By Mateja Mihinjac
During coronavirus lockdowns, there is much talk about essential and frontline workers and how we depend on their services. Indeed, they have been paramount in supporting us for many months.
After weeks of the crisis, essential workers are exhausted from working overtime. Many others in lockdown, quarantine, shelter in place, or any other manifestation of physical distancing, experience psychological effects of cabin fever.
In this new reality, many of us experience mental tension and emotional distress, in some cases resulting from the serious psychological impacts of isolation, including depression and anxiety.
It is no surprise that so many of us are finding ways to alleviate these symptoms through nature. Green urban parks are busy offering refuge for local residents during sunny days. In my own neighbourhood I regularly meet walkers and hikers despite being instructed to stay home. Similarly, people in our coastal towns cannot resist outdoor sun craving while lying on the beach – many were fined for doing so during stay-at-home orders.
Others feared the consequences and remained at home.
As I noted in March in my blog on Resilience during COVID, in European countries such as Italy, France, and Spain that practice stricter forms of lockdowns, thousands of residents sit on their (often tiny) balconies to enjoy the fresh air, soak in some sun, and connect with their neighbours on other balconies. Yet far too many citizens are deprived of that opportunity as well.
Those living in city apartments without balconies are stuck between four walls. One example is Melbourne public housing towers where residents are ordered to remain in their small apartments for weeks without balconies to resort to in lieu of green space.
Unfortunately, similar stories of essential space deprivation are common for those living in socially and economically deprived areas. In these places, people are deprived because their neighbourhoods have the least green space and few places to socialize, which in turn contributes to poor physical, social and emotional health. The deficit of essential green social spaces repeats itself across North America, Australia, and Europe.
ESSENTIAL GREEN SPACES
We know very well about the benefits of green infrastructure for health and emotional wellbeing. The effect of green space on alleviating the symptoms of mental tension and improving emotional and physical health outcomes is well documented.
Because of their prominence, I consider green spaces essential spaces. Access to essential green spaces is indispensable and should be widely accessible in all cities.
Green infrastructure has even been associated with lower crime and has well-known benefits for building social capital. Green urban spaces will help us buffer the effects of negative social impacts that will ensue from this period and they will speed the post-pandemic recovery.
In SafeGrowth we consider these essential green spaces the linchpin for planning safe and livable neighbourhoods, especially those neighbourhoods already employing advanced neighbourhood governance and planning systems like SafeGrowth.
My hope is that with the many changes unfolding in post-pandemic cities we prioritize essential green spaces over grey spaces of concrete and asphalt. We owe everyone access to essential green spaces in all corners of our future neighbourhoods.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
This week we continue to watch the unfolding of the Black Lives Matter movement. As Portland becomes the new epicentre of unrest, local residents are out in droves standing against federal law enforcement. Federal authorities claim to be protecting statues from toppling and other property damage, though one could argue human life is receiving far less respect.
Residents have taken to the streets to demand a better future for themselves and their kids. Amidst the horror of watching the news about Portland, I have been reading Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg, the writing highlighted in Ifeoma Ebo and Greg Saville’s SafeGrowth presentation in Sweden last November.
A BLEAK FUTURE
I’ve always found reading Klinenberg like sitting down with an old friend. I don’t know exactly where the conversation will lead, but it will be engaging and familiar. However, just as I was settling into the accustomed pace of these ideas, a particular quotation resonated with my background thoughts of Portland. Speaking about teenagers and their tendency to shun face-to-face interactions in exchange for online communication, Klinenberg writes,
“According to research by danah boyd, director of the research institute Data & Society, young people spend so much of their social time online because adults – from helicopter parents to hyper vigilant school administrators and security guards – give them few other options”.
Right now, as mothers are forming human barricades between the protesters and federal agents, youth are rising up in unprecedented numbers. Sparked by the work done by the “March for our Lives” movement and others, our youth have their heads up and are looking at a pretty bleak future.
There is an ongoing lament about the younger generation. Books like The Dumbest Generation claim that the digital age has stupefied young people and made it so they are unable to engage in deep thought and meaningful conversations. However, this lament is not new. As research suggests, every generation has complained about the one after it. Indeed there is so much complaint about Millennials, most people forget that Millennials like me are in our thirties and forties with full-time careers and kids.
What Klinenberg describes is that when we deny spaces for youths to interact and engage without constant monitoring by adults, we deny them third places. These great good places, where teenagers can put aside family and school, have all but disappeared. Short of a few skateboard parks (that often impose strict rules) and community centres, there are no real places where youth can stumble upon other youth.
PLACES TO INTERACT AND SOCIALIZE
Young people need these unstructured and unmonitored spaces. These spaces should be flexible, inexpensive, inclusive of all groups, and located in neighbourhoods that do not fear the presence of young people. They should allow youth to meet and interact with diverse groups and grow intellectually and interpersonally. More importantly, in times like these, great good places create ways for young people to plan and engage civically. That kind of work cannot be done alone and online, as demonstrated in Dave Cullen's Parkland.
In a post-COVID world, we need to think about how we build social infrastructure with young adults. They need to be at the table and actively involved in these decisions. Many of our SafeGrowth communities have already worked alongside youth who are a part of local organizations, for example with neighbourhood Hubs in Honduras and while placemaking their own spaces in New Zealand.
More importantly, we need to be even more proactive and involve youth from across the spectrum of neighbourhood needs.
Not only will these third places encourage young people to make new friends and develop socially, but also help to build social capital and connection across diverse racial, sexual and class divides. These spaces will help us to build the better future our young people are already fighting for today.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
How do we understand changes in our social life during an exceptional event, like the current pandemic? Over the last several months we’ve watched the world change dramatically in response to COVID-19. Many places are experiencing second waves, further lockdowns, economic crises and the tyranny of the masses.
The pandemic raises a number of questions, in particular, what will happen to our social life? Exceptional events can be anything from the Olympics or other major sporting events, to major gatherings of people like G20 protests or natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires, or pandemics.
I’ve spent much of my academic career studying these events. It comes down to three main theories predicting how crime will unfold in an exceptional event;
• social disorganization
• social cohesion/altruism
• opportunity theories.
Each theory predicts a different outcome.
EXCEPTIONAL EVENT THEORIES
Social disorganization suggests that during an exceptional event, crime and disorder will increase because the usual social order has been disrupted. Exceptional events can exacerbate social inequality and emphasize the disadvantage for certain groups.
Theories of social cohesion and altruism suggest that during an exceptional event, crime and disorder will decrease because people are more likely to help each other and act altruistically.
Opportunity theories suggest that crime trends will go up and down based on opportunities for crime that are created or removed by the exceptional event.
COVID-19 is certainly an exceptional event and cities across Canada and Australia have seen declines in most types of crime. Some crime types are up in some areas, such as domestic violence and commercial burglary.
Other crime types are stable, such as drug-related crimes and robbery. Yet in the US, both increases and decreases in crime types are underway.
All of this should support opportunity theories. However, years of reading about the sociology of exceptional events, including being present on the ground for some of them, suggests there is more going on during COVID-19 than simply a change in opportunities.
A PARADISE BUILT IN HELL
Two authors come to mind. One is Rebecca Solnit, who wrote A Paradise Built in Hell. In this book, the author provides detailed evidence that in disaster situations, people engage in altruism above all else.
The second author, Enrico L. Quarantelli has debunked numerous myths about social behaviour in disaster situations. He wrote extensively about the acts of altruism across New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
This dramatically countered much of the media coverage of the disaster. So how do we explain changes in crime during COVID-19?
COVID-19 is unlike any other exceptional event. Inconsistent with much of the sociology of disaster literature, the pandemic is acting to force us apart and isolate us in a number of ways. Social distancing is counter to basic human needs for connection.
While the fluctuating trends in certain crime types may suggest that opportunity theory might be better at explaining exceptional events like pandemics, I’m inclined to believe that the significant declines in crime more broadly, across Canada, Australia and parts of the United States are more consistent with social cohesion/altruism theories.
If this is true, people are responding in ways that help, not hurt, during this pandemic, despite the social distancing. Crime trends in COVID-19 might be indicating that even with a major shift to social interaction, our desire to connect and protect – the main premise of SafeGrowth - outweighs the opportunities that these events create.
by Mateja Mihinjac
Public protests and demonstrations erupted throughout the world in recent years warning us about the perils of social inequity, racial inequality, and environmental concerns. And now, over the past few weeks, as anti-government protests are underway, much of the world has united over anti-discrimination and Black Lives Matter.
One common thread that links these protests is dissatisfaction with government leaders and their inaction that underlie these disparities.
CASE IN POINT - SLOVENIA
In my home country of Slovenia in central Europe, every Friday since April citizens protest against the government’s misuse and abuse of power related to controversial decisions masquerading under the pretense of COVID-19 interventions.
The public outcry started on March 13 as the new right-wing coalition government took over the leadership following the resignation of the previous centre-left Prime Minister (just after his government declared a state of epidemic). Very quickly, problems arose in the public eye about a lack of legitimacy for this new government.
The backlash arose from numerous questionable government decisions: Ministerial salary raises at the time when the unemployment rate had peaked; poorly communicated COVID-19 intervention measures; and attempts to drastically increase police powers and discredit journalists. It included irregularities in the purchase of personal protective equipment, which is currently undergoing police investigation. Many accuse the government of autocratic aspirations.
More recently, the government changed environmental laws and introduced another COVID-19 intervention act. These measures exclude the citizens and limit the participation of NGOs and environmental organisations from decision-making in new infrastructure and building projects, a move many see as prioritizing capital over nature.
The resulting mass civic engagement and social unrest are unprecedented in my lifetime. Weekly demonstrations across Slovenia attract thousands of people! In the capital city of Ljubljana, the public has been gathering in front of the House of Parliament shouting “thieves” and “fascists”. They wave signs such as “our country is not your sandpit” signifying that the government should not be allowed to mold the country to suit their needs.
The government responded with barricading access to the square in front of the Parliament building, increasing police controls and identity checks, and criminalizing participation in demonstrations. As elsewhere around the world, such responses signal the need for reform and confirm that government institutions must listen to citizens' voices more seriously than in the past.
A system in which the government wishes to single-handedly control decision-making is not a system that is well-suited for any democratic country, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Competent democratic governance requires that everyone has a voice and that decisions are based on broad consensus. It requires that all sectors are accountable to the public and that processes are fair and transparent.
And how can this be achieved? Various organisations call for inclusive citizen participation. They call for empowering citizens and for participatory governing processes. Protesters demand reform of particular sectors, such as the police.
ANOTHER PATH FORWARD
SafeGrowth takes another path. By proposing a system of networked urban villages, the SafeGrowth model calls for democratic local governance within each of the neighbourhood villages.
It transfers the decision-making power of the citizens from the national or large regional scale to a local-neighbourhood scale, but it does so in such a way that local, democratic and fully trained organizations can plan for neighbourhood needs. Moreover, the SafeGrowth’s Livability Academy program develops local leaders who represent the voice of residents and lead changes that address social and racial inequity. Neighbourhood-level change thereby becomes the bridge between government organisations and the wider community.
In SafeGrowth neighbourhoods from New Zealand to New Orleans residents thus become an integral part of their own governing system and they link to other surrounding neighbourhoods to coordinate how they solve problems and plan for their own future.
WHAT'S TO BE DONE?
It is no longer sufficient for governments to only ask citizens for input when mandated or when it creates top-down plans for development. It is no longer sufficient that the government expects that its citizens must trust the government and public institutions without question or dissent – the government also needs to trust the public and civic organisations, and start transferring the decision-making power back to local communities.
And along the way, we must create a more sustainable governance system in which politicians start considering the long-term consequences of their decisions beyond the expiry date of the next election. If we fail to do this, democratic governance may quickly become irrelevant and lose legitimacy. We need to turn this around. The country should be its citizens’ sandpit.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
Over the past two weeks, the United States erupted after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Centuries of violence and mistreatment of people of colour in America galvanized an entire nation. Cities across the country are burning. Footage of police violence during these protests is available on every media outlet.
In response to this death and others, demands to defund the police are emerging across the United States. These arguments suggest that policing in America more than just a few “bad apples,” but rather a “bad barrel.” While the support for this suggestion is mixed, there are several successful policing reforms that deserve more attention. One of those appears in You In Blue and it encapsulates the decade-long movement to reform police training with Problem-Based Learning and Emotional Intelligence.
However, defunding the police does not mean shutting down policing altogether. Rather, it is a process of redistributing a portion of police budgets towards community-based models of safety and prevention. Policing accounts for over $142 billion in the United States each year and police budgets are continuing to grow. This is occurring despite the fact that many other social services, like health care and education struggle for funding across the United States.
REORGANIZING POLICE BUDGETS
Some cities are starting to take notice and reorganizing their policing budgets. In Los Angeles, the city cut $150 million of the LAPD budget this week. In Minneapolis, the city of George Floyd’s murder, the city council has announced its intention to disband the police department.
Canada is also being affected by the movement as Toronto city council is putting forth a motion to defund the police and the Toronto Police Chief, Mark Saunders, has announced his resignation.
What is particularly interesting about these cases is not only are the city’s defunding or completely restructuring the police, but they are using that money to reinvest in their local communities. Los Angeles mayor Garcetti is promising to redistribute this funding to local communities of colour. Minneapolis city council is planning to invest in community-led prevention.
This brings us back to community-led prevention as the main philosophy of SafeGrowth. In our book SafeGrowth: Building Neighborhood Safety and Livability, we describe how, over the past decade, we have successfully refined our approach for neighborhood-based planning and crime prevention. Perhaps someday we will look back at this moment in history as the beginning of truly significant police reforms to build safety and improve livability in all neighbourhoods?
by Jon Munn
GUEST BLOG – This week’s blog tells a story of how COVID-19 affects the homeless, just as it does communities around the world. The blog was submitted by Jon Munn, an urban planner and SafeGrowth Advocate residing in Victoria, British Columbia. Jon is directly involved in the crisis as a member of a local neighborhood action committee. This is his story about how one city is responding to that problem.
COVID-19 has revealed long-standing weaknesses in our health and social systems. The least resilient long-term care homes are showing high death counts. Physical distancing in homeless shelters and couch surfing reveals how huge spaces are needed when health orders force marginalized people to spread out in convention centres, hockey arenas, parking lots, and playing fields.
Homelessness is tough to tackle because it’s not one issue. It’s a result of housing costs, lack of social housing, domestic abuse, mental illness, drug addiction, and so on. The easy thing to do is to combine all these issues into one hot potato and pass the potato.
COVID-19 restrictions came to British Columbia on March 17, 2020. The Provincial Health Officer made an order to prohibit gatherings over 50 people. The next day a provincial emergency was declared and local governments and agencies closed or restricted services to ensure a physical distance of 2 metres (6 feet) between people.
Victoria, a city of 90,000 people in the Capital region of 350,000, is the location of most regional services for homeless people. At the start of the crisis, hundreds of shelter spaces in the city were almost emptied, so on March 23rd, the Victoria Mayor announced outdoor shelters (tent camping) in three parks. Due to limited ability to staff the parks, Topaz Park near Victoria’s northern boundary remained the only site.
THE FIRST VICTIM
The first victim was communication. Perhaps the mayor felt she was pressured into a decide-announce-defend position by the health authorities? The police chief got stuck in the middle as an emergency spokesperson. If homelessness was a regional issue, there was a deafening silence from neighbouring municipalities. Topaz Park neighbours were not involved or notified. Whose agenda was being served by punting the homeless hot potato north? The wealthier city residents to the south? The downtown business community? Was this a plan the mayor had all along?
The provincial health order had commitments to help vulnerable populations, but there was no plan in place to move people into the many vacant hotel rooms in this tourist city. Authorities knew they needed a safety plan or risk a repeat of a 2015 homeless protest and police actions. This time Victorians generously donated tents for the first of two encampments. Tents emerged two kilometers north at Topaz Park shortly after. In effect, there were now two hot potatoes.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND OVERDOSE DEATHS
In the communication vacuum, neighbourhood activists emerged at the nearby Quadra Village Community Centre. The Board at the Centre and its neighbourhood action committee (NAC) wanted to know how to deal with what could be a permanent crime-ridden tent city in their park – one of the city’s largest. Alternatively, could better solutions be found? The federal and provincial governments were offering up money and their hands were forced to act by physical distancing.
I got involved with the NAC for my expertise in community and land use planning. The NAC needed to know how decisions were being made and if there was any way to influence the course of events, so we decided to try and break down some communication silos.
The first ally was the police chief, who was willing to attend a community Zoom meeting on April 9th. The chief brought camp organizers from the nonprofit Coalition to End Homelessness. The meeting revealed the initiative was understaffed and barely able to get sanitary and camp areas organized. Community members said they expected more. The overdose deaths of four people in the Topaz Park camp was discussed widely, as were police reports of increased property crime near the park. The situation got more media attention.
NAC members volunteered at Topaz Park and found that an assessment of the campers' needs was already done. It wasn’t complete, but work was underway to look at individuals’ needs instead of moving people in one group as ‘campers.’ Specific hotels or other locations could then be staffed with people to address mental health, drug addiction or other needs. Without such supports, the game of hot potato would return.
On Saturday, April 25, a press conference was called and a new provincial COVID order was made by Provincial authorities. The order moved homeless people into hotel rooms or other shelters by May 9, 2020, and camp areas would be cleared. In all locations, local government resources were too poor to effect change.
A second Quadra Village-Topaz Park community zoom meeting was held on April 29, 2020. Over half of the 67 registrants didn’t attend, perhaps believing the provincial actions would address the concerns. Provincial Housing and health officials, as well as local police attending the meeting, did not instill complete confidence, but they came with deeper pockets and a transition plan for campers.
ROOTS OF HOPE
The two reasons to have faith in the COVID homeless relocation come from previous commitments by the federal and provincial governments.
First, in 2016, the government of Canada gave support to a health-based harm reduction and Housing First approach to create an environment for stabilizing homeless people who were also involved with drug use.
Second, in 2017 BC Housing announced the Rapid Response to Homelessness (including modular housing) as an immediate response to the growing issue of homelessness across the Province. The magic of modular housing was that it could be constructed quickly, some projects in as little as three months.
One key question remains about Victoria’s Topaz Park: Will we have faith in the system, or will we be looking at fields of mud and used needles by the time the winter rains return?
Part of this story will unfold by May 20, 2020. Only one modular housing project, now in development, has been slated for the Victoria region. A long term issue will be to secure land for modular and other Housing First units, which is a difficult task in a region with low land supply and high costs.
Has COVID helped spur more comprehensive action on the complex issues of homelessness in Victoria? Will economic, social, or political snags trip it up? Stay tuned… these are strange times!
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 Gregory Saville
The local kids were out again after sunset tonight howling like timberwolves at a full moon, a show of solidarity for stressed healthcare workers. Millions of apartment dwellers in cities around the world bang pots and pans and now these suburban kids, ancy from weeks of quarantine, perform their own nightly ritual. In the words of John Lennon: “Imagine all the people, living for today.”
I have wondered of late how pandemics affect urbanization. Jane Jacobs tells us epidemics are defeated within cities and with new medicines, innovative planning, and science. But, as we’ve blogged over the past month, we are threatened not only with a deadly disease, but with an aftermath of social distancing, social isolation, and a future that is gated for some, exclusive for others. Fear is a powerful motivator for change. How can we make things right?
A NEW NARRATIVE
We should not be running away from urban areas into isolated rural enclaves. Some say we need to re-suburbanize and separate – permanent social distancing. They ignore our basic human nature to connect – to howl at the moon in gratitude for others.
Some claim density spreads disease, a statement that confuses density with crowding. High-quality urban design promotes connectedness and avoids crowding; Low density is not the answer.
Consider Taiwan and Louisiana. Population dense Taiwan, with 23 Million residents has (at time of writing) 380 confirmed COVID infections and 5 deaths. The rural state of Louisiana with 4.6 Million, suffers a horrific 20,014 infected and 801 deaths.
Taiwan no doubt has a better public health system. It probably has better governance. It has the luck of island geography (although the Philippines infection rate suggests otherwise). Perhaps they should have cancelled Mardi Gras in late February? Yet, none of those things are about density.
One thing is certain: A cohesive, well-informed and networked community like Taiwan moved much faster to curtail COVID-19. If you recreate that cohesiveness, education, and networking at the level of the neighborhood, you create a city of networked urban villages. We wrote about a city of networked urban villages in SafeGrowth: Building Neighborhoods of Safety and Livability.
What steps do we take to get there? With so much infrastructure already in place, how do we modify cities to create something healthier, more livable and more pro-social? Remember, there are elections all over the world later this year. What should you demand for your candidates? How about demanding they start working on the following steps:
City politicians – Stop approving low-density commercial “strips” where it is difficult to walk from one shop to another. Sprawl forces residents drive to distant shopping plazas and it separates them. When the pandemic fades, we won’t need more separation! We cannot learn neighbor skills if we cannot find our neighbors. Try clustering developments into common areas where ‘strangers’ can become friends, what architect Ross Chapin calls Pocket Neighborhoods.
And for goodness sake, put pro-social urban design ahead of new expressways and road widening.
Architects – Stop building multi-family developments without involving the users. Conduct design sessions to give everyone a say before construction begins. If you want people to truly care about their neighborhood, let them share their dreams and aspirations. And stop building such ugly townhomes. In SafeGrowth we conduct search conferences to create shared community visions. How about asking residents what best fits their lifestyle? Would they prefer a community woodwork shop or a workspace for crafters? What about a co-working office?
City leaders – Stop fighting Smart Growth development policies because you think fewer property tax dollars accrue. You do not have to reinvent the development wheel to do something different, just attend a Smart Growth conference or read some books on the topic. Try Charles Montgomery’s book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.
Bankers – Stop making it so difficult to lend to Mom-and-Pop stores. They are the blood pulsing through community life. Local stores cannot match the conglomerates for prices, yet they support local families and they better respond to local needs, like sponsoring community barbeques or craft markets in front of their stores. They need your help to reduce costs and remain a vibrant part of neighborhood life!
Mortgage lenders – Change your lending practices and encourage collaborative housing – a form of community-building that helps citizens work together, especially during crises like pandemics. One example is private equity co-housing, a proven form of neighborhood living in which residents create their neighborhoods. Unfortunately, speculation and inflation have shut down too many cohousing projects. Lenders – You can help!
Transportation managers – Stop wasting fossil fuel by sending huge, empty buses from one vacant bus stop to another. People avoid buses because they are inconvenient, unpleasant, and take forever. Any new, healthy configuration for a city should be designed around networked urban villages and they will need radical innovations to bind them together. Uber figured how to use the internet to transform cab service. Why can’t we do this with public transit? How about supplementing regular routes with smaller, comfortable, shuttles-on-demand, ordered online and paid by e-commerce? And smaller shuttles for regular routes too!
Educators and school trustees – Get your students into the community. Get them to learn history, social science, geography, and science by learning how to work with residents on real community problems. The problem-based learning movement does that and it is already in many high schools. They will learn face-to-face social skills they cannot learn on troll-infected social media. Educator and thought-leader Gerard Cleveland is a guru in this movement.
Organizers/social workers – While residents socialize superficially, after decades of computer screens and social media they have lost the deeper skills of managing conflicts and solving problems together. They desperately need shared communication and problem-solving skills. Please, help! For example, look up our friend Evelyn Zellerer who teaches peace circles and restorative justice.
Nihilists, doom-and-gloomers – Stop fearmongering! Yes, we will suffer but this pandemic will end. There might be a paroxysm of political rage, maybe economic turbulence. And as before the pandemic, we still must reverse our environmental damage before we reach criticality. Despite it all, people are not inherently evil and progress is already underway. If you doubt that, read Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.
Inexorably, in fits and starts, we will build a better future.
by Gregory Saville
Responding to our global COVID-19 pandemic, New York sociologist Eric Klinenberg recently wrote that social distancing will lead to, not only an economic recession but also to a future changed in unexpected ways.
Perhaps! But only gravestone epitaphs are written in stone and I choose to write my own future, which brings me to New York.
New York is the city where Jane Jacobs wrote about the power of social networks in her famous book Death and Life of Great American Cities, a book that launched the CPTED movement. She wrote that we keep the peace on our streets through an “intricate almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves.” In other words – us!
Strange advice coming from New York, the city with apartment towers far above urban parks, strangers yelling and car horns blaring! The endless rush hour! And today New York is the epicenter of the American COVID-19 pandemic, a city where thousands have already died in a country that leads the world’s infection rate.
Yet, despite it all, this YouTube showed up from New York City:
And it’s not only New York! This spontaneous flash of solidarity with health care workers has become a social epidemic of goodwill all over the world. It’s now in Italy, Germany, India, Israel, and in cities all across the Americas, from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Vancouver, Canada. Applauding with abandon – usually, around shift change at hospitals – New Yorkers join millions of others around the globe to cheer healthcare workers with pots, pans, whistles, hands, and anything else they can find.
This reaffirms the reality of Jacobs’ intricate, unconscious social network. Despite food hoarding, panic purchases, and obnoxious herd behavior, people eventually figure out that they depend on the social connections of everyday life to survive.
PUBLIC HOUSING AND CRIME
Never was this yearning for connection more evident than during our SafeGrowth work in New York City over the past two years. Members of our SafeGrowth team worked with the New York Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to teach CPTED to residents, including how to set up plans to improve life in their apartment towers. No small feat considering this public housing had some of the highest crime rates in the city.
Impressively, people pulled together in this biggest of cities, in places with so-called intractable crime rates, and they began to cut crime and improve safety. They created plans and they implemented many of their ideas because they knew they depend on social connections to survive everyday life. It was like Jane’s spirit hovered over the city that she once called home, a place where the velocity of daily living speeds past the average person at breakneck speed, as she whispered the ghostly incantation: “Pay attention to each other! Care for each other!”
As we face the new COVID-19 reality, the lesson is clear: We can create inclusive neighborhoods from far and wide, suburban and rural, rich and poor. We know how to build pro-social urban designs and places of connection and resilience. Perhaps Klinenberg was right; COVID-19 will change our future in unexpected ways. Still, more importantly, it is us who will shape what that future looks like!
For years, SafeGrowth Advocates (and many others) have fought against the retreat from public life, the withdrawal from the discomfort of strangers, and the overwhelming fear of violence by too many of our fellow citizens. In her blog last week, Mateja reminds us that we must battle both the physical and the social virus. Similarly, a few weeks ago, Tarah blogged that there is a big difference between social isolation and social distancing.
If we cling to social distancing and isolation in our public life after COVID-19, we will leave very little humane life to retain our humanity. The social is, after all, what makes society. Even the Council on Foreign Relations knows this truth – the future of global health is urban health.
William Fulton, planner and former Ventura city mayor, recently blogged that the post-pandemic city will lead to “an increase in remote work arrangements which will lead to more activity in neighborhoods, more flexibility in public transit options and a renewed appreciation for taking a walk.”
If that is the future we want then we need practical methods to deliver services where people can stay safe and healthy in their neighborhood. We need places where residents know each other and where they feel comfortable walking, day or night, and where they do not have to drive for food, medical care, and recreation.
THE UNCONSCIOUS NETWORK
Millions of strangers all over the world do not spontaneously bang pans and cheer outside their windows because they want isolation from their neighbors. They do it because they yearn to express their emotions in a safe public place in a way they can see and hear their neighbors doing the same. Even with a raging pandemic, they share a common realization that we all – healthcare workers, doctors, food delivery people, everyday neighbors, and police – need each other.
It’s the unconscious network in action.
How will cities evolve following the pandemic? Some claim cities will isolate, gate up, and separate. They say technology will prevail to protect us! But, in truth, we shall not find salvation in seldom-monitored CCTV systems or in the socially-hollow gated community. As King Lear says, that way madness lies!
NEXT BLOG: What can we do to create different, healthy, and safer places? There is another way!
Wow, what a week its been. I had a few ideas for this week’s blog, but it feels negligent not to write about what is affecting all of our communities right now. And that is COVID-19.
We are in an unprecedented time for this generation. The world is shutting down and a highly contagious flu is spreading like wildfire across our increasingly connected world. Indeed, we are witnessing a global pandemic.
Here in Australia, universities are closing their doors and classes are going online. Residents are being encouraged to stay home and avoid social gatherings. Many are panic-buying toilet paper and other necessities, leaving shelves totally empty. Grocery store chains are being forced to limit the purchase of numerous items.
More importantly, and almost completely against our ethos at SafeGrowth, people are being told to socially distance themselves from others. Major public health authorities are encouraging people to work from home (if they can), stay home if they feel sick at all and avoid large social gatherings to “flatten the curve.”
And this is the right advice. For highly contagious viruses like COVID-19, the risk of exposure is huge for people who are older, have weakened immune systems, respiratory issues, or other preconditions. Social distancing will reduce the demand on already over-burdened hospitals and their staff who, like Italy, will quickly run out of treatment facilities.
But, as we know, social distancing is not an option for many of our fellow SafeGrowth communities, who do not have access to paid sick leave or are living from paycheck to paycheck and have to work to survive. Never have these issues seemed more pressing.
Furthermore, social distancing can also lead to social isolation. By staying home and away from others, we can feel disconnected and lonely. And while social distancing is an important part of protection from viruses, as we know from research, social isolation isn’t good for our health. Just yesterday I received a message from one of my close friends at home. She has been instructed to work from home and is already feeling alone and isolated.
PARADISE BUILT IN HELL
What do we do? Well, we have many accounts of what humans do in disaster to help guide us. Eric Klinenberg’s book Heat Wave details how older women survived one of the worst heat waves in Chicago in 1995. They called each other. Every day, they sat is tubs full of water or under air conditioning or fans and called to check in on each other and stay connected.
Rebecca Solnit’s book Paradise Built in Hell, reminds us throughout human history, in disaster situations, humans engage in incredible acts of altruism. They donate more, set up relief shelters, check on their neighbours and prepare meals for those who can’t.
In this time of uncertainty, instability, and fear, we encourage our fellow SafeGrowth community to reach out and check in with each other (phone, skype, facetime, letters!) and share those extra items you may have bought with those who may be struggling.
Most importantly, be kind to one another and don’t forget to wash your hands!