by Gregory Saville
I recently spent time in downtown Toronto and found some great street designs, including Dundas Square - a walkable/event square surrounded by flashing billboards and shops of all sorts. It is like a kind of mini-Times Square, following the pedestrianization of former New York planner Janette Sadik-Khan.
Between the flower pot decorations, the latest tunes from loudspeakers and an evangelical huckster announcing his wares on one side, and a fashion photographer capturing the stylish gaze of his model on the other, Dundas Square seems chaotic at one glance and at another, deliciously exciting. It might generate plenty of activity, but there is nothing inherently crime-generating about this downtown corner.
Dundas Square is an example of two ideas in SafeGrowth related to community design that have a huge impact on safety – or the opposite – and yet we seldom use them when we aim to build livable and safe places.
SOCIAL STABILIZERS & CRIME DISRUPTERS
One is the concept called social stabilizers. The term was first coined as part of neighborhood livability in the late 1960s. The idea originally referred to people whose presence and activities help reduce disorder in a neighborhood. Today we draw the term from 2nd Generation CPTED to refer to safe congregation areas for pro-social activities and balanced land uses that minimize places that can tip an area into higher disorder or crime.
The other concept is called crime disrupters - a term that is related, but different, from stabilizers. While planners can design social stabilizers into new neighborhood plans, for those who live and work in a community, it might be too late to add new designs. So they can use crime disrupters to alter problem areas.
One example of crime disrupters is pop-up placemaking, sometimes called tactical urbanism. Because it is done by local residents, shop owners or property managers, tactical urbanism cannot only disrupt crime but also stabilize the safety of an area.
I recently received a Bloomberg research report from my architect friend Mark Lakeman about the stabilizing effect of intersection repair programs on traffic accidents and neighborhood safety.
Stabilizing neighborhoods and disrupting crime is as much a part of urban design and community building as any other activity. As we create livable communities, and as crime rates rise in our post-Covid era, we should tap into the urban design and community-building tactics at our disposal.
by Mateja Mihinjac
The above quote from Sherlock Holmes brings to mind a question we ask municipal leaders: How do you most often respond to crime? They typically describe hiring more police or installing CCTV. They are mystified why these cookie-cutter solutions work so rarely to ensure safety.
I've recently gone down a rabbit hole, binge-watching the Netflix docuseries Diagnosis. The main premise of the series is crowdsourcing diagnoses for rare medical conditions to help investigate their root causes. It sounds logical – to effectively address the ailments, we need to understand the causes that lead to symptoms and their unique manifestation in an individual and not simply suppress the symptoms with common drugs.
In crime prevention, we often draw parallels with the medical approach to problem-solving. Yet, in practice, we rarely enact this as we don’t give sufficient emphasis to diagnosing the problem – instead, we often apply quick generic solutions.
Consider this: Recently one of our SafeGrowth practitioners experienced an influx of homelessness in his community. The number of thefts and burglaries increased in the homes around his street. He thought it was connected to the homelessness situation, but he was uncertain. He didn’t want to blame disadvantaged people, but he had no idea how to proceed.
Too often we see knee-jerk responses to complex problems. Arrest the homeless? The police tell you they cannot simply arrest without cause and arrest is not the solution. Move the homeless away? But where do they go, where did they come from, and why are the numbers increasing now?
Install security lighting, cameras, and target hardened fences? Quick generic “solutions” like these move the problem from one house to another. Further, it makes the neighbourhood look like an armed camp.
WHAT IS THE ANSWER?
In SafeGrowth we diagnose the problem before we develop solutions. We’ve previously written about simplistic approaches to crime prevention and the need for an integrative approach.
We recognize that each neighbourhood needs an individually tailored approach to identify problems and apply solutions, such as in the homelessness problem above.
We use neighbourhood teams and train them about the importance of understanding the problem before developing solutions. Generic, one-size-fits-all, solutions (like security cameras), are no guarantee of a safe community.
Our approach is scientific and investigative. Our stepwise problem-solving process starts with Problem Identification and Problem Analysis.
Problem identification is an essential step, yet it is often rushed or ignored. Teams identify what they already know about the underlying problems and what they still need to learn. For example, is the homeless problem above related to drug abuse, mental illness, lack of affordable housing, or poor home security?
Teams formulate a series of hypotheses which they then test as they collect and analyse the information. For example: The reason homelessness has increased is due to increases in rents and a lack of affordable housing. Another example: Homeless increases result from an influx of street drugs in our city and the activities of a local street gang.
Problem analysis allows teams to collect and analyse information against each of the hypotheses, integrate the findings and then either accept or disprove the hypotheses.
This systematic and evidence-based investigative process sounds complicated and time-consuming. But it is essential for the team to gain an in-depth understanding of the problems and their causes. That is why SafeGrowth teams are so successful in developing solutions that are tailored to neighbourhood needs.
This is the best path to improve the quality of life for residents in which residents themselves feel they have a role. It is how we avoid ineffective cookie-cutter solutions that don’t work. It is also how we avoid building neighbourhoods that look like fortresses and reduce fear at the same time.
Our 21st Century neighbourhoods deserve no less.