relocating away from downtown. Some businesses permanently closed their doors. Additionally, as an update to previous blog posts from Portland and Edmonton on homelessness, Edmonton saw the number of individuals experiencing homelessness double. This has led the city to develop encampment strategies to increase safety.
Those residents and businesses that continue to live and operate in the area are advocating for safety in the neighbourhood and are asking for the local Council’s help. Council recently initiated a program to increase downtown patrolling by bringing together teams of police officers and social service agencies. These patrol groups will target downtown areas and transit stations (where most of the crime increases have been reported) and will focus on crime prevention and education programs for the community.
In the meantime, the Downtown Business Association has been outspoken in putting in serious efforts to aid in the downtown safety efforts.
For long-term goals, Edmonton’s City Council is working on approving the Community Safety and Well Being Strategy and is preparing grant plans for the Edmonton Police Service, call dispatch centres, indigenous-led centres, and other initiatives.
This strategy employed by Edmonton echoes the 2nd Generation CPTED principles of employing an inclusive and relationship-based approach. Community involvement captures the intent of 2nd Generation CPTED principles that are missing from many municipal CPTED strategies.
Employees are slowly transitioning back to the office, and with the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL playoffs, Edmonton’s downtown streets are seeing more activity throughout the day. From lunch crowds at local cafes, to eyes on the street on local patios, it appears there are early encouraging trends.
by Mateja Mihinjac
During our SafeGrowth classes, we conduct a tabletop exercise called a ‘design charrette’ based on designing an urban park. The purpose is to teach students how to use collaborative design when they begin their crime prevention work.
In almost every case the teams end up placing a circular design into the centre of their park – a water feature, park gazebo, or perhaps a children’s play area. In over 20 years of running this exercise, virtually every class comes up with some circular feature dead centre in their park.
There is something psychologically ingrained about centrally located social gathering places, echoing the tribal campfires of ancient times. In fact, we have archaeological evidence of the power of tribal campfires going back 50,000 years.
It is as if our collective human culture seeks to gather around those ancient campfires of prehistoric times for safety, storytelling and celebration. It is a cultural meme that remains in our subconscious.
KRESOVANJE – BONFIRE FESTIVAL
This cultural meme also has a tradition in Slovenia. Following a 2-year hiatus due to COVID, this year’s May 1st celebrations finally brought back the beloved Slovenian tradition – the bonfire festival or “kresovanje” in Slovene.
May 1st symbolises International Workers’ Day (also known as Labour Day or May Day) which commemorates the historic struggles and gains of the labour movement. In 1889 the international federation of socialist groups and trade unions designated May 1st as an international holiday, which has since become a public holiday in many countries around the world.
While on May 1st many countries observe formal public events, marches, parades and more or less peaceful demonstrations, in Slovenia we also burn bonfires on the night of 30 April. It turns out these bonfires have a symbolic meaning – perhaps a cultural reflection of the human tendency to seek out central places that we discover time and time again in our classroom exercises.
SYMBOLISM OF BONFIRES
Bonfires originate from a pagan tradition believing that the strength of fire supports the sun to strengthen its power and shine with full strength as summer starts to approach.
However, with the emergence of the Labour movement bonfires acquired a somewhat different purpose. They were used as a highly visible communication tool that accompanied the marches and public speeches and were intended to increase awareness about the workers’ rights.
Today, the bonfire festivals in Slovenia hold largely a social gathering role. While commemorating the importance of the workers’ unions through speeches, the bonfire festival also includes live music celebration, food and drink stalls with the ritual of bonfire burning and people gathering around the fire representing the highlight of the evening.
Events such as bonfire festivals are fuel for the community. In SafeGrowth we refer to the cultural principle that represents actions of the heart. These are the instincts that show up in our classes on the design-a-park charrette. Just imagine how much progress in neighbourhood development we could achieve by combining actions of the heart with those of the mind – systematic and organised actions to enhance social cohesion!
by Gregory Saville
I recently spent time in downtown Toronto and found some great street designs, including Dundas Square - a walkable/event square surrounded by flashing billboards and shops of all sorts. It is like a kind of mini-Times Square, following the pedestrianization of former New York planner Janette Sadik-Khan.
Between the flower pot decorations, the latest tunes from loudspeakers and an evangelical huckster announcing his wares on one side, and a fashion photographer capturing the stylish gaze of his model on the other, Dundas Square seems chaotic at one glance and at another, deliciously exciting. It might generate plenty of activity, but there is nothing inherently crime-generating about this downtown corner.
Dundas Square is an example of two ideas in SafeGrowth related to community design that have a huge impact on safety – or the opposite – and yet we seldom use them when we aim to build livable and safe places.
SOCIAL STABILIZERS & CRIME DISRUPTERS
One is the concept called social stabilizers. The term was first coined as part of neighborhood livability in the late 1960s. The idea originally referred to people whose presence and activities help reduce disorder in a neighborhood. Today we draw the term from 2nd Generation CPTED to refer to safe congregation areas for pro-social activities and balanced land uses that minimize places that can tip an area into higher disorder or crime.
The other concept is called crime disrupters - a term that is related, but different, from stabilizers. While planners can design social stabilizers into new neighborhood plans, for those who live and work in a community, it might be too late to add new designs. So they can use crime disrupters to alter problem areas.
One example of crime disrupters is pop-up placemaking, sometimes called tactical urbanism. Because it is done by local residents, shop owners or property managers, tactical urbanism cannot only disrupt crime but also stabilize the safety of an area.
I recently received a Bloomberg research report from my architect friend Mark Lakeman about the stabilizing effect of intersection repair programs on traffic accidents and neighborhood safety.
Stabilizing neighborhoods and disrupting crime is as much a part of urban design and community building as any other activity. As we create livable communities, and as crime rates rise in our post-Covid era, we should tap into the urban design and community-building tactics at our disposal.