This week I fielded inquiries about target hardening. It reminded me of the story of the mirage in the desert:
When the desert traveler dying from thirst sees the mirage of an oasis he diverts toward what he mistakenly thinks is his salvation. He does so, not because it is real, but because it is all he knows and because he is desperate.
This is what happened when shop-owners in London installed spikes to deter sleeping homeless people. The global backlash became an embarrassing public relations nightmare far worse than homeless people looking for a bed. Clearly, target hardening was a mirage that backfired.
Target hardening remains a mirage because we have very little research about its impact on community-building or on the perception of the public. Target hardening definitely conveys a message. What message does it convey about buildings, benches, urban parks and residential property? Does it drive people away for fear of crime? Is that message helpful for building local pride in our future communities?
Target hardening seeped into CPTED language in spite of its utter absence in the early literature from the CPTED pioneers. As far as I can tell, target hardening as a CPTED strategy showed up about a decade after CPTED was born.
Then in the early 1980s Ronald Clarke adopted target hardening as a component of situational crime prevention and that is where it has resided ever since.
Historically target hardening has been around a very long time. Some instructors like to equate medieval forts as examples of target hardening, but stretching a metaphor to antiquity does a disservice to contemporary democracies where human rights bind modern societies together.
PERSISTING IN THE LEXICON
Still, target hardening persists in the security lexicon because at times it works very well. I use it when other options don’t work such as high risk public housing prior to community-building programs. Regrettably, research on the topic is thin. Most target hardening research obsesses on common property crimes such as burglary, vandalism and thefts and to a lesser extent, robbery.
There is scant research on crimes against persons such as homicides, shootings or gang related violence, and what does exist is spotty. Luckily some research on target hardening still shows up in the property crime literature.
The truth is we know very little about the broader impact of target hardening. And our ignorance portends a rather scary future until we answer the single most important question about it: Is target hardening simply a mirage diverting us from more substantial, sustainable, and community-minded answers?
If you have not been following crime prevention or CPTED websites you may not know about a must-see event - the upcoming 2015 International CPTED Association bi-annual conference. This year it is October 19-20 in Calgary, Canada, where the ICA was born twenty years ago.
In 1996 there were few, if any, regional CPTED organizations and there were no international CPTED organizations. Even today it remains the only global association offering a certification program for CPTED practitioners.
The bi-annual conference is an ICA showcase for new theories, emerging practices, and creative ideas in crime prevention through environmental design.
The roster does not disappoint. Consider these topics:
Guest speakers include Paul Ekblom, professor at Central Saint Martin’s University of the Arts, London. Ekblom is a leading author and researcher on CPTED and will talk about “CPTED: Are our terms and concepts fit for purpose, and if not how might they be improved?”
Michael Sutton is a criminologist from Nottingham Trent University in the UK and will talk about “The routine activity theory of crime masquerading as causality”
Dr. Randal Atlas, myself, and ICA Executive Director Barry Davidson will facilitate an open session about homelessness and CPTED and what practitioners might do to better respond.
Rachel Armitage, professor of criminology and director of the Secure Societies Instutute a the University of Huddersfield, UK and Chris Joyce of the West Yorkshire Police will present “Why my house; Exploring offender perspectives on risk and protective factors in residential housing design”
For more information see the ICA website.
GUEST BLOG: Tarah Hodgkinson is senior researcher in the Integrated Risk Assessment Instrument Group in Vancouver, Canada. She is a member of the International CPTED Association and a certified SafeGrowth practitioner. She is completing her PhD in criminology at Simon Fraser University.
Like the lyrics above from the best selling track Sing, too much crime prevention targets at-risk youth, but it rarely consults them. In The End of Education, Neil Postman told a fable of New York City falling into desperation. The streets are in disrepair, people are afraid to go outside and the police are unable to control the ballooning crime problem.
Not knowing what to do, the Mayor’s aide prepares to flee the city, but first reads Thoreau’s Walden, especially the quote, “Students should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?”
SAFETY AUDITS WITH KIDS
I recently participated in a safety audit with local youth in Saskatoon, Canada. With the help of a local planner and SafeGrowth advocate, Elisabeth Miller and planner Haven Rees, we reworked some of the safety audit to make it more youth friendly. We taught safety audit principles through games and examples. Finally the youth conducted a safety audit in one of Saskatoon’s neighbourhoods.
The experience reminded me how rarely youth are brought to the table when discussing safety, despite their unique experience in the urban environment. This group was particularly interesting, because they were all newcomers to Canada. Many were from countries much more violent and crime-ridden than Canada. Their experience is particularly unique, because they experience fear and safety differently.
For example, while conducting the safety audit one youth exclaimed,“of course I feel safe here! It’s so much safer than Russia!”
The youth in the safety audit told a different story than adults often do about their neighbourhoods. In a Block City exercise they were given the opportunity to build a neighbourhood with schools, shops, homes, and churches. They placed parks and shops very close to their home.
During the safety audit they also noticed things in the neighbourhood that we had missed. We were consistently surprised by their awareness and eagerness to participate. They were excited that we were taking their contributions seriously and genuinely intended to use their feedback.
GIVING VOICE TO YOUTH
I’ve had the privilege of teaching youth throughout my career. I often see their frustration when they are counted out from decisions because they are too young, or not given opportunities because adults feel they haven’t learned enough yet. However, when given the opportunity they can create beautiful and inspiring things. I’ve been impressed by the efforts to include youth here in Saskatoon.
Similar results are reported in this blog by educator Fleur Knight during her work in New Zealand schools.
I hope others will recognize the importance of involving youth in policy and neighbourhood improvements and we will stop doing things to and for youth, but rather with them.
One of the more offensive ideas I’ve come across in criminology is the theory that some high crime neighborhoods never change. They remain that way for decades and they are impervious to recovery. Equally offensive - and no less true - is a belief that zero tolerance enforcement in crime hotspots or hardening targets in those high crime neighborhood is the best we can do.
No doubt crime persists in some places. Enforcement and situational prevention too can help. But they are far from the best we can do. Places do change and we can be part of that change. To peddle the inevitability of crime persistence or the impossibility of neighborhood rebirth is to embrace empirically unsound, intellectual funk.
That was my thought last week in Philadelphia where we worked with Philadelphia LISC, the Philadelphia Commerce Department, and Police Department to launch more SafeGrowth community development projects.
We’ve been here twice over the past few years, most recently last year where impressive project work is still underway. One of those SafeGrowth projects started four years ago - Rainbow de Colores park - won accolades and was featured in an award-winning video for reducing crime and transforming a drug infested, shooting gallery at a handball court into a safe place alive with neighborhood life.
Last week energetic and dedicated commercial corridor managers, police officers, architects, city officials and residents began SafeGrowth projects in commercial corridors across the city. We did our training on 5th Street North, an area called El Centro de Oro,often associated with high crime and some of the highest drug dealing hotspots in the city.
There is much to be done here (and elsewhere). The truth is that positive transformation is no more inevitable than stagnation. Fortunately work is already underway.
5th STREET NORTH
For example on 5th Street positive things are happening: street-scaping, thriving restaurants, an active arts and music scene, and vibrant community groups such as the innovative HACE (the Hispanic Association of Contractors and Enterprises) where we held our training. This corridor is revitalizing. Things are looking up!
You know something special is going on when you hear that local residents and shop owners take it on themselves to clean graffiti from the decorative, steel palm trees lining 5th Street North. To one author those hand-crafted trees are “a beloved symbol of the many Latin American islands represented in the local population.”
Obviously, undeterred by obsolete criminology theories, local pride and cohesion is where neighborhood transformation begins.