by Tarah Hodgkinson
While discussing safer cities in her pioneering book, Death and Life of Great American Cities , Jane Jacobs said that “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody” and this includes creating them for everybody. That includes children.
I usually do my best to avoid the children’s area of parks. I’m not a big fan of the running, screaming, whining, crying or even laughing. Kids are great; they are just not for me. But usually once a week I walk through Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens and right past a children’s play area. On a normal day I would breeze on by, yet I recently took notice of a very interesting sign.
Created by the City of Brisbane, this sign asks, “How would you like to play?” It is followed up by 20 images of children signing different options for play, from climbing to sliding to digging. Each image provides a description of the type of activity and how to sign it.
Not only was there signage about how to communicate how to play (emphasizing good communication skills), but it was all-abilities friendly. Children who may be hearing impaired, or delayed in speaking, could communicate with other children what they wanted and be understood.
In prior blogs, we have written about the need for all-abilities planning and inclusive neighborhood design.
However, these designs can often emphasize the “disability” side of design with images of wheelchairs or walkers. In this case, all-abilities design is made fun. It is similar to what UK planner Charles Laundry says about making public spaces fun in his landmark book The Creative City and also what we discussed in our previous blogs on design creativity.
What is also impressive here is there is no mention of abilities on the sign. Rather, it is normalized and made part of the overall play experience. Perhaps this is the best way to move forward in all-abilities, inclusive neighborhood design.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
We spend many hours in our SafeGrowth training emphasizing the power of connectedness, social capital, and friendship circles. In her book, The Village Effect, Susan Pinker explains how current research points to a connection with others as the biggest contributor to psychological and physiological health. And this connection cannot be replaced with interactions like a screen (Skype and Facetime cannot replace in-person contact).
Thus, this cult of self-care has it wrong. Playing on your phone or binging on Netflix alone may actually be doing more harm than good.
Every year, at this time, I spend a few weeks leading up to the holidays wrapping presents for a charity gift wrapping station. Every year I ask my friends if they would like to join me. And every year, despite the short time requirements, the fun atmosphere, and the holiday spirit, I receive the following response: Oh that sounds great, but I’m just too busy and stressed.
The holidays are a busy time for everyone. Many people are wrapping up projects at work or school, doing their own holiday shopping or attending holiday events and parties. There is a lot going on. But I wasn’t wrapping alone because others, like me, had found time to come out and volunteer. Why, I wondered, can’t I convince my friends to do the same?
Self-care has become a buzzword for this time of year. Stressed out from the holidays? You need to self-care! And anything can be self care, from treating yourself to week-long retreats to binging on Netflix, drinking a bottle of wine and ordering pizza from the couch. As long as you see your well-being as something you alone control, and spend money doing that, then the self-care market has done its job. Yet, somehow, it doesn’t seem like anyone feels more cared for.
In truth, self-care really has nothing to do with the self at all.
The holiday season often leaves us reflecting on the previous year and looking forward to our possibilities, but we tend to follow a particular script when we plan for the new year. We set new goals about losing weight, getting healthy or giving up a vice. We think “this year will be better, because I will get fit and find love.” We load up on self help books and websites, buy new gadgets like fit-bits and tell ourselves that this will make us happy and fulfilled. Then we do it all again the next year.
If we really want to self-care, we need to be around people, we need connection, and we need to help others. If the holidays are stressing you out, and you need a New Year’s resolution, here’s one: I will spend more effort getting involved in my neighbourhood?
Caring about others might just be the best way to care for yourself.
Happy New Year!
by Gregory Saville
The writing on the shop walls and the floating billboards was Anglo-Chinese. On the street, cityspeak combined English, Chinese and Spanish, a vernacular that served the homeless, the marginally employed and the unfortunate. Pollution and environmental collapse led to constant clouds and pelting rain. The affluent traveled to off-world colonies on Mars and elsewhere, leaving the rest of us behind. Bio-engineered, human-like robots called Replicants used their artificial intelligence and rebelled.
That was the horrific world described in Philip K. Dick’s book that became the 1982 sci-fi classic, Bladerunner. I blogged on Bladerunner architecture last year. When I watched Bladerunner in the 1980s it seemed like an impossible future. And it was set for such a long way ahead – 2019!
That's next year! With only a month left, how close is that future?
UNFOLDING AS WE SPEAK
It doesn’t take much imagination to see a Bladerunner vision unfolding. True, we are nowhere near that specific dystopia. We still don’t have flying cars (but we have self-driving ones!). Yet, one wonders...
This week I watched NASA’s exciting landing on the planet Mars. Space X CEO Elon Musk says he’ll get people to Mars within six years. How long before off-world colonies evolve?
This year I watched the fruits of some incredible advances in artificial intelligence and bio-engineering, including the world tour of the remarkable Sophie, the first thinking and speaking robot to attain citizenship. Sophie tells us not to worry; real robots are not like Bladerunner.
Then there is the decades-long Chinese economic miracle and the environmental mess we watch with increasing regularity in hurricanes, wildfires, species extinction and climate chaos.
Philip K. Dick, it seems, was on track. How might we derail that particular future? The usual formula is to rethink geo-politics and create a new macroeconomics. Nevertheless, the maxim ‘think global, act local’ has special relevance here. Take, for example, Philadelphia!
ONE NEIGHBORHOOD’S STORY
Over the past few years we brought SafeGrowth to Philadelphia. We now have some great advocates working for the neighborhood association, HACE. This year they began implementing their latest 10-year 2025 Neighborhood Plan.
For years HACE and friends have been diligently working to transform the blight, drugs and crime into a greener, socially connected, economically vibrant neighborhood. Now their new, SafeGrowth-infused 2025 plan is underway and they’ve been making strides.
They installed new, clean walking trails where garbage was once strewn.
They instituted Philadelphia’s first SafeGrowth Livability Academy, a collaborative on-going workshop with 30 neighbors and police during which they developed problem-solving strategies for their neighborhood.
The HACE plan envisions greener areas, community gardens, better resourced neighborhood hubs, safe intergenerational and affordable housing. HACE has already built over 200 units of affordable housing and leveraged over $100 million in redevelopment and improvements. A host of community-building strategies are already underway.
For example, they, and their partners, shut down a drug infested, homeless camp along a railway underpass. That naturally displaced addicts to street level, resulting in a public outcry (after decades of inaction). Ultimately, that led to a more coordinated city response to treat drug users, expand homeless beds and increase shelters.
There is a long way to go and resources and shelter beds are still scarce (one estimate suggest Philadelphia has 50,000 opioid addicts, many of whom end up here). But at least action is finally underway.
That is the hard community-building work that cuts crime, improves livability, and gets neighbors engaged in shaping their own future.
Too many mayors get caught up in a fear-based echo chamber that makes them vulnerable to peddlers of security technology and promises of a bright, high-tech future.
Too many city leaders act as obsequious errand-boys for the technologists, embracing the faint promise of hostile architecture, public CCTV, automated security robots, predictive algorithms seeking crime, and audio software to track gang gunfire. (Wouldn't it be better to prevent the gunfire in the first place?)
They do this with the ill-informed hope that technology will prevail. But in doing this, they snatch defeat from the hands of successful action-based community projects right in front of them. They invite a Bladerunner future.
May they fail.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
Awhile back I took my students to Commercial Drive, a popular commercial corridor in Vancouver, to complete a community safety audit. We visited a few park locations surrounding the main corridor, each of which had a public washroom. This isn’t unusual, but when I encouraged my students to check out the parks they reported that the washrooms were locked... ALL of them! In the middle of the day!
WHAT WAS THIS ABOUT?
On one of the public washrooms there was a notice to call the city to have the doors unlocked. First call: Answering machine. Second call: They said they would arrive in 30 minutes. I couldn’t believe it! Thankfully, I wasn’t pregnant, toting around children, or anything else that might have made washroom access an emergency.
I’m happy to report that when I took another group of students to Commercial Drive this year, the washrooms were open, clean and accessible. That was a far cry from the locked doors we had seen the year prior, a much too common experience in Vancouver and many cities across Canada and the United States. This raises an important issue we often do not talk about regarding neighbourhood safety - access to clean and safe washroom facilities.
I was reminded of this issue when I visited Australia recently and discovered public washrooms everywhere, not only in Brisbane, but in the Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Sydney and anywhere else I went. For someone who drinks a LOT of water, washroom access is an important part of my daily activities. As someone who has been a caregiver for a person living with multiple sclerosis, washroom access is an absolute necessity.
How could my home country, famous for being socially minded, not provide the basic human dignity of clean and accessible public washrooms as in Australia?
Public spaces aren’t created by the people who live there and too often the needs of the public, especially the needs of the disabled, marginalized or disempowered, are ignored in creating these spaces. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the design and management of public washrooms.
In some cities, public washrooms are places of increased target hardening to prevent undesirable behaviour such as drug use and sexual solicitation. For example, many of the public washrooms in Calgary have blue lights that purport to make it impossible to find a vein, a controversial strategy challenged by actual research. Others, like those on Commercial Drive, have found ways of reducing hours of operation and in some cases removing them all together.
Is locking down and removing public washrooms the way to solve illegitimate use? Could we encourage local government to invest in cleaning and checking these places on a more regular basis - such as the self cleaning bathrooms in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver? Could we provide safer alternatives for these users (similar to safe injection sites) instead of punishing the public by locking down places that address basic human needs? If other countries like Australia have figured it out, I think there is hope for Canadian and U.S. cities as well.
By Mateja Mihinjac
In 2008 the Australian Government released its first White Paper on homelessness in which it announced a plan to cut homelessness in half and house all rough sleepers (a British term for those sleeping in the street) by 2020. Seeing little progress, the leading Australian charities have jointly committed to reaching this goal by 2025.
However, one of the major reasons behind homelessness is rarely discussed - housing affordability.
SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM
Australia is one of the world’s wealthiest nations and it seems unacceptable that it cannot provide affordable housing to all citizens when a sizable number of homes remain unoccupied. Yet, in 2016 the number of those experiencing homelessness in Australia on any given night was estimated at 105,000.
Exact homeless figures are always difficult to estimate, but this amounts to around 0.45% of the Australian population, a national figure that has remained relatively stable since 2011. For comparison, England’s estimates are around 275,000 (0.5% of population) while the US estimates 564,708 (0.2% of population).
To make matters worse, concentrated homelessness has increased in major city downtown areas in spite of a slight downward trend around the world.
THE PARADOX OF PUBLIC SPACE
The homeless frequently occupy public spaces of city centers which offer them safety and access to resources. Yet, as with other cities around the world like Denver and Miami, some Australian cities employ social cleansing by removing homeless groups or banning homeless camps as bad for tourism even though homelessness is not illegal.
For example, the Melbourne Mayor has recently announced a proposal for a complete ban of rough sleepers in the city. These practices displace the homeless to peripheries of cities, pushing them farther away from much-needed services thereby reducing their prospects of ever resolving homelessness. We can do much better!
Next blog – tiny homes and other solutions.
Today the span of this gulf showed up in an excellent Toronto Star column: Jane Jacobs great ideas have morphed into pettiness.
Say’s columnist Christie Blatchford:
"Where Ms. Jacobs, for instance, was instrumental in stopping a highway which would have torn apart some lovely parts of the old city – the Spadina Expressway – on my street her successors have succeeded in stopping a daycare.
My hunch is Jane Jacobs would be appalled to see how civic engagement has become…civic entitlement, wherein everyone expects to be notified and consulted about every single thing that everyone else is doing."
Have Toronto’s famed Jacobsian-style communities gone mad?
As if on cue, philosopher Mark Kingwell attacks what he calls The Shout Doctrine. Kingwell believes the real social glue of community is civility and sympathy for others.
In this month’s issue of The Walrus magazine he says:
"Adam Smith, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, persuasively suggested that sympathy, the recognition of shared human vulnerability, is the real glue of social structures. Contractual theories, like the ones popularized a century earlier by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, miss the point.
We would not make a contract with another, much less hold to it, unless we already recognized the other as an entity worthy of our consideration."
They may not know each other, but Sarkissian, Blatchford and Kingwell tell the same story. We should pay attention.