Santiago, Chile is enticingly filled with contrasts fair and foul. During my visit here this week I feasted on a buffet of visual and cultural treats foremost of which was a growing CPTED movement.
Like any 6-million person metropolis, Santiago struggles with air pollution. Winter-time temperature inversions from the surrounding Andes mountains make matters worse. Yet those same mountains offer world-class skiing and snow capped vistas. Driving in from the airport, roads are lined with garbage strewn shanties. Yet elsewhere the city is clean, modern and exciting.
Oddly, residential areas are lined with security fences, razor wire and cameras. For a country with the lowest crime rates in the region, that is a mystery. Aside from reports of some gang-run pockets in the city, Santiago is one of the safest cities in Latin America. It's homicide rate is far lower than most American cities.
THEN THERE IS CPTED
In Chile and other parts of Latin America, CPTED has been led by Macarena Rau and her dynamic team at PBK Consulting. Macarena is Vice President of ICA and chair of the Latin American Chapter of the International CPTED Association.
Yesterday Macarena delivered her amazing story at a TED.com talk in Argentina - the second-ever CPTED practitioner to describe CPTED on the world stage, the first being defensible space guru Oscar Newman at the inaugural UN Habitat conference in 1976 Vancouver (technically he didn't discuss CPTED but rather declining urban conditions which is more SafeGrowth than CPTED. I digress.)
That's quite a feat!
I have admired Macarena for years. This week we presented at CPTED conferences and seminars in Santiago delivering the South American model of CPTED, a holistic and community-based version of CPTED.
I suspect holistic 2nd Generation CPTED is easier in a culture already rife with interesting urban innovations.
A program to rent street corners to confectionary and flower vendors. Each vendor determines the fiscal viability of corners. They then rent an attractive flower kiosk predesigned by municipal architects (to control the quality of the neighborhood image). Since the kiosks are easily moved, if the economics of the corner don't work the kiosk is moved.
The vendors add a valuable service to the neighborhood and they are in demand. They also add to land values and safety by locating more legitimate eyes on the street. It's private sector entrepreneurial savvy matched with public sector quality control to improve neighborhoods.
Remember the old Mayberry vision of Mom and Pop corner stores in the neighborhood? It seems the Santiaguinos have figured how to revise, beautify and activate that vision and provide jobs at the same time. Also quite a feat.
I hate those strips of grass near sidewalks when they are festooned with the foul fecal offering of a wandering canine (I blame mindless dog owners). Too often those strips are neglected, littered and ignored. They detract from neighborhood aesthetics and make it look like no one cares.
This blog has talked about parking lot design, bike trail safety, and redesigned alleys. Yet somehow those odd strips of grass escape our notice.
Technically we're talking about sidewalk buffers called planting strips but they have many names; tree lawns, rights-of-way, boulevards (in Canada), and verges (in the UK). Street ecologists call them planting strip gardens or just sidewalk gardens.
Think about it. If residents can take them over and use them for flowers and food, planting strips become one of the simplest fixes to create local pride.
It's the perfect opportunity to activate a boring or dying street. In CPTED terminology planting strips can extend territorial control by residents into the public domain of their street.
I found some interesting samples in Portland, Oregon recently. Check them out.
Judging by recent e-traffic, my last blog struck a chord! Especially the contention that community engagement in policing has been a dreary failure. I conclude that, except in problem-oriented policing or when mentored by non-profits (see below), it seems a lost cause.
Truth is, aside from trite historical footnotes (“the police are the public, the public are the police”) most police-community engagement today is little more than political optics. Of course, as in all polemics, that isn’t true everywhere.
I was impressed to discover the Dallas Police Community Engagement Unit. Then I read it is three policing teams who do evidence-based analysis, work with apartment owners to deal with crooks, and attend community meetings where they "gather information first-hand that can be relayed to other teams in the department."
MORE THAN REPORTING CRIME
There’s nothing wrong with asking the community for information on criminals. That’s good police work. But let’s not pretend it is community engagement.
Ultimately I don’t think any of this explains our engagement flop, at least not the version where residents take an active role planning and working towards their own public safety. Perhaps police are not the best agency to do that anyway.
Governments hardly do any better. National Crime Prevention Councils rely on national "night outs", neighborhood watch schemes, or education about existing crime prevention programs. In other words walk around at night, watch out for crooks and call the cops.
I know I’m simplifying and yet a critical thinker must ask, Who is really "engaged" when that engagement amounts to little more than walking around, calling the cops, or going to meetings?
CPTED history offers some hope. Consider Oscar Newman’s dictum in Creating Defensible Space; Always include grass roots participation in prevention planning!
We use a similar approach in SafeGrowth though our message is conveyed in a different way. For example, one lighthouse shining brightly on community-policing partnerships is the LISC - CSI SafeGrowth programs.
THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE
When the message is engagement we need a messenger who is appropriately staffed, resourced and most of all, trained in engagement tactics. The last time I checked the Engagement Toolkit I counted over 60 tactics. That messenger must master them all.
Who is that messenger? Probably a non-profit like LISC or AARP, a philanthropic organization, a municipal planning department (as in Saskatoon), and an active community association. It will require municipal executives, particularly police chiefs and city managers, who know how to advocate for and implement such a model. They must be properly trained how to do that.
Every time I’ve seen successful engagement in places like San Diego, Milwaukee, Saskatoon, and Philadelphia I get the feeling that is the shape of the future. At least I hope it is.
An email showed up this week from a crime prevention colleague in a far-away city.
“Not sure if it's a sign of the times or just the fast pace, long work hours, and long bus commutes…but it’s a bit of an uphill struggle to get some communities to take ownership of their neighborhood issues.”
It’s a theme I’ve heard over and over - getting residents, shop-owners and locals out of their homes, away from TV to “do” crime prevention. Setting aside their boredom (or their fears) and working together in common cause.
That theme hovers raptor-like over work that depends on building community. Sometimes called capacity building, or in the latest sociological parlance collective efficacy, this is the idea ofcommunity engagement.
Engagement is the road kill of community crime prevention, in one moment obvious and in another impossible.
Academics study it, policy wonks insist on it and social workers claim it brings meaning to neighborhood life. Yet none of them tell us exactly how to do it, how to get people outside and “engaged”.
In criminology the grandest experiment in community engagement was the juvenile delinquency work in the famous Chicago Area Project back in the 1930s and 1940s (still going on). Even today strains of that work echo in studies about cutting youth violence with community engagement.
Police too did their bit during the community policing era with community engagement strategies, though they were usually limited to those monstrosities where cops sat up front in some hall to "engage" the community (sort of) in community meetings.
There were experiments with neighborhood substations, now long gone (closed in the name of funding cuts as expenditures turned instead to fancy computer programs, night-vision goggles and new military equipment). In most cities all that remains is the police/community meeting room (usually adjacent to the front foyer at HQ).
And still none of that tells us anything about the simplest question: How do we get neighborhood dwellers engaged and into the public realm – their street, parks, community halls – where their lives intersect in a real way?
FOOD AND FUN
Then I remembered this lovely, formally adorned, Muslim mother at a SafeGrowth training a few years ago. She came up to me and said quietly, “you know, in the Muslim community engagement in daily life starts with great meals and tasty food. Celebration starts in the stomach.” Actually, I thought, it does for everyone! Potlucks, barbeques, corn and hotdog roasts, lemonade stands!
Interesting, isn’t it! It is the fun and joyful things of community life like food, music, and play that draw people out. It's those times when they meet and share in each others lives in a gradual and ‘smell-the-roses’ kind of way. Less community organizer and more community jester.