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unsurprising to many readers as there is no longer the watchful eyes of owners and employees, and natural surveillance is obsolete.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 Mateja Mihinjac
This blog was inspired by a recent trip to my home village of 6,000 residents. Ever since I can remember, every few months the graffiti in the railway underpass near my house is painted over and the broken lights fixed. Shortly after fixing, the signs of vandalism reappear and a few months later the graffiti reappears. This has been occurring for the last 30 years.
GRAFFITI MANAGEMENT PROGRAMS
At the start of my criminology career, I learned that rapid graffiti removal programs were the most efficient way to address the problem because they deny graffiti offenders or “artists” the reward of having their work seen by others. In the 1980s, the famous Broken Windows Theory began with one such program in the New York City subway system’s Clean Car Program – graffiti was removed and vandalism repaired.
Through subsequent research and practical work I learned this approach might not be very effective and cost-beneficial as it is costly, may lead to displacement, fails to account for various motivations in the offenders, and generally fails to permanently eliminate the problem.
Since then other approaches appeared for addressing graffiti. One approach focuses on anti-graffiti materials and surfaces, increased penalties for “offenders”, and community clean-ups. Another approach designates graffiti walls and education or mural programs for offenders, such as the successful program for talented graffiti artists described in on this blog site by our team member Anna Brassard.
While some cities successfully integrate both approaches, other cities are more polarized in their graffiti management approaches. For example in Ottawa, city leaders maintain a strict no-graffiti policy apart from designated legal graffiti walls and murals under the City’s mural program.
Conversely, the mayor of the Colombian capital of Bogota has decriminalized graffiti after a tragic event in 2011 when a young artist was fatally shot. Apart from designated off-limit surfaces, graffiti artists in Bogota are free to express their creativity across the city. Graffiti is now integrated into city life and, interestingly, has become a major attraction for visitors.
I don’t argue for one approach over another since different contexts require different solutions. However, if an approach remains unsuccessful over a number of decades, such as in the railway underpass in my home village, it is time to consider alternative strategies. One missing link, however, is the limited voice of local community members.
NEGOTIATED CONSENT OR ZERO TOLERANCE?
In her reflection on developing a graffiti strategy for the city of Melbourne, criminologist Alison Young recommended against the city’s zero-tolerance approach with increased criminalization of graffiti artists, the approach which local government had adopted at the time.
She argued for self-regulation where property owners and local public would have a say in the image and identity of their local part of public space by either retaining it or by requesting the local government to remove the newly emerged graffiti. The thinking was that if local communities were given an opportunity for such self-governance, they might develop a greater sense of ownership and care for the local environment.
The Melbourne strategy has worked - today the city has a successful street graffiti program receiving world-wide acclaim. That success has turned into a major tourist attraction and economic success story for Melbourne including the popular Melbourne Street Art Tours by local tour companies and the annual Melbourne Stencil Festival.
Since 2010 the city has applied a hybrid approach where they now include the voice of business owners in deciding whether graffiti should be retained.
Melbourne provides an innovative answer to the question of whether we should eliminate graffiti, accept it, or channel freedom of expression in a positive direction for the artists and local communities. Despite a plethora of graffiti management practices, one thing is certain: graffiti is here to stay.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
We have written a number of blogs about activating public space with public art. From music festivals to large murals, neighbourhoods around the world bring people together to observe and interact around art. However, in Brisbane this year, art was mixed with science.
Last month, the city of Brisbane was celebrating all things science in the public sphere. Brisbane had a massive science festival. This included exhibits at the Queensland science museum, an outdoor festival, and perhaps the most engaging: technology-inspired art exhibits around the city. These exhibits, called Curiocity, married together art and science into an interactive and beautiful combination for local residents and tourists alike. The exhibits were placed along the Brisbane river and free for everyone, making them easily accessible and activating these spaces 24 hours day.
Artists, scientists and technicians combine experience in robotics, music, art and technology to create these interactive experiences. The exhibits included “Sky Brisbane” an air-jet activated grid of colourful fabric plumes that move based on the movement of the observer and “Scatter” solar-powered spinning loud speakers that scatter sound as the listener moves throughout the exhibit. These exhibits could be further engaged with through a phone app that was accessed through a scannable bar code at each installation.
These kinds of exhibits are not new but definitely are growing in popularity and size. For example, in North Vancouver Canada, Capilano suspension bridge puts on a beautiful holiday light show at the end of each year. Last year they included an interactive light display that turned on and changed colour based on the noise made. Passers-by engaged in clapping, stomping and cheering to see what kinds of colour combinations they could make.
ENCOURAGING CURIOSITY IN SCIENCE
While we often talk about how public art can bring people out and activate space, this combination of technology and art could offer not only further public engagement, but also celebrate and expand science in the public forum. Science festivals that include these kinds of exhibits can encourage curiosity and celebrate the advancement of knowledge, while remaining accessible and enjoyable.
In a time when science and evidence is being replaced by personal opinion and fake news, perhaps the celebration of science in the public realm will not only bring folks out and activate public space but will also encourage thoughtful conversation and curiosity about knowledge and inquiry.
GUEST BLOG: SafeGrowth Advocate Anna Brassard recently mentored a high school student about design and safety and encouraged her to submit her project here. Sophia Marchenko is a grade 9 student at Calgary’s Master’s Academy and College. We congratulate Sophia on her exceptional work and welcome her contribution to SafeGrowth.
by Sophia Marchenko
In grade nine this past year, I had the opportunity to participate in the Professional Initiatives Program at my school, Master’s Academy and College. As part of the program, I was matched with a mentor in a field of my interest and was challenged to create my own research project. I was fortunate to be matched with Anna Brassard, an urban planner. The central question of my research project became “What if public art could serve a second purpose?”
I asked: What if public art could also be a bird sanctuary? A way to improve safety? A crime prevention system? An electric vehicle charging station? A way to generate electricity?
I found many examples of public art serving a functional purpose within Calgary and beyond. There were examples in Calgary, such as the public transit bus stops currently being built with art pieces, and artistically designed stormwater filtration systems. I looked into musical swings in Montreal, Quebec, and Chicago’s multimedia Crown Fountain. All of these examples display messages of beauty, culture, environmental stewardship, and community, while serving a practical purpose.
Since my school is located right beside the newly constructed Flander’s Bridge, I’ve seen how reckless drivers can get in that area. There is a plan for a new piece of public art for that area and I wondered whether a piece of public art could contribute artistic elements to the bridge while also helping to slow down traffic and improve safety.
I was put in contact with a transport engineering at the City of Calgary and he described the existing traffic volume is 94,000 vehicles per day at that location, a very large amount of road traffic. There were many schools in the area that have kids crossing Flanders Bridge every day.
FLANDER'S BRIDGE PROPOSAL
I decided that my public art would have speed signs incorporated in an artistic way, showing drivers their current speed and encouraging them to slow down. It would also have artistically-integrated solar panels to generate the needed electricity. I liked the idea of using strips of copper for most of the design and having the whole design illuminated with soft light at night.
By the end of my research project, I realized that I had learned a lot about public art and how an artistic element on a key piece of Calgary’s infrastructure could also contribute to a safer environment for both drivers and pedestrians. It was an eye-opening experience to learn from an urban planner, an architect, students at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Environmental Design, where Anna had years ago taught a SafeGrowth program, as well as planners and engineers from the City of Calgary. Many thanks to my mentor throughout this program, Anna Brassard, for opening my eyes to the field of urban planning.
GUEST BLOG – Mateja Mihinjac is a criminologist at Griffith University, Australia completing her doctoral research on CPTED implementation. She is a member of the International CPTED Association. She recently attended the Asia-Pacific ICA CPTED Forum and kindly submitted this blog.
In mid-October, the ICA hosted a 2014 regional Asia-Pacific CPTED forum themed Better CPTED - Multidisciplinary Design for Safer Places.
The participants came from many different backgrounds thus bringing to the table a rainbow of strategies. Despite the differences we all agreed better and safer places emerge from the special features that make places more attractive and the people who use those places. I found great examples on the streets of Adelaide.
The nicely maintained Victoria Square offers numerous opportunities for social activities, meeting spots and sheltered seating areas. Walking down the pedestrian Rundle Mall I found The Mall’s Balls - a common meeting point for people in the mall.
Looking for examples of people being users and co-creators of such special places I discovered some yarn bombing - dressed-up Rundle Mall Pigs and a statue of Dame Roma Mitchell on the North Terrace. They instantly attracted my attention and reminded me of the yarn bombed road barrier from Melbourne in a blog from a few months ago.
Turns out that the pigs and the statue were not isolated cases and that yarn bombing is popular throughout Adelaide, especially since 2012 when even the statue of Queen Victoria received a makeover. Yarn bombing is now part of Adelaide’s community events and it all started from local people aiming to create better places for and by themselves.
Yarn bombing and its “softer” version known as yarn storming (in the UK) manifests community pride and provides a personal touch in public places. It is widely considered a feminine form of graffiti or artistic vandalism.
Creative approaches such as knitting are one channel for the public to express and partake in public life. What I find neat about this approach is that it empowers those who traditionally wouldn’t participate in public activism and allows them to have a say in their own communities.
Placemaking surely comes in many forms.
Rochester, NY, is one of those places you think vanished from economic prominence when manufacturing moved to low income southern states, or to zero income automated robots. Truth is in the late 19th and early 20th Century, Rochester was one of America's first boomtowns.
Today it still sports some excellent university and medical centers but sadly, like many northern cities around the rust belt, it has struggled with a high crime rate and declining economy.
Rochester's metro population is over a million and it is the second largest urban economy in New York State. Like other places, some neighborhoods are troubled with disorder and drugs.
Look a bit closer, though, and Rochester surprises. Some neighborhoods are emerging as cultural landmarks and quality of life stars. One of those is the Neighborhood of the Arts along University Avenue. Our Rochester SafeGrowth class recently walked a night-time audit here.
Streetscaping and outdoor art is the dominant feature. Sure, along with demographics and prosperity, it is only one ingredient in the crime mix. Still...murals, sculptures, flower planters, and other art plays a significant role. For example, though street lighting wasn't particularly good, it didn't matter. There was a palpable comfort walking here at night. Lone women jogged by us quite relaxed as nearby bar patrons celebrated something or other.
This is a cool area and a great asset. For humanizing the public realm Rochester proves, art matters.
How do we start community building in a place of rapid decline? How do we create social capital where none appears?
Tough questions. One answer is to learn from others with great ideas. Here is a great idea using community design.
Emily Pilloton is a brilliant, young activist architect (Watch her TED.com video. You'll see what I mean). Her book Design Revolution set the stage for how she works.
She and her partner have now launched the next act: They moved to the poorest county in North Carolina and created Project H Design, a strategy to put their ideas into action.
Emily describes Bertie County, North Carolina as the poster child for the demise of rural America. A place where downtowns are hollowed out - a "rural ghetto" with no shared vision for a collective future.
They have already done some pretty cool things (see photo above) Now they are teaching high school kids how to start transforming their own neighborhood through community design.
There is a New York Times article about it here.
My favorite is her appearance this past January on the comedy show The Colbert Report. Wait for the buffering - it's worth it.
I have added the Project H group website to my LikeMinded list in case you want to follow them. (I do!)
I can't imagine a group more likeminded to SafeGrowth.
In the film Field of Dreams Kevin Costner responds to a ghostly incantation: If you build it, he will come. In CPTED we do something similar with territorial reinforcement - also known as turf control (TC).
TC is urban design so that people feel safe through a sense of ownership of that space while offenders feel at risk of being apprehended. TC designers use landscaping, signage, and architectural features to break public spaces into semi-public. When people feel safe they are more likely to use a place in greater numbers and, as Costner discovers, they will come (and stay to enjoy).
At least that's how it works in theory. But sometimes on the street, not so much. Usually it is more complicated.
Design does not guarantee anything. People equally need to feel that they are absolutely comfortable, that they can experience joy and fun, and that a place is playful. Comfort, joy, fun and play - these too must find expression in public places for TC to blossom.
How do we use colorful, interactive design features or even bizarre and fun territorial markers to create TC?
I discovered some answers this week.
TV viewers watching the Winter Olympics see sporting events. There is a whole other Olympic story on the transformed walkways and byways of Vancouver's streets where events are free and people are encouraged to touch public art and sculptures. Kids are told to jump on everything...except for the flaming Olympic cauldron which, for the first time ever, is mounted at ground level. Who knew people actually want to touch fire?
The following photos show some great examples of playable, touchable, and TC-friendly stuff. Will they get vandalized post-Olympics? Probably. But if they continue to work as well as they do now, does it really matter (especially if maintenance funds are set aside for upkeep)? Probably not. Better still, maybe the "adopt-a-highway" program could work to get local groups to clean their favorite public art thereby further enhancing TC.
Apparently building with people in mind produces some outstanding results.
See for yourself.