This week I attended the International CPTED Association's international conference in Calgary, Alberta. Typical CPTED conferences, like other prevention conferences, can be pretty droll affairs rehashing tired old ideas. Old wine in new bottles. The worst? My vote goes to academic conferences where obtuse PowerPoint slides fill sessions like hieroglyphics on an Egyptian Third Dynasty tomb - a theory-bound academese intended more for the academically-heeled than for those who actually prevent crime.
Not this time.
As a regular ICA attendee I was struck by the richness and passion in this year's offerings. We heard presenters from Germany, Chile, the Netherlands, Brazil, South Africa, Australia and North America. We heard police officers from Berlin and Toronto, planners from Washington and Saskatoon, scholars from Seattle and criminologists from Florida. We learned about behavioral based design in Ontario, community-led CCTV in Pennsylvania, safer schools in Holland and how to use public art to tackle domestic terrorism.
My own sessions were gifted by incredibly talented practitioners with whom I co-presented. In one, Saskatoon planner Elisabeth Miller and I coaxed conference participants into an interactive dialogue about overcoming obstacles. In another session I co-presented with computer scientist Nick Bereza from ATRiM Group and Michael Huggett from Australia. We presented the CPTED Continuum - a new way to understand CPTED from target hardening to traditional CPTED and situational prevention to neighborhood planning.
There were too many great presenters to mention them all (forgive me for not).
But there was one speaker who had the right stuff. He captured our imagination. Jim Diers is a visionary and powerful speaker. Currently with the University of Washington, he is former director of Seattle's Office of Neighborhoods. He is also author of Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way.
Jim spoke on participatory democracy and how to strengthen social capital. He is one of those people who finds ways to get people involved creating more livable places.
If you are interested in vital and safe places, and you haven't heard Jim's story you must. If you haven't read Jim's book, you should!
Lately, I’ve been obsessed with NIMBYism. It’s horrid (NIMBYism that is, not being obsessed by it). Not that it’s a recent phenomenon. It’s just that lately I’ve smelled some particularly nasty odors of it in my own community.
New Urbanism guru Andreas Duany has said: "People are intelligent in the abstract. They just get stupid when they talk about their own back yards."
NIMBYism rears its ugliness in both urban and rural places. Consider my blog a few weeks ago about civic entitlement in Toronto. Or Wendy Sarkissian’s about her rural community in Australia.
Somehow, though, NIMBYism has particular stench in suburban places. It fouls the air of civility among neighbors who should know better.
There is a great story about this by Seth Bauer of the Huffington Post you must read called American Suburbia vs the Planet.
We build homes with giant foyers because we have no public squares. We need media rooms because it's not easy or pleasant to drive to a multiplex theater, cross a parking lot through an ocean of cars, and pay a fortune for popcorn. We build bars in our basements because there are no neighborhood pubs. We have giant refrigerators and ever-growing storage needs because shopping is both far away and unpleasant (hello, Costco). The result? We heat and air-condition unused rooms in oversized unpleasant houses. And because our home bars and foyers are empty and our media experiences private, we're lonely, to boot.
Yes, that's it exactly.
Check out Bauer’s article in Huffington Post.
How do we get people from disadvantaged places to the table in the first place? How do we initiate community engagement when communities are so disengaged?
There is little point in creating a safe physical place if people are disengaged from community life.
Take schools for example. It is no surprise that crime and vandalism rates increase shortly after high school kids leave school and on weekends. In one Brazil research study, youth homicide rates skyrocket during weekends
Across the US, almost half of all juvenile crime occurs shortly after school lets out and into early evening according to some studies.
Even worse is when a neighborhood suffers from poor student attendance and youth disengagement from the educational system. Disengagement is a cancer for neighborhood vitality. Educational detachment ripples through a young person’s life for years. Eventually it reaches the shores of community safety. School detachment is the mark of a neighborhood in trouble. Kids in school matter.
Most prevention programs are after-school programs aimed at the kids. Rarely do programs target the parents, teachers, and communities themselves.
Not so for a capacity building program with Western Australia’s aboriginal people over the past 9 years. Check out the Voices of Our People.
Their capacity building program was a response to absenteeism and disengagement by aboriginal youth in school.
Gerry Cleveland, education and youth violence expert, created and delivered the program in conjunction with others such as Carol Garlett, the Aboriginal district director of Education in Western Australia’s remote Kimberley district. (Gerry’s SafeGrowth blog last year describes his philosophy on justice and safety).
Gerry’s training aims to enhance community participation and reduce absenteeism. After 9 years aboriginal staff are more inclined to take leadership roles and manage school and community projects – projects they develop themselves. In one early evaluation a half dozen schools had 10% improvement in attendance. In one school it was over 30%.
Gerry’s capacity building answers the question of where to begin by going to the source. They start with people directly in the community - Aboriginal support staff, parents of students, and Aboriginal students themselves aged 6 to 12.
Leadership and emotional intelligence training is also key, not for service providers from outside, rather for aboriginal teachers and parents inside the community.
In international development circles this is called technology transfer – but in community development it is more about co-developing solutions with residents and applying them locally. Capacity building training helps residents do it themselves. In SafeGrowth too, this isreally the whole point of sustainable community.
For more on this project check out the section on engaging youth in Western Australia in the Chapter titled Second Generation CPTED: The Rise and Fall of Opportunity Theory in Randy Atlas’s book 21st Century Security and CPTED.
With all this talk of police reform, it's easy to get sidetracked. Last week during business travel I came across another urban gem - an example of how to do neighbourhoods right.
I was working on the SafeGrowth program in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton is an older city in the rust belt. Manufacturing jobs, like a GM plant, have been shutting down and thousands have been laid off. Innovative police chief Richard Biehl is working with his agency and community to expand problem-solving and crime prevention in some troubled neighborhoods.
It was during this workshop the participants brought me to a fascinating area called the Oregon District. All the Daytonions I spoke to raved about this trendy neighborhood. And for good reason.
The Oregon District is an historic area just outside the main downtown area. It has interesting shops, restaurants and pubs. It is accented by tasteful street designs such as decorative lighting and pavement treatments. The residential areas behind the commercial street are among the most desirable in the city. During our safety audit walks we found plenty of TLC from front yard flower pots to artistic renos. The residents to whom I spoke loved living in this area. There is an active neighborhood association. Local folks are working to make it a safe place.
But the Oregon District wasn't always this way. For those working in troubled areas, it's important to remember all success stories have a beginning. Things don't just happen!
Thirty five years ago the street was blighted. Then a local doctor got the idea to invest and turn it around. He was followed by others. Essentially they tackled the blight and began purchasing properties in the cities oldest neighborhood. Gradually, the street began to develop. A gazebo in a retrofitted park here. Streetscaping on the commercial block there. Eventually, I was told, the positive energy spread to surrounding residential areas.
Today residents and shopowners participate in alley sweeps, local festivals, social events, garden tours, and baseball camps. The local neighborhood association tackles issues such as liquor permit saturation - what we call tipping point capacity in SafeGrowth. A theatre company is moving there. It has taken three decades, but Dayton's Oregon District is now among the most successful in the city.
In so many ways this story echoes the story of Westville in New Haven (see my blog from last month on Westville).
A half century later, Jane Jacobs' crazy ideas of vibrant neighborhood life still trickle down the years.
see the Oregon District
Welcome to the SafeGrowth blog at safe-growth.blogspot.com
If you are interested in, or working on, neighborhood safety, community development, or crime prevention, this blog is for you. Posts will highlight current trends in how to turn troubled communities back from the brink of crime.
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