by Mateja Mihinjac
Never did the reality of rapidly changing and technologically advanced cities become more apparent than during my recent visit to Singapore. Coming from a small European town with narrow medieval streets, city squares and few high rises in its city core, arriving in Singapore felt like time travel. Modern architecture, multi-level pathways and an interplay between city design and nature was, in my eyes, a very different and futuristic image of modern cities.
SINGAPORE – A SMART CITY?
This city of 5.5 million inhabitants was designated a 2015 UNESCO Creative City of Design. It puts great emphasis on its innovation and aesthetic design, and is one of the leading smart cities in the world. Singapore is also one of the safest Asian cities that boasts the highest quality of life in the region.
The Singapore Design Masterplan Committee developed a 2025 design masterplan envisioning a technologically advanced and environmentally sustainable innovative city with opportunities for enjoying all the ample activities that the city has to offer.
However, despite referring to people-centered design, much of Singapore’s infrastructure culminated from top-down planning. The 2025 plan describes how they “actively engaged industry and public sector stakeholders through interviews and focus group discussions”, but ultimately it fails to consider a deeper level of community involvement and how citizens will develop a stronger sense of community, pride, and neighborliness from design innovations.
As we know in SafeGrowth, in many cities this top-down process often results in citizens becoming disconnected from the plans and decisions made by city agencies. That, in turn, affects ownership and sustainability over the long term as we attempt to enhance social cohesion in neighborhoods.
Smart City strategist Boyd Cohen emphasizes this people-centered point in a recent article when he claims: “Cities must move from treating citizens as recipients of services, or even customers, to participants in the co-creation of improved quality of life.”
This people-centered message is well established in neighborhood-based planning. In our SafeGrowth book, my chapter describes neighborhood engagement as an essential part of SafeGrowth planning. The message of the chapter is fundamental; citizens need to become co-creators of their cities.
Fortunately, this is the latest trend in Smart Cities – a shift from a technological and corporate/government planning system toward citizen-driven planning where citizens become co-creators of decisions, solutions and design.
Unfortunately, despite institutional collaboration, Singapore still appears to be driven top-down by the city government and it lacks a coherent citizen component. By comparison, cities such as Vienna, Austria, and Medellin, Columbia are examples showing how equity and social inclusion can play a part in future smart cities.
At the core of citizen-driven smart cities are empowered, smart citizens who collaborate in the development of the city. It is an approach called collective intelligence, and it arises from two ingredients: technology that supports the social and everyday activities of average people; and planning that involves citizens establishing the activities they want in the city they call home.
by Gregory Saville
Thinking of the upcoming year and a resolution on how to improve our SafeGrowth work, I recently watched two new films on the brilliant Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, On The Basis of Sex and RBG.
The life of Justice Ginsberg illustrates the very complex role of law and how law influences social causes – for example, protecting one group from the injustice of another, safeguarding civil rights for oppressed minorities or enforcing the rights of women. Important causes.
But, as an adolescent, I didn’t think much about the law. It rarely, if ever, deterred my mischief-making, usually because I didn’t know it existed. As a cop I considered it a blunt tool to do the job. Penalties were out of touch and enforcement was handcuffed by archaic rules.
As a crime prevention consultant, law seemed an irrelevant part of safer communities. We’ve cut crime in high crime neighborhoods and not used formal law at all. Nada!
Jane Jacobs once said, “the public peace is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves…”
So, if neighborhoods are kept safe by informal rules and voluntary standards, why bother with formal law? What purpose can it possibly serve except to provide over-zealous litigation attorneys fodder for excessive contingency fees and enforcement officials a reason to exist?
A VOICE TO THE SILENT
We’ve blogged before on how safe neighborhoods emerge from organized groups trained to come up with solutions to problems. As we describe in our new SafeGrowth book, there are few more powerful tools than local leaders of influence working with properly trained and resourced residents and community partners. In fact, that’s the training we provide for neighborhood activation – 1st & 2nd Generation CPTED, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and organizing skills. Residents thrive when they know what to do and how to do it.
Yet we have learned over the past few years that neighborhood activation does not always work. In more and more cases, specific causes for local communities (land use gentrification; infrastructure improvements) are derailed into social causes for society at large (social inequity; unfair legal system). This derailing usually takes the form of hijacking by interest groups – powerful developers want one thing. Social activists want another.
To be clear, activists are a great ally for implementing neighborhood safety plans. After all, Jane Jacobs began her career as an activist. But hijacking is a terrible way to build social cohesion.
MICRO AGGRESSIONS, PSEUDO-SCIENCE, OBSCURE LANGUAGE
Hijacking derails conflict resolution and it derails organized plans. I have seen hijackers declare “micro-aggressions” to attack those who disagree with their cause. It’s an effective derailing method. After all, who can defend against specious claims of prejudice or biased intent when another person’s intention is unknown?
Equally, I have seen powerful politicians derail neighborhood safety plans by touting scientific studies on security and CCTV. It happens when police executives defend questionable police tactics, like stop-and-frisk, and cite sketchy research.
Those too are effective derailments. After all, who can argue with “science” if the quality of those studies is unknown by the public or written in obscure statistical jargon that only an encryption expert could decipher?
Hijacking works because residents often have difficulty choosing one social cause over another in order to accomplish the safety they desire. Interestingly, they rarely have difficulty selecting specific local crime problems that demolish their quality of life. That’s why we spend so much time carefully assessing local problems and analyzing specific crimes. That is why community-collected data and collaborative analysis drives the SafeGrowth plan.
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS
Sadly, even those efforts can fail in the face of powerful political derailment. It is at those precise moments - as local efforts falter and special interests hijack local plans for improvement - when we can call on the very same legal principles that apply to large scale social causes and the interests of the powerful. That is because, in an open democracy with rule of law, those same legal principles are also available to the neighborhood. True, they are difficult to muster, especially with expensive legal costs. They may take a long time – courts are painfully slow and inefficient (it took Ginsberg decades to help change laws discriminating against women).
Law represents a procedural method for taking arguments public. It is no guarantee and my lawyer friends insist law should be used only as a last resort. Legal procedure requires removing the issue from local politics and – at least theoretically – from politics at large. The law demands arguments from different sides, with clearly established rules of evidence. It strives, albeit imperfectly, for an objective airing of facts. It is, in many cases, our last line of defense against derailments.
In SafeGrowth we strive to establish a collaborative environment and a civil way to resolve conflict. We train and we organize. In a vast majority of cases, we are successful. But not in every case.
I have always thought the law was a terribly ineffective system of truth or justice. But, when all else fails, the rule of law is probably the best last resort available to us. In Politics, Aristotle claimed, “it is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens”. The life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg shows how true that is.
by Mateja Mihinjac
When a neighborhood team at our recent SafeGrowth workshop decided to tackle the issue of food access, the topic sparked my interest. As they uncovered the links between food access and food deserts, the conversation quickly shifted toward injustice and social disadvantage and what could be done about it.
It isn’t that municipalities ignore food access. Decision makers have been attempting to address the issues of food deserts and food swamps by introducing new supermarkets into needy neighborhoods. However, simply installing a new supermarket in a deprived neighborhood will not solve inequality. Food access has historic roots in structural racism, segregation and concentration of poverty in pockets around cities, not surprisingly the same neighborhoods where crime flourishes. These are the sparks that ignited the food justice movement.
Activist and community leader Karen Washington talks about food apartheid in African American neighborhoods as a symbol of the inequality that has led to numerous social problems and limited access to affordable and nutritious foods.
The consequences manifest in reduced levels of both physiological and psychological health, so frequently prevalent among the socially disadvantaged. Many of these disadvantaged neighborhoods also suffer from disproportionately high levels of crime and weak social cohesion.
CRIME AND FEAR
There are well-established correlations between violent crime and socio-economic inequality. For example, research from New York City shows that neighborhoods in the city with the lowest median household income have the highest numbers of food deserts. Unsurprisingly, these neighborhoods persistently suffer from higher levels of crime than other more affluent neighborhoods.
To the residents on the ground the consequences are dire. As they navigate through high-risk streets – for example, when they get groceries – they are vulnerable to crime. The elderly, especially, are fearful of gang violence simply by walking or using public transportation. To worsen their fears, when they travel to outside neighborhoods they tend to experience discriminatory attitudes and harassment.
As a result, residents end up spending their meager earnings by having groceries delivered despite the additional expense. Too often they must rely on cheaper processed (and less healthy) food options near their neighborhood.
New shop owners are also less likely to invest in these food inaccessible neighborhoods because they don’t consider it economically viable. Not only must they factor the reduced buying power of residents, but they must balance their resources with safety risks and the effects of fear from crime. All too often, these factors do not pass the cost-benefit test of food corporations, thus leaving too many city residents out of the equity equation.
Next blog: Some solutions for a lasting change.
by Greg Saville
Sometimes it is in smaller cities where seeds of innovation germinate and when that happens it is usually due to a few local champions. Those champions almost always credit others. In my view, they are the unsung heroes of the SafeGrowth and community development story.
I have lauded local champions over the years: Cincinnati's’s Sarah Buffie in 2009, the late Andy Mackie from Port Townsend, Washington in 2012, and Philadelphia’s Amelia Price in 2015. This year I met more but I want to applaud one: Herb Sutton.
Herb is the crime prevention coordinator from North Battleford, a small city of about 20,000 population in central Saskatchewan, Canada. For years North Battleford held the title of the highest crime severity rating of any Canadian community with a population of at least 10,000 people.
Elisabeth Miller and I taught SafeGrowth and CPTED to Herb two years ago and then last year ran a training in North Battleford. Herb’s team project for the 2015 SafeGrowth training was building a community garden next to a new homeless shelter to break down some stereotypes and decrease disorder problems.
A summary of that project concluded: "This project …provided opportunities for business owners, employees, and their families to meet [shelter] staff and some of the clients, as well as clean up the area. It was through planned and intentional efforts to build relationships that we were able to reduce the NIMBYism and fear of crime.”
Since then Herb and his colleagues have moved forward and this month’s issue of Canada’s national magazine, Maclean's featured that work. Maclean's showcased both the success and the challenges of programming in North Battleford. Like much crime prevention in troubled places, progress is slow. Yet to date it is impressive: regular team meetings on CPTED and problem-solving, town hall meetings on safety, a new CPTED review committee, downtown art, block parties, and safety audits.
It has produced early results. While crime rates in Saskatchewan increased 9%, this past year crime severity in North Battleford declined 8%. But all this is not without setbacks. Chronic underfunding continues and recent spurts in gun violence from gang activity persist. But so too does the work of Herb and his colleagues.
In a way that demonstrates the seriousness and leadership of a remarkable champion. As Canadian rocker Gordon Downie from The Tragically Hip once lyricized,
With illusions of someday
Cast in a golden light.
No dress rehearsal
This is our life.
That seriousness and persistence is, ultimately, our life. It is the only way forward. Thanks, Herb, for the inspiration.
by Mateja Mihinjac
Many walls and underpasses in the city of Ljubljana are covered with graffiti. A great number of these are considered non-artistic forms of graffiti or tagging. But there is another perspective worth considering.
Crime prevention and CPTED thinking teaches us that graffitied walls signify poor maintenance and lack of ownership thus contributing to crime and fear. In many western cities, authorities counteract this by legitimising the visually appealing forms of graffiti and containing them to particular areas of cities.
However, while the question of vandalism versus art has received much traction, the intended messaging behind graffiti has been neglected or discredited as acts of vandalism and youth misconduct.
URBAN VOICES - A DEMOCRATIC MEDIUM OF COMMUNICATION
Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, has had a long history of walls covered in socio-political messages. Following the 2nd World War, graffiti has been used as an important avenue for sharing political views and resistance to occupational rule. Today, graffiti is still used as an important medium for expressing dissatisfaction with the current system, and as a form of political activism calling for public protest and social justice.
As a bottom-up form of political activism, some scholars consider graffiti the most democratic medium for expressing personal opinions publicly. Graffiti can express values while at the same time encourage a dialogue about conflicting social issues. This has been especially popularised in the work of the famous British graffiti artist Banksy.
Through graffiti, young people can also become more active in expressing their political opinions while marginalized groups use it to publicly voice their concerns and respond to criticisms. Despite the view of law and society, graffiti can be one of the most inclusive mediums of public discourse.
SOCIO-POLITICAL GRAFFITI AS A MIRROR OF SOCIETY
The messaging behind graffiti in Ljubljana demonstrates these points. It communicates several contentious public issues, for example, some graffiti expresses dissatisfaction with the political system and government decisions appearing during the 2007/2008 financial crisis. Graffiti were used throughout the city to call for social change and entice civic organisation to join the protests to preserve social protections threatened by reforms. Graffiti were a form of resistance calling for collective social action.
More recent graffiti reflect an increase in homophobic messages regarding a same-sex marriage referendum and also ethnic-nationalist sentiments concerning the European refugee crisis. This graffiti appeared in response to unfounded community concerns.
Realising the powerful effect of forming public opinion through graffiti, graffiti activists have found a way to transform these hate messages. Graffitists do this by rewriting over an existing message or adding to it thus neutralizing negative messaging or transforming it into a positive public debate. This type of graffiti promotes tolerance and counteracts the damage that intolerant messages have on society.
"BLANK WALLS MAKE BLANK PEOPLE"
Finding the consensus between graffiti legality and alternative democratic expression is not straightforward. In SafeGrowth we encourage resident empowerment, caring for neighbors, and active citizenship. Such empowered citizens, especially when marginalized, need a suitable medium for expression. Until they find a better solution, they will continue to use walls to speak up.
by Mateja Mihinjac
On this blog, we’ve written about the importance of giving youth a voice and engaging them in public life. When they can participate, or even drive, the development of services for their use, they feel especially empowered.
EXPLORING LOCAL POTENTIALS
I like to explore hidden potentials in cities and one recent discovery in my hometown emerged as I enjoyed an autumn walk. It was a "Pumptrack", a continuous loop track intended for cyclists and skateboarders. Even more exciting for me was recognizing that track was situated adjacent to public housing thus providing youth with opportunities for prosocial activities, in this case, a recreational service.
The American National Recreation and Park Association stress that parks and recreation represent essential public services.
Apart from economic value, health and environmental benefits, the Association recognized that access to such infrastructure reduces crime and juvenile delinquency. From criminology, we also know that providing recreational and healthy activities for youth builds resilience and provides a protective factor against delinquency.
POSITIVE YOUTH DEVELOPMENT
When communities invest in their assets to assist with the development of youth and their potential, they communicate to young people that they care for them. Reciprocally, the youth develop an attachment to the community and contribute to its wellbeing. Thus, according to one report, “youth are valuable resources to invest in and not problems to be solved”.
Recreational infrastructures in cities are not extras! They offer an ideal platform for engaging and developing youth. Any future vision of the city must include them.
by Gregory Saville
Providence, Rhode Island, an hour drive from Boston, is among the oldest cities in the U.S. and one of the first to industrialize. Today it confronts post-industrial poverty and associated crime. Yet it retains a lively cultural life and, with considerable urban reinvestment and 5 colleges and universities, it is working to breathe new life into ethnically diverse neighborhoods.
Residents from Providence participated in the recent Chicago SafeGrowth training to learn concepts from 1st and 2nd Generation CPTED and apply them to one of their small-scale trouble spots. They chose Trinity Square, an area that suffered 15 violence crimes, 10 property-related crimes, and over 200 police calls for service in the 6 months leading up to the class.
As the Providence SafeGrowth team describe in their report “most of the activity on that site is negative in nature and works against the progress of positive growth with high levels of drug activity, panhandling, homelessness, and abandoned property.”
The team knew their first step was to work with local stakeholders such as police and break down fear of crime and activate spaces with a series of organized activities. They started getting locals involved in positive social events. They chose a Trinity Square bus stop to install some board games and then launch a promotional program for regularly scheduled events.
Last week, on the inauspicious date of 9/11, the team ran their first weekly Game Off event, with residents from around the area. It was a smashing success as shown in the photos.
They plan to run this regularly. They are committed to establishing a more positive environment at this location and re-establishing the Trinity Square area as a neighborhood asset.
Congratulations to the Providence SafeGrowth team.
by Kallan Lyons
Kallan is a journalist who has blogged for Journalists for Human Rights and has contributed to the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper. In 2013 she spent 6 months as media trainer in Ghana at the African College of Communications. She wrote this guest blog after attending the last part of the Baltimore SafeGrowth course.
“I had an overall instinctual sense that I was not safe.” - Community member who uses the Tot Lot, Pigtown, Baltimore
When the SafeGrowth Tot Lot team in Baltimore met Edith Nelson, they knew they had found an ally.
Tasked with transforming the park in Pigtown into a safe space for families, they consulted with Ms. Nelson. As reported in the last blog, A Baltimore trailblazer - Part 1, Ms. Edith has played an integral part in the process.
Now with her support, the team plans to clean up the lot and capitalize on community partnerships in an effort to decrease criminal behavior in the area. The team brought new energy to the project with representatives from the community, the Mayor’s Office, and the police.
STEPS FOR CHANGE
Here are just a couple of the recommendations put forward by the Safegrowth team members who are determined to build on the foundation laid by Ms. Nelson.
Throughout the Baltimore SafeGrowth training, the team addressed potential factors inhibiting locals from using the space. Surrounding the park are several abandoned homes and a liquor store; in addition, the tot lot is poorly lit in the evenings. Instead of people gathering in the park for block parties and barbecues, frequent activities include drug use and drinking.
While Ms. Nelson often peruses the park for trash, picking up empty bottles and other items left behind, the job is becoming too big for just one person.
That’s where the SafeGrowth team stepped in. The team’s vision includes volunteer clean-up crews and regular outdoor programs led by community groups. They plan to contact owners of abandoned homes to negotiate improvements. Other strategies included:
The goal is to restore the Tot Lot to its original use: a welcoming, family-oriented environment where parents and their children feel safe. Now that the wheels are in motion, and with Ms. Nelson on their side, a possibility is being turned into a promise.
The Tot Lot transformation started with one woman, and thanks to the SafeGrowth team, it will resume with the community.
By Kallan Lyons
Kallan is a journalist who has blogged for Journalists for Human Rights and has contributed to the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper. In 2013 she spent 6 months as media trainer in Ghana at the African College of Communications. She wrote this guest blog after attending the last part of the Baltimore SafeGrowth course.
At the corner of Carroll and Archer Streets in Southwest Baltimore sits the Pigtown Tot Lot, a park complete with a playground and plenty of space for a community gathering. This Tot Lot was one of four projects chosen by one of the community problem-solving teams during the latest Baltimore SafeGrowth course (another project appeared in this blog earlier).
The brightly colored jungle gym is surrounded by an iridescent wall, and would never allude to the ominous ambiance: just under a year ago, four people were injured in a shootout next to the park. To many, the Tot Lot is anything but inviting.
Nicknamed ‘Charm City’, Baltimore’s beautiful row houses, Inner Harbor, and historical attractions have been overshadowed by its drug culture and rampant crime. The city of just over 600,000 has one of the highest homicide rates in the United States. Abandoned homes, poor neighborhood lighting, and a lack of community spaces are just a few of the contributing factors. In Pigtown, kids who grew up playing at the Tot Lot have gone on to become drug dealers on the park corner.
When you hear Baltimore, you may think of Freddie Gray or even the fictitious Omar Little from The Wire. One name you likely haven’t heard is Edith Nelson. Affectionately referred to by her community as Ms. Edith, the 76-year-old has lived in Pigtown since 1989, across the street from the Tot Lot. When she moved in, the park was nothing but weeds.
“For me, it was an eyesore,” says Ms. Nelson. “From that very day [that I moved in] I said I will not live here all my life and see an eyesore like this. That’s when I began to work on the playground, on the Pigtown Tot Lot.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
In Pigtown, people came together to make a difference. Ms. Nelson began by collecting money door-to-door, selling pies and cupcakes at the local Credit Union, and calling on anyone she could to help with the project. She and her small group of supporters successfully raised the $15,000 required to redesign the space. Inspired by her enthusiasm, people latched on to her vision, first through financial contributions, then by coming out to plant trees, paint the playground and rejuvenate the park.
“I have albums from the very day that it happened and we had lots of children that really came out: we had a wheelbarrow and wood chips; our playground was wood - now it’s metal. We had a lot of people getting together back then.” Young and old gathered to reclaim their neighborhood and in the process, rediscovered their community.
Decades later, as neighbors moved away, many of those early successes lost momentum and crime returned. But despite recent events, her contributions are still standing strong and that is what the SafeGrowth team could see. Ms. Nelson has remained the trailblazer: with the help of a local organization Paul’s Place, her community renamed one of the streets Edith Way.
Ms. Nelson says although there are fewer children around, she and several others continue to clean up the area, hauling dirt and planting flowers, and holding an annual cookout that’s free to anyone in the neighborhood.
The SafeGrowth team asked Ms. Nelson to attend their presentation at the course workshop. They knew her commitment is a reminder of the importance of building community. Though there have been some setbacks, she feels doing so is about volunteerism, friendship, and people working together to accomplish a purpose.
If there is such thing as having a purpose in life, I believe Ms. Nelson has found one. Her kids have moved to other neighborhoods, but she says she’s not going anywhere.
“When I bought this house and moved into this community, despite all I saw, I still loved it and said I will live here forever. The Tot Lot has been my project, and as long as I am alive, and I have strength, I will never ever see it go back to where it was.”
Next Blog: The Tot Lot’s transformation started with Ms. Nelson. In part 2 - How the SafeGrowth team plans to move that forward.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
There has been much commentary lately about the Millennial generation. They don’t work hard enough, they expect everything to be handed to them and they are apathetic.
However, a recent book by Robert Putnam (author of Bowling Alone) claims that much of the millennial struggle is not a product of a poor work ethic or inaction. Rather, the structure of North American society has changed to make it so that working class kids are struggling far more to achieve any success compared to counterparts in their parents’ generation.
This blog reviewed the Millennial generation five years ago in Peter Pan Kids and this latest offering provides another look.
Putnam begins his analysis with an examination of why kids from his hometown of Port Clinton, who grew up in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, were generally successful despite class, racial and gender barriers while kids in Port Clinton today appear more financially segregated than ever before. He says there are several factors such as the American Dream, families, parenting, schooling and the community.
Putnam brings to life the changing demographics of American society by combining the stories of privileged and underprivileged kids and their families with current research. He demonstrates that the Baby Boomer generation was successful in part because the era of their youth was relatively favourable towards upward mobility.
BOOMER VERSUS MILLENNIAL ADVANTAGES
Contrary to the notion that many Boomers are self-made success stories, Putnam argues that youth in this generation benefited from excellent funding for school programming, neighbourhoods diversified in both race and class, and strong social capital networks that created a sense of responsibility for each other’s kids.
By contrast, he claims that today there is a concentration of disadvantage, particularly for poor kids, caused by removing funding from childhood educational programs, financial (not just racial) segregation, and the loss of community and community responsibility for youth.
This is not just a sad story about the most disadvantaged youth in America today. Rather the opportunity gap imposes on all of us real costs or what economists term opportunity costs. Putnam demonstrates that the annual costs of child poverty in the US economy is about 500 billion dollars per year (4% of the GDP).
This costs a substantial amount of money to not address this opportunity gap and it impacts politics. Kids from richer families are more confident that they can influence government; poor kids, with few incentives and few success stories, are less likely to even try. This means that the needs of marginalized groups are not being addressed.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
The response will not be quick or easy. It took a long time for the structures that supported Boomers to fall apart and it will take even longer to repair. But one stepping stone we need is supportive institutions, both public and private, to better address the economic disparities our poor youth are facing.
That’s where SafeGrowth emerges. Community development, local rebuilding and cohesive, networked neighbourhoods can assist in addressing these disparities at the neighbourhood level.
The SafeGrowth method helps to recreate social cohesion that can address many of the missing public resources. It brings neighbours together to demand more for their community, to work to create a better community, and to help introduce at-risk youth to people who can help guide them and give them opportunities they may not otherwise obtain.
SafeGrowth neighbourhoods create an action plan. That plan contains a neighbourhood vision that embraces all levels of diversity, breaks down class segregation, and gives all kids a chance at contributing and participating in community life.
Guest Blog: MATEJA MIHINJAC is a criminologist completing a PhD in CPTED at Griffith University, Australia. She is a SafeGrowth Advocate, a member of the International CPTED Association and the American Society of Criminology.
At our New Orleans SafeGrowth Summit four weeks ago we had the pleasure of hosting a National Storytelling Laureate for the United Kingdom and a storyteller of 30 years, Katrice Horsley. Katrice injected us with warmth, energy, and passion for creating social change through what she refers to as “narrative for change”.
We learned how storytelling can serve as a powerful transformational method for achieving social change to promote empowerment and social justice. Several organizations such as Transformative Storytelling for Social Change use storytelling to form meaning and experience through narrative and do so in a fun and non-threatening way. As Katrice also explains:
“Storytelling is the main way that we make sense of ourselves and of the world around us, both through the stories we choose to hear and the stories we choose to tell. New findings in neuroscience now show us how important narrative is in creating an identity for ourselves and also in experiencing and understanding how others make sense of their worlds.”
Katrice challenged some of our narratives that become beliefs, not only about us as individuals, but also about our neighborhoods. We learned how to express our own stories, and our neighborhood stories, in creative ways that included props like textiles, cards, and threads.
These are powerful methods for creating change through narrative and they equipped us with new skills for neighborhood development. Katrice showed how storytelling can deliver outcomes such as:
Katrice’s powerful performances during the Summit echoed the SafeGrowth message that, just as we can envision multiple futures for change, there are many narratives for our neighborhoods. Narrative induces particular emotions and attitudes and, if we confront those honestly in stories, we can challenge ingrained beliefs that block progress. That allows us to better tap into new ideas towards some desired future. In Katrice’s words: “If you want to effect a change then narrative is the way forward”.
Katrice helped us see the great potential that transformational storytelling has within SafeGrowth programs for planning vibrant and safe 21st Century neighborhoods.
GUEST BLOG - TARAH HODGKINSON
Tarah is a senior researcher in the Integrated Risk Assessment Instrument Research Group in Vancouver, Canada. She is a certified SafeGrowth Advocate and is completing her PhD in criminology at Simon Fraser University.
Two weeks ago, the ever expanding SafeGrowth program, in partnership with Louisiana AARP, held our third SafeGrowth Summit. Six teams from across the country joined us in New Orleans, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Birmingham, Baton Rouge, Los Angeles and of course New Orleans.
Our week included a very special visit from Nobel Laureate for Storytelling, Katrice Horsley from the UK, who was an incredible addition to our team (this will be the focus of an upcoming blog). Suffice to say, many of us walked away with a plethora of new skills for neighbourhood development.
As always, the search conference involves a stage of visioning. Sometimes this part is as important as the action plan. Participants envisioned a future where people could work, live and play in their neighbourhoods. They envisioned places that were no longer car dependent. They envisioned extensive public transit networks, renewable energies, and neighbourhoods full of festivals, diversity and acceptance.
The results of this session were inspiring and resembled similar results from other search conferences. We realize that today, when groups are asked to envision a desirable future, what emerges are ideas for walkable, diverse, multi-use, and sustainable neighbourhoods. The results of the planning stages of the search conference included numerous plans for changing each of the neighbourhoods represented at our event.
In one city, discussions focused around expanding community engagement strategies on a new metro transit system. In another, engagement included safety on possible shuttle service and a Rails-To-Trails project. On yet another, sidewalk and intersection safety initiatives are leading to the possible development of a cross-city neighborhood exchange program to help build social cohesion between different neighborhoods in the city.
By the end of the event the teams began to incorporate tactics to work with neighborhoods, residents, and stakeholders early in the planning stages. They saw the value in directly involving neighbourhood organizations before moving forward with any changes.
The concept small is beautiful resonated throughout. Finally, the conference highlighted the storytelling skills of Katrice who entertained with her unique way to share lessons of change and hope. We agreed that this will definitely become an important feature of SafeGrowth in the future.
The placemaking tactic called Intersection Repair made a recent appearance in the southern hemisphere.
A few years ago SafeGrowth Advocate Sue Ramsay ran some SafeGrowth training in her New Zealand city of Christchurch in two different neighborhoods. Thanks to the Riccarton West neighborhood SafeGrowth team, they have created a first for New Zealand.
Christchurch is the city rebuilding itself after suffering such a devastating earthquake a few years ago. Sue and other former leaders in that city saw neighborhood revitalization as a great way to move forward as the bulldozers and builders reconstructed.
The West Riccarton team has been working on activating their neighborhood and they recently completed their first intersection repair project. The time lapse video tells the story.
Congratulations to all involved! Another step forward.
The quote above is from a 14th Century poem by Dante in which the first part is called Inferno, a hell in which the author makes his way past unimaginable, underworld horrors towards salvation.
In urban parlance Dante’s Inferno is an allegory for skid rows, ghettos, and high crime neighborhoods where drug dealers and gang bangers rule like medieval war lords.
I spent the past week in a pretty rough neighborhood – it doesn’t matter where since it could be any large city. I was working with an amazing community group to transform their neighborhood into something better.
Part of our week included visiting one portion of that neighborhood, for all intents an Inferno of open-air drug markets, among the worst anywhere. It is always sobering to visit such places, though sober isn’t the right word to describe the hundreds of addicts who call it home.
Surely a place strewn with heroin syringes, dense with garbage and litter, and blighted with the effluent of a drug shooting gallery is not a place for children. Yet there they were, coming home from school, walking past their drug dealing older brothers hanging on the corners of dilapidated sidewalks, waiting for inevitable customers from both far and near.
So many violent deaths from deals gone wrong! So many indigent addicts testing out some new strain of heroin while indifferent dealers wait nearby to see if their latest product kills or turns a profit.
Unlike other parts of the neighborhood, residents in the Inferno barely eke out a living. Many are afraid but haven’t the means to leave. Crime is rampant, but rents are cheap.
To the emergency doctors, beat cops, paramedics, social workers and community development specialists who work in such places, Infernos are a workplace where they learn the full measure of frustration.
To the addicts, homeless, and poverty-stricken trapped in the deprivation and disparity that replaces life with survival, Infernos are the prisons that shame the modern democracy.
To the drug dealers, their handlers, traffickers and their cartel overlords, and all the criminal parasites who pocket the urban fabric like the boils of the Black Plague, Infernos are their retail store and, in some ways, their prison too!
Traveling through Inferno, Dante discovers that sin is a product of desire – an irony here given the preponderance of drug addiction. But eventually, through hard work and a wise, caring guide, Dante is led out of Inferno.
The labor of my colleagues this week was inspiring. Their goal is to guide their community with wisdom, courage and hard work, away from Inferno and toward something better. They live the words written by Dante 700 years ago; “and we came forth to contemplate the stars.”
Given the unsustainabity of sprawl, the persistence of crime hotspots, and the unending call for a stonger sense of community, there is a thirst for on-the-ground examples of cohesive, safer and resilient neighborhoods. Cohousing is one.
I’ve been visiting cohousing projects around Denver over the past few months and working with a group establishing an art and culture oriented cohousing community. Here is what I’ve learned.
Cohousing is not for everyone. Some prefer towering condo apartments. Others prefer remote homes hidden in the bush. Those, of course, are legitimate choices.
However the overall trend is in the opposite direction. Over 80% of the developed world lives in urbanized cities. The UN says the majority of the world is now urban. More people migrate into cities than ever before. The truth is, cyber-creep notwithstanding, we are urban and we are social.
I’ve been following the cohousing movement for 20 years. I described cohousing here 5 years ago - Avoiding a wire-esque future and Fernwood Urban Village in Victoria, BC.
Most cohousing projects look like 25-35 unit condominiums with private residences and amenities similar to those anywhere. Yet cohousing communities are designed differently because they are designed by and for residents themselves in collaboration with architects. Cars are kept to perimeter parking and pedestrian walkways, gardens, and common greenspace areas are in the center.
Cohousing governance is painfully democratic, intricate, and based on extended friendship networks. Those networks emerge from things like carpooling, shared childcare, sharing tools and common facilities like workshops and community gardens. Networks emerge from regular training in conflict resolution, mediation, and governance methods - the latest version is sociocracy. In the cohousing group I work with we are offering training in emotional intelligence skills.
Cohousing architecture includes a central common house with a library, guest rooms, play areas for kids and a large dining/kitchen area for community meals a few times a week.
A few years ago the Cohousing Association of the United States funded a national survey of the cohousing phenomenon. How successful is cohousing and how does it differ?
Here is what it found:
In my experience, cohousing has lower crime and a greater desire for collaboration on difficult problems. They live more sustainably with shared gardening, recycling and ride sharing. And at the very core of social sustainability, they seem to call police less frequently to solve most problems that they instead solve themselves.
There are still issues to resolve in cohousing. For example internal conflict is lessened but it is not absent. But on whole cohousing is the most cohesive, safe and resilient neighborhood design I've seen yet. It’s a model worth considering in the 21st Century city.
The title above is a quote from one of my favorite people in 2015 - Amelia Price.
Every now and then I recognize a stellar community development worker, organizer or thinker, what we affectionately call SafeGrowthers. In 2009 it was Sarah Buffie in Africa. In 2012 it wasAndy Mackie and his harmonicas in Washington State.
At the close of 2015 there are so many to recognize that electing one leaves an unpalatable choice. Candidates range from Calgary planner Anna Brassard - who organized the first-ever SafeGrowth Summit - to the resolute commitment of LISC community safety coordinator John Connelly, who promotes remarkable SafeGrowth programs in Milwaukee.
But today I choose one from Philadelphia. Amelia Price emerged as a leader and role model worth signaling out for accolades.
Amelia is a commercial corridor manager and she was a member of the Philadelphia SafeGrowth training. Part of her story emerges in the YouTube above. Listen to how Amelia describes her SafeGrowth team and who needs to be part of such teams. She knows the value of CPTED and promotes it in her work.
Listen to how she describes the Philadelphia police officers who work her neighborhood, how the team began changing attitudes and how those officers contributed to making a safer street (police officers, take note).
My favorite Amelia quote:
"We were all color-blind. Although we all looked different, we never looked at skin; we look at each others' heart. And I noticed right away that they also had a passion for their community."
Of course Amelia does not take credit for all the incredible work of her team, the police, or the organizations helping to make this happen - Philadelphia Department of Commerce, Called to Serve CDC and Philadelphia LISC. She does what stellar leaders always do - credit those around them.
Amelia, you make the world a better place. To you and your fellow SafeGrowthers around the world, know this - you are loved for what you do. Thank you!
Four months ago I posted about President Obama’s eulogy following a racial massacre in South Carolina.
This morning we heard news of another massacre, this by terrorists in Paris. In today’s global village a tragedy for one is a tragedy for all. From that view, these are times of storms.
“When you come out of the storm,” said novelist Murakami, “you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
THE SAFEGROWTH SUMMIT
Last week a small group of SafeGrowth advocates and some likeminded friends from around the world mapped a new way out of these storms in the first-ever SafeGrowth Summit.
We met encircled by Canada’s Rocky Mountains in Canmore, Alberta. Hailing from different countries and cities small and large, participants included residents, artists, planners, police officers, architects, criminologist, activists, but mostly active and engaged citizens.
Our task? Search for practical paths that build community resilience and lead away from crime and violence.
Four diverse teams found their own ideal visions. One crafted neighborhood hubs, a 21st Century shared public gathering space far beyond today’s community center. Another began building a tailored style of hands-on curricula to educate a new generation of neighborhood leaders.
Each team resonated with the idea that it is within the geography of the neighborhood where solutions arise.
Following the Summit participants shared their ideas with residents of the 12 CSI Neighbourhoods at a social event on Calgary’s International Avenue, an event punctuated by the inspiring art show of local graffiti artists and music from a youth quartet from Calgary's Multicultural Orchestra.
We are writing Summit results to publish a book in the spring. For now teamwork continues; it continues to frame a way out of the storms of violence, crime and intolerance facing us in the years ahead. And it continues to verify, once and for all, the 21st Century belongs to the neighborhood.
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.
GUEST BLOG - Mateja Mihinjac is a criminologist at Griffith University, Australia currently completing doctoral research into the implementation of CPTED. She has co-taught SafeGrowth in Australia and New Zealand. Mateja worked in the Constitutional Court in Slovenia and is an active member of the International CPTED Association.
Food is a great conversation starter and starting place for building community. At least a portion of everyone’s daily life revolves around food. The community of Todmorden, West Yorkshire in England took this a step further and created a vision of community building around the local food production cycle.
The Incredible Edible project’s modest beginnings reach back to 2008 when the volunteers of Todmorden first started planting fruit trees, vegetables and herbs, and activating unused land by planting communal gardens all over the town. The project has since become an all-community, sustainable local initiative, explained in this TED talk by Pam Warhurst.
Edible reflects many of the same principles in successful SafeGrowth projects:
The Incredible Edible project skilfully employs placemaking through the language of food. This revolution, as the residents of Todmorden like to call it, has now spurred worldwide attention with the Incredible Edible initiatives emerging on all continents. Edible shows the power of small actions when it comes to building communities.
In the world of futurist writing, dystopia reigns. Writers populating that world hunt current data and extrapolate to foretell future catastrophe. In Laurence Smith’s The World in 2050 the Arctic melts. In Jared Diamond’s Collapse we trigger our demise by ignoring the collapsing environment. In Gwynne Dyer’s Future Tense we are sowing the seeds of World War 3.
The problem is that the real future obliges the dystopians no more than the utopians. Remember the 1962 book (and later film) A Clockwork Orange about a hyper-violent future? In the 1960s our crime rate went ballistic and Clockwork seemed likely. Yet today crime rates plummet and, contrary to loud and ludicrous media pundits, urban violence is at an all-time low.
THE ZERO MARGINAL MESSAGE
The truth is data can predict only human patterns, not human potential. Nor can data predict our drive to survive collapse events. Predicting such things takes foresight, logic and optimism. Enter Jeremy Rifkin’s audacious book The Zero Marginal Cost Society and his story of a new kind of future.
An internationally renown economist and advisor to governments worldwide, Jeremy Rifkin is no stranger to global trends or deep thinking. His book is a tough slog in economic history, but well worth the effort if you want to know why economic systems unfold as they do. Agrarianism, Socialism, Communism and Capitalism - Rifkin dissects the Big Four and in the process rankles both far left and far right.
That alone is reason to read the book!
The trouble with those systems, says Rifkin, is they worked only for a time. Now they are mostly dead. And capitalism, outed by the Great Recession and the looming debt crash, is also obsolete. In its place emerges the Collaborative Commons.
"The Collaborative Commons is ascendant and by 2050 it will likely settle in as the primary arbiter of economic life in most of the world. We are already witnessing the emergence of a hybrid economy…" (Rifkin, page 1)
The Collaborative Commons shows up in Zip Cars, children’s toy exchanges like Baby Plays, 3-D printing, MOOCS and crowdfunding, all early inventions of the new economic system.
Another is the L3C social enterprise corporation, a corporate model unimagined by capitalist theory. Not quite profit and not quite charity, the L3C uses marginal profits for maximum social goals - exactly the kind of thing predicted in Collaborative Commons (SIDE NOTE - I helped co-create a social enterprise for vetting private security companies who contract for public safety).
Collaborative Commons show up everywhere. Nextdoor.com helps us solve everyday problems by connecting us with neighbors in a real (not virtual) place. Criminology’s most promising prevention theory - collective efficacy - is Collaborative Commons incarnate. Sampson’s book Great American City demonstrates that collaborative, altruistic behavior drives most successful and lower crime neighborhoods, exactly what SafeGrowth predicts.
Zero Marginal Cost is not utopian. It admits, for a time, prolific consumption will continue. Capitalism will survive in a niche to drive innovative technology. Yet its days of dominance, says Rifkin, are numbered. And every time we see the dynamism (and low crime) in community gardens, farmer’s markets, co-housing projects, food cooperatives, and micro-finance, we are reminded that collaboration has long been wired into our civic DNA.
GUEST BLOG: Fleur Knight is a member of the International CPTED Association and is trained in SafeGrowth. She is a teacher at Murrays Bay School, Auckland, New Zealand where her role involves making learning as real as possible for students. Here she describes a project with teachers to integrate CPTED and Safe Growth into the teaching of 9-10 year olds for which she is gaining national attention.
The social sciences strand of the New Zealand school curriculum states that students are expected to explore how societies work so they themselves can participate and take action as critical, informed and responsible citizens.
While this was the stated goal of the policy, I experienced a deep frustration after teaching activity-based social science that resulted in no external change to neighbourhoods or internal values changes to students.
How can we expect them to participate and take action as members of future neighbourhoods if they are not taught, and do not experience, how they can achieve these lofty aims in real life? Obviously there is a need to involve our youth in positive relationships with neighbourhoods.
In June 2014, following SafeGrowth training in Christchurch, I took the learning of students to a new level that involved them not only applying CPTED but implementing SafeGrowth and community development directly with residents to improve a local bus station.
Over the past months I worked with a teacher and students and carried out a Safety Audit of Sunnynook Bus Station using safety maps. We identified issues with access control and signage. Those later became recommendations for improvement including more Braille for the sight impaired and artworks to humanize the station.
Students conducted surveys, CPTED reviews, and interviewed residents about the bus station. Interestingly the artworks idea had traction. Most people indicated they wanted some murals at the station to help make it more inviting and welcoming. A number of residents even indicated they would participate but they didn’t think they had painting skills.
To start the community-building process the students contacted Auckland Transport and a local community centre for help. They also solicited the help of local artists, including student artists at the school, to provide painting skills.
Using data collated from the community they developed artwork that represents changes in Sunnynook from the early 1900s to present day. They then organized a Painting In The Car Park day to activate the community, implement the mural painting and illustrate how SafeGrowth works in action.
The results were dramatic both for the community and the students! Over 30 people turned out to paint murals and transform the bus stop. Seeing the impact, the Auckland Council is now considering replicating this model in other bus stations in the city. Most importantly I learned that integrating real life SafeGrowth projects into teaching curricula is a much more effective way to teach youth how to be critical, informed and responsible citizens.
Every now and then some irresistible news comes along you just can't wait to share.
Today I received that news; a team project seeded from our 2010 Philadelphia LISC SafeGrowth course is up for a prestigious video award. The video "Rainbow de Colores Park" produced by APM For Everyone describes a capacity-building project in a small park in eastern north Philadelphia. It's the kind of news we need in every troubled community, everywhere!
The Philly Focus website hosting the video describes it "Faced with an epidemic of crime and blight, one small block of neighbors in North Philly reached out for city allies and took matters into its own hands. The story of Rainbow de Colores park as told by two of its current caretakers and longtime community residents, Oscar and Lamont."
This is one of the most creative and artistic short films I've seen on safety.
The contest requires your vote on line. Please watch it and register to vote for the video. Good work deserves applause. And our help.
Last week New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu announced early results from their homicide reduction program. Unknown at the conference, this creates a fantastic new opportunity. It all starts with the following hypothesis:
Neighborhoods infused with SafeGrowth will help violence reduction strategies like Ceasefire to cut crime more effectively and longer than neighborhoods without.
New Orleans homicide strategy includes the Chicago-style Interrupters, blight reduction and other SafeGrowth-like programs. It also includes David Kennedy's anti-gang violence program called Ceasefire. It's this latter program that caught my eye.
For years I've been a supporter of David Kennedy's Ceasefire. And David is still on the job in places like New York. Ceasefire tackles neighborhoods wracked by violence by calling-in gang members and giving them a choice between arrest and targeted sanction or job training, counseling, housing, and social help.
The message to gang members: We care about you because you are part of our community, but the violence has to stop! As Mayor Landrieu said at the press conference, "the laws of engagement on the streets of New Orleans have changed."
He credits Ceasefire with a big reduction in homicides.
ALEADY IN HOLLYGROVE
Here's the thing; New Orleans' Hollygrove neighborhood already had a huge decline in homicides when residents and AARP instituted SafeGrowth and other programs a few years ago. Murders declined from over 24 to less than 6 with no Ceasefire whatsoever.
That's not to slam Ceasefire - it's a good program. True, there has been some criticism that Ceasefire doesn't work or just fizzles out. But now we have the perfect storm for a researcher, an ideal opportunity to test the hypotheses that SafeGrowth creates conditions for programs like Ceasefire to sustain lower homicide rates longer than in other neighborhoods!
I gave up my own evaluation research years ago. Practitioner work takes too much time. But I always encourage researchers to dig in. This meets all the conditions for a natural experiment...a perfect holiday gift for an enterprising criminologist. It could help communities everywhere.
Arriving in my email this week was the above asset map of a neighborhood in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was provided by a talented community development worker in a neighborhood embarking on a SafeGrowth program we started last month.
It portrays the positive assets in a place rather than the negative liabilities, like a crime hotspot map. What a great first step to a better future.
I'm always mystified when I watch a crime prevention or police problem solving strategy that starts out by outlining the dimensions of some problem but neglects the positive assets on those same streets.
It's not surprising. After all, that is how all scientific endeavors begin: observe the problem, hypothesize the cause, measure and test the data to prove or disprove the hypotheses. Very logical. It helps solve nagging problems so things can move forward.
Sadly, too often that approach doesn't really move things forward because that's not how a community grows and flourishes.
A VISIONING WEEKEND
In neighborhood planning the first step for building or rebuilding a community is the visioning process, a kind of deep dive into the wishes and desires of residents for the future they want. How can a place move forward if it doesn't know where "forward" is? Asset maps are one way to get a concrete idea of all the positive things a place has to offer.
Another is a community visioning weekend workshop. The video below shows a Philadelphia neighborhood, led by the Philadelphia Local Initiative Support Corporation, and it reveals how communities can envision where they want to go in the years ahead.
Nowhere do lessons of urban safety, CPTED, and SafeGrowth apply more than to the half billion residents of Latin America. Amid one of the world's most dynamic and expanding regions, it has some of the most beautiful geography on the planet. It also contains three of the worlds most violent countries.
In September, International CPTED Association vice-president Macarena Rau-Vargas gave an impassioned presentation at the (now global) Ted Talk in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Students of Latin American culture know very well the long list of social reformers who have worked and written about positive change in that region over the decades. Macarena is the latest in that impressive progeny.
As her Ted Talk illustrates she is as imminently practical as she is unwavering, a fact she illustrates when she describes having a gun pointed at her head by a gang member.
Macarena's Ted Talk video is below (english captioning is available on the menu). I have worked alongside, and been impressed by, Macarena for years. I am also lucky to call her a friend. Watch the Ted Talk and you'll see why.