by Greg Saville
A new amnesia is creeping into crime prevention. And we are left with criminal justice fads: programs that are little more than old wine in new bottles; police “enforcement” teams as ineffective as they are discredited; new, unproven security technologies ad naseum.
Few remember that, once upon a time, well-established community crime prevention and problem-oriented policing strategies actually cut crime. They were not abandoned because they no longer worked on modern problems. They were abandoned because the latest generation did not learn the lessons of history. In truth, new leaders obsess on foisting the latest fad on an uninformed public.
Someone forgot to teach them history.
BOOK REVIEW – DESIGNING OUT CRIME
Case in point: The book Designing Out Crime edited by Len Garis and Paul Maxim (2016).
There are some intriguing chapters in this book like Peters’ “Transitions and Social Programming”, particularly the discussion on homelessness. Another by Plecas and Croisdale is intriguing: “Doing Something about Prolific Offenders”.
Then the story sours. Jordan Diplock’s chapter on “Designing Out Opportunities for Crime” is particularly narrow. It limits itself to a target hardening version of 1st Generation CPTED (including the discredited broken windows theory or the pseudo-scientific routine activity theory).
It mentions how cities like Saskatoon established CPTED review committees to implement CPTED, but it fails to mention that Saskatoon's version of CPTED is actually called SafeGrowth and all design guidelines incorporate the social programming inherent in 2nd Generation CPTED.
The chapter also bypasses the literature of 2nd Generation CPTED, ignores theoretical progress in the last 15 years, and overlooks the practical progress made by hundreds of practitioners who promote CPTED around the world (including British Columbia) within the International CPTED Association.
This historical amnesia is surprising since the book proclaims, “Crime prevention is a societal matter that relies on a commitment from the entire criminal justice system plus the community at large”.
But then it presents chapters on technology, administrative tactics, and regulatory approaches that, while interesting, stray far from that proclamation about the community at large. This is particularly worrisome in the obsession on target hardening, technical security devices, and other tech glitz, for example, a chapter on “Designing Out Crime Through the Use of Technology”. There’s not much community at large in that!
Most surprising is this: In the 1990s British Columbia was the site of Canada’s first police academy Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) course taught to hundreds of officers, Canada’s first national POP conference, and its first government Commission recommending POP and crime prevention. That Golden Age of Crime Prevention and POP faded to dust, as demonstrated by books like this. It faded when police leaders and politicians lost focus and then defunded workable community crime prevention. It fizzed away like a bottle of stale Canadian beer.
It’s the new amnesia. And it’s not restricted to British Columbia!
Why is this so?
To the credit of the book, a quote by a retired RCMP Sgt. Brian Foote offers the best answer. I worked with Sgt Foote in BC teaching CPTED years ago. Brian is among the most outstanding prevention practitioners anywhere. When Brian speaks, I listen.
“Overall, all we have ever really done is tinker superficially with crime prevention. As a consequence most of our crime prevention efforts are now on a pile of abandoned and untested criminal justice fads.”
How true that is. And how sad. Collective amnesia! We must learn this lesson and look elsewhere for a better future.
by Mateja Mihinjac
In The Republic, Plato asserted it is absurd “a guardian should need a guardian”. Five Centuries later the Roman poet Juvenal rejected this and claimed guardians do not always behave ethically and should not be trusted. Incidents of child sexual abuse by school personnel, estimated in some studies between 3.7% to 4.1% (almost 1 in 20), suggest that Juvenal may be right.
While increased focus has been placed on external threats such as school shootings, children remain largely defenseless from internal threats of sexual abuse by staff.
I was recently tasked with investigating whether child-safe schools can be designed to prevent child abuse by school staff. This led me to dig deep into the literature, while remaining skeptical the solution to this social problem was physical modification.
The first step required understanding the contextual factors leading to abuse. Some of the findings revealed:
Exacerbating the problem is inadequate legislation, unsatisfactory institutional policies and procedures, inadequate awareness, institutional blindness, and inability to centre strategies on child welfare. All that leaves children vulnerable to abuse by those who should be protecting them.
The second step was research into preventive strategies, revealing the problem needs a holistic multi-level approach. These include:
Design Out Crime strategies proved ineffective for addressing the intricate problem of institutional child sexual abuse. Instead, responses should embed child safety at individual, organizational and systemic levels while also giving children a voice in the matters affecting them.
As Juvenal might suggest, trusting guardians is not simple and responsibility for preventing child abuse falls to wider society at all levels including neighborhoods, parents, and schools.
Tonight is Halloween - that ancient Celtic harvest festival where children turn into goblins and threaten mere mortals with tricks or treats. Not really the stuff of serious nightmares, more the frivolities of fun.
Last week the International CPTED Association ran another successful conference with exceptional speakers from around the world. Presentations are online at the ICA website.
Saskatoon planner Elisabeth Miller, criminologist Tarah Hodgkinson and myself delivered our research on something that represents a real nightmare for 1st Generation CPTED practitioners – the return of displacement.
THE RETURN OF DISPLACEMENT?
Displacement is an old enemy of 1st Generation CPTED. Moving crime from one place to another violates ethical practice and the promise every crime prevention practitioner should make to do no harm.
Over the years a body of mainstream research has grown up around the idea that displacement isn’t inevitable and that crime levels are cut through displacement.
Research by Catherine Phillips at the Nottingham Trent University questions the orthodox view.
This year Elisabeth, Tarah and myself were able to test this for real. We examined a well-known disorder hotspot at a fast food restaurant in downtown Saskatoon. We were able to track disorder in years before and after the restaurant was demolished.
This is where a real-life nightmare begins.
OFFENDERS FIND A NEW PLACE
The mapping results suggested displacement to a nearby homeless shelter. Street interviews confirmed many of the same offenders moved there. But then results got scary.
While calls for police service declined throughout the area, this particular displacement did not seem to reduce calls nor create benefits. Instead it appears to have triggered an eruption. The homeless shelter calls increased nine-fold!
If our further research bears this out, displacement research will need a re-think because our findings suggest something very scary. Not the frivolities of Halloween fun but the stuff of serious nightmares.
This week I spent time with new friends at the Designing Out Crime (DOC) center at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia (UTS).
Criminology can be plodding and stagnant. This is no doubt surprising to outsiders like journalists who turn to criminologists for answers to the latest crime spree. Too often outsiders are fed stale abstractions with no real-life angle. Not so for the DOC centre in Sydney. In fact, even the architecture in and around the UTS campus, as the photos here show, reflected cutting edge thinking.
The sad fact is much academic criminology is very far from the cutting edge. Conference themes regurgitate the same tired issues. Researchers complain about a lack of evidence-based this or that (and funding that supports them).
On the flip side I have written about DOCs in London and Sydney. They breathe new life into an old story. Consider Laneway Chic in Sydney and Magic Carpets in the UK. This was the first time I got up close and personal visiting the Sydney HQ at UTS, meeting the DOC team and hearing their stories.
What fun! What a relief.
Design Out Crime theory has been around for awhile as an offshoot of CPTED, tinkering with security and target hardening. The DOCs, at least those I'm familiar with in London and Sydney, take a quantum leap forward. They innovate with a collaborative, action-based method. Their website describes how they "evolved towards transdisciplinary crime research…to improve the quality of life for law-abiding users of public spaces (and) adopting a broad approach to crime prevention."
I love this transdisciplinary approach. I first wrote about it in 1991 in my work on the Toronto Subway Security Audit. More complicated than consulting or advising, it is action research incarnate.
The transdisciplinary, action research method, along with DOC's real-life, community-partnering angle, is an important crime prevention breakthrough. Finally...some fresh air!
Thinking about my Design Out Crime colleagues, I came across Matthais Megyeri a brilliant German artist and designer based in London and Stuttgart. He has exhibited his work around the world including New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Among other fascinating projects with Matthias' company Sweet Dream Security, he redesigns security fences and cameras and shows how to change the visual language of public security devices. This is a much needed gift as security creeps into our lives.
I first heard of Matthais last year from Lorraine Gamman at the Design Against Crime Centre in London. She mentioned his work and so I contacted him last year and was impressed by his off-beat and comical art with security devices.
Describing his own work on one blog he says:
"I was never really interested in security products as objects. And I certainly don’t design them because I like them. But I was struck by their visual presence in everyday London life…I decided to use my skills to change the visual language of security products from depressing to seriously humorous."
Check him out.
Beneath the behemoth Metrotown mall lies the second largest covered mall in Canada, a vast underground lot with 4,000 spaces. That might seem small compared to the world’s largest at the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton (20,000), the world’s largest covered lot at Seattle’s airport (13,000) or the largest downtown underground lot in Chicago (9000).
Yet Metrotown is big. And it joins thousands like it around the world, some massive. Dubai is planning 40,000. You might assume the existence of widely used design safety standards in such places. You know what they say about assumptions!
Some municipalities do have design snippets (CCTV, lighting, security patrols), and the National Institute of Building Sciences also posts a few. But, realistically, those are a pittance in such massive expanses.
I’ve written about some great designs like lifestyle malls and creative wayfinding. As well, Randall Atlas’s book 21st Century Security and CPTED (2nd edition) has over 40 pages about parking lot security.
Walking through Metrotown I remembered teaching CPTED for the RCMP in the 1990s. We often used the Metrotown parking lot as our lighting test-bed, auditing the entranceways, examining the lighting and marveling at the vast expanses. I was impressed last week that Metrotown owners have instituted significant design upgrades over the past decade. The photos tell the story.
The best feature had been enhanced from early years. It was the glazed atriums on each stairway level. Pedestrians walking down the stairs first entered enclosed safe atrium areas on each floor. These areas had tempered glass and were often next to the security office. This gave a clear view into the parking lot from within the safe areas.
If we are going to do more covered parking in the 21st Century, here's a starting point for minimum standards.
Calvin Beckford is one of the founder members of the UKs Designing Out Crime Association. He joined the London Metropolitan Police Service in 1978. He was one of the UK representatives for a European project on good practice models of crime prevention across Europe. In 2005 he joined ACPO Secured by Design, a police initiative for designing out crime. He currently runs The Crime Prevention Website.
The Metropolitan London police now employs 32 Crime Prevention Design Advisers, one per London Borough, and there are perhaps 6 or 7 'old fashioned' Crime Prevention Officers left. Crime prevention advice is now delivered by way of leaflet, website (including mine as they link to it) and by a visit from a Police Community Support Officer, who try their best, but are largely untrained.
The economic depression, I think, simply speeded up the process of downsizing the police crime prevention service here, but I'm still not entirely sure why it's happened.
My own experience seems to have been different from my contemporaries insomuch that I had tremendous support from my Commanders and essentially became one of the 'right-hand men'; especially in respect to partnership working with local authorities and other partners.
The rot really started during my 5 years working for ACPO's Secured by Design (2004 - 10). During that period most of our supportive senior commanders across the country began to retire and the ones coming up behind seemed to know next to nothing about the positive effects of CPTED or even good old fashioned Situational CP.
Then the depression hit and then we had a change in government to a Conservative led coalition who don't like anything to stand in the way of making money.
For example, in spite of our efforts and evidence that building secure (SBD) homes was profitable they only see SBD as an obstruction to house building and have been less than supportive. They got rid of a raft of planing guidance (which included our CP stuff) and I know that SBD are fighting a rear guard action to keep crime prevention on the agenda.
DESIGN OUT CRIME
While this was going on the Community Safety Departments at our Local Authorities have been stripped to the bone. When I worked in Camden in central London I had two planning officers assigned by the local authority to help me 'design out crime' across the Borough - we did a huge amount of work, which I know has prevented a lot of crime. These positions are long-gone.
How can our government do this? Well they have the current luxury of falling crime figures, which I am sure has a lot to do with reduced opportunity, so this is the very moment they can do these things.
These are difficult times.
Small towns are safe. Big cities are not. That's the myth.
Like many small communities in the Gulf Islands off the British Columbia coast, Gabriola Island is draped in lush rain-forests and magnificent beach scenery. It has miles of walking trails and hiking paths. Gabriola's 4,000 residents have the lowest crime ratesanywhere. Until now.
With most myths, facts intrude. This week one shattered Gabriola's calm.
A knife attack left a mother dead and her son in hospital. Residents were ordered indoors and to stay off the trails. Today police apprehend a suspect hiding in some bushes near the scene of the crime.
This is Gabriola's second murder in 6 years. Two murders, of course, does not a trend make. Low numbers tell volumes about low crime risks.
Still, small towns do not necessarily produce low crime. Counting the current murder, Gabriola's murder rate is 25 per 100,000 (16 times higher than the rest of the country). What can be done?
I've blogged before about the catch-and-release courts in British Columbia. After sentencing, the murderer in Gabriola's last homicideserved 2 years in prison (he beat his roommate to death with a hatchet).
Courts are clearly not in the safety or prevention business.
Walking outdoors next week may seem different on Gabriola. More frightening than last week. Lockdowns and wandering killers can have that effect.
True, these murders were indoors. Yet fear is insidious and civic places need a public space. How can small towns project confidence onto public spaces like paths and parks? Can we design out this problem? Do we really want cameras on hiking paths?
Is this the price we must pay for vigilance?
I recently visited Taliesin West, famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and school of architecture in Phoenix. It showcases his ideas for using local materials, linking outdoors with indoors and what he called organic architecture. Always interested in shaping buildings for the human experience, Wright's designs probably gave life to our modern demand for human scale streetscapes.
When it comes to urban design, scale is everything. It shows up in my blogs on large-scale planning and the freedom of performance-based zoning. It shows up at the opposite end when the Design Against Crime crowd re-think small-scale items like benches and ATM mats.
Nowhere is the importance of scale more obvious than in the lifelong work of famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wright is an icon. Between 1893 and 1957 his work firmly positioned him atop the American architectural scene. He rebelled against staid European traditions of the previous century and sought to create a brand new American architecture.
Except for one thankfully forgotten book (Broadacre City) he rarely overstepped his skills into large scale planning. There are some cranky critics (like me) who think his clumsy planning ideas in Broadacre City are culpable for the incomprehensible spaghetti-style road shapes and acres of monotonous single-family lots in today's suburbs.
That one leap in scale was a rare blemish in a tapestry of design innovation and pure architectural genius. It's kind of like hearing for the first time Mahatma Gandhi was cruel to his wife in his early years. It doesn't jive with the greater picture of a hero even though it may be true.
Scale, truly, is everything.
If you haven't visited Taliesin West - do so! Wright reminds us why we need beauty in our cities.
Sometimes things come along that are...well, just plain cool.
I've written before about the design against crime movement in the UK. They have shown us how to use inventive ergonomic design to curb bad behavior, reduce loitering on public benches and cut crime at bike racks.
My friend and colleague, UK professor Lorraine Gamman, recently sent photos of her talented colleagues work at the Design Against Crime Research Centre in London. They have come up with a method to cut ID theft (shoulder surfing) and ATM crime through a privacy mat.
It's simple enough. Stick a 3M mat to demarcate territory around ATM machines. Says one article, the mats can "be laid directly onto pavements or the floors of shopping centers. They take just 20 minutes to lay and no planning permission if they unbranded." People are "controlled" through subtle messaging to keep far enough away to protect your PIN and far enough to make it difficult to snatch and run with your cash.
It won't stop everyone, but I'm told it seems to work. Why?
The first thing you learn in CPTED is something called proxemics - how people use their own sense of personal space to ensure their privacy. That subtle messaging is precisely what privacy mats accomplish, albeit in a subtle and inexpensive fashion.
I've said before territoriality doesn't happen without social capital.
When it comes to small scale design, it seems I'm wrong.
According to one European ATM security survey, over 85% of respondents indicate privacy spaces help reduce crime at ATMs. Loraine tells me more rigorous evaluation research is underway.
Like I said - simple, cheap and effective.
A funny thing happened to me in Las Vegas last week. No, it's not what you're thinking! It's not really about clear-headed thinking at all. It's about some fuzzy thinking that replaces coherent understanding about preventing crime.
I've said before the CPTED and Design Out Crime folks don't talk much about the theories behind their work. A few of those thorny theory issues showed up in my blogs last year, such as ROTO (Research-On-The-Obvious).
There is another side to that coin. I'm referring to the fuzzy thinking of some academicians who study crime-and-place and their kin (crime mappers, police crime analysts).
Let's remember the main purpose of theory, at least in the empirical sciences, is to provide a plausible and testable explanation of why something happens, in this case crime. Events surrounding that explanation - where and when crime occurs - are merely descriptive symbols of the main event, not the actual theory that explains "why" the event happens in the first place.
From this point of view, CPTED and Design Out Crime have very few actual theories - only descriptive symbols.
DOES IT MATTER?
Descriptive symbols are useful. Describing where malaria starts killing people may help us isolate the outbreak and target treatment. Symbols may point us in the right direction toward explanation. But they do not explain the biology of malaria - and that is what kills us! Mosquito nets may help us and we need them. Ultimately, we need to be working toward a cure. We mustn't rest with nets. Same with crime.
What about gambling, casinos, and sin-city?
As I walked around Las Vegas last week I began thinking about all the casino's, the craziness, and all the activity. In Advanced CPTED there is something called "crime generators". These are locales in the city that tend to generate crime opportunities. Large casinos fit the crime generator tag. If mappers scoured the crime patterns, no doubt they'd find lots of hotspots with pick-pocketing, assaults, drug dealing, and fraud in and around the casinos. Or perhaps casino security displaces it to venues just outside the Strip? Either way, no doubt someone would come up with a "theory of casino crime locations", which isn't really a theory at all.
This is exactly what happened with the Broken Windows "theory". Crime went down in New York. Unfortunately for Broken Window Theory, as Professor Zimring showed in his book, The Great American Crime Decline, crime went down in places with no Broken Window programs. That's because descriptive symbols won't really stop crime in the long run. Only prevention based on sound theories can do that.
Yes, theories matter.
Does that make casino's crime generators? Casinos no doubt "generate" direct and indirect crime. But if we could calculate per capita crime rates around casinos, would they be any more crime-prone than other high activity places?
Do activity generators = crime generators?
Probably not in the case of large political rallies (except if you find yourself in Thailand this week). How about in the case of large football games with thousands of drunken fans? Those probably do generate similar (or more) assaults, except if we limit alcohol sales and the home team wins.
That's the problem with descriptive symbols versus real theory. They tell us something about where, and little about why.
THE CASINO CRIME GENERATOR?
It might be simple to conclude sin-city Vegas is also crime city. But FBI crime stats don't show that. We can argue all we want about unreported crime, gambling impact on family life, and so forth (those things are true and serious). Yet according to the 2008 FBI crime rates, Las Vegas wasn't even in the top 20 cities for total violent crime nor in the top 50 for total property crime cities.
So much for crime generators.
Personally, I'm no fan of the Strip in Las Vegas. There are no doubt many tragic realities that arise in that famous (infamous?) epicenter of self-absorption.
Whatever those realities, we must not confuse descriptive symbols that plot when and where with actual theories explaining why crime happens. Descriptive symbols may help us target crime and temporarily reduce it with 1st Generation CPTED and Design Out Crime. But they won't help us prevent it in the long run. Nor will they replace proper and robust theories that help us build safer places - including entertainment meccas like Vegas - in the years to come.
The Design Out Crime (DOC) agenda for prevention can be simple and effective. Back in June I briefly mentioned the DOC work in the UK (click here).
DOC hasn't made many appearances of late. It's time it did.
The SafeGrowth philosophy is enmeshed in social development, competent neighborhood governance, and informed civic empowerment. In the troubled places we explore in this blog, such lofty themes easily get lost in the grind of fear, poverty and crime. It's easy to slip back into a narcissistic "nothing works". When that happens it's critical to remember this: because something is difficult does not mean it is impossible.
Consider the stories of success in my July entries on graffiti, intersection repair, tackling homelessness, urban gardens and the beginning of Bogota's remarkable renaissance.
There are simpler approaches. While not specifically about neighborhood redevelopment, they too can get things started in a positive way. Some that merit a peek appear in the latest International CPTED Association newsletter this week.
My colleague Lorraine Gamman runs the Design Against Crime Research Center (DACRC) in London, UK and they lead the world in thinking about designing crime opportunities out of simple everyday things.
Check out the latest issue of the CPTED Perspective newsletter and see DACRC's new theft-resistent bike rack and vandal proof (yet user-friendly) street bench.
SafeGrowth may be the eventual evolution of the troubled community...
..but DOC and CPTED may be one way we get started.
I've covered Winnipeg's innovative efforts to tackle crime in earlier blogs.
Here is the latest.
Far too rarely we celebrate crime prevention success stories. I remember reading an article a decade ago in a Canadian criminology journal claiming good news prevention stories make it into papers less than 1% of the time. Given the info-tainment that passes as news, that's no surprise.
For a decade Winnipeg Canada has been the auto theft capital of North America. The headlines said it all: Too many stolen cars; Police chases of stolen cars; Too many victims.
An award finalist at this year's International Problem Oriented Policing conference was the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy. It's not really SafeGrowth. It's more targeted policing and design out crime. Yet those are great tools in the SafeGrowth toolbox and this project shows the excellent work they have done to tackle crime that can be adopted by a full SafeGrowth community. And it looks like that's exactly where they are headed. Read their latest report on crime prevention planning.
When you've done that, check out their auto theft program.
Even the CBC is getting in on the action and telling some good news on crime.
The December issue of Utne Reader magazine features 50 Visionaries Who Changed the World.
Among the obvious - the Dalai Lama, global AIDS pioneer Wafaa El-Sadr - is Enrique Penalosa. His vision encapsulates some recent blogs: Stolkholm's piano stairways, Indianapolis' community-garden cemeteries and Portland'sDignity Village for the homeless.
Enrique Penalosa is an urban planner and from 1998-2001, Mayor of Bogota, Columbia - a city of 6-10 million (depending who you ask). In 1975 his father was Secretary General of the inaugural UN Habitat conference in Vancouver, a successful UN program that continues today. Bogota is a city many associate with drug cartels and crime. Today it is a different place. It is a place from which we can learn important lessons on urban safety and vitality.
"The essence of the conflict today is really cars and people. That is the essence of the whole discussion. We can have a city that is very friendly to cars, or a city that is very friendly to people. We cannot have both."
During his tenure Penalosa made radical improvements in Bogota: housing the poor, reclaiming public spaces, planting more than 100,000 trees and transforming a dismal downtown roadway into a dynamic public space for pedestrians.
He cut rush hour traffic 40% by enhancing public transit, restricting private cars in the central city, pollution abatement, creating the world's largest pedestrian street, building hundreds of kilometers of bike paths and greenways and rehabbing 1,200 parks. Bicycling quadrupled to 400,000 people per day. He encouraged bollards to restrict sidewalk parking and introduced the idea of a global Car Free Day. The Project for Public Spaces says Penalosa helped "transform the city's attitude from one of negative hopelessness to one of pride and hope."
Of special note to SafeGrowthers, he managed to get citizens in marginal neighborhoods involved in rebuilding their streets and neighborhoods.
Peñalosa is now a visiting professor at New York University. He is researching and writing a book on urban development. Of special interest to CPTED/DOCA folks is his contention:
"There is no absolute distinction between public and private spaces, or a smooth scale from one state to the other. Rather there are inversions and paradoxes. Almost all spaces of a city are in fact impure... [they are] hybrids of public and private.
I am convinced of the power of good urban design and architecture. People will use it if it has quality. Every detail in the city should show respect for human dignity and reflect that everything human is sacred. And I do believe that if people have to walk in the street, avoiding parked cars, or next to some horrible surface parking lot, or they are mistreated by poor quality transportation systems, it's very difficult to ask them to be good citizens, to keep the streets clean, or even pay taxes."
If you want to know more about this remarkable pioneer, watch this interview with Enrique Penalosa.
When it comes to neighborhood crime risks, how do we take action? Usually we worship the Holy Triumvirate of Safety - police programs, prevention projects, and government policy.
The Holy 3 come in many forms: design out crime, secure-by-design, Intelligence-led policing, restorative justice, 3-strikes laws, broken windows, neighborhood watch, crime-free multi-housing, hotspot policing and, of course, CPTED.
Not that these are wrong. When surgically applied and well-crafted, they make a difference. But they are not surgically applied nor crafted that well (or at all). Usually they are applied to crime problems in the same way a drunk uses a lamp-post - for support, not illumination.
Consider the all-too-common policy to implement CPTED, Design Out Crime, or Secure By Design (or whatever similar nuanced names apply). Far too often policy comprises written checklists or CPTED surveys that practitioners apply when a new development proposal lands in their in-basket. The real goal of such policy is expediency; to sign off each checklist category and get that proposal into the out-basket. Seldom is the goal to engage a multi-disciplinary team, including those from the neighborhood, to review the proposal. Nor is the goal to use a careful diagnosis to determine what might work and what might not.
A CPTED checklist is idiotic. It is the band-aid on the heart attack.
I created SafeGrowth to combat that idiocy. Thankfully, there are other approaches that do the same. Example: this week I watched presentations by police problem-solvers from around the world at the International Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) conference in California.
Unlike SafeGrowth, POP is led by the police. It tends to focus less on long-term sustainability or community growth and more on responding to immediate problems. But, like SafeGrowth, POP illustrates how creative police officers, working in partnership with neighborhood groups, can solve intractable crime problems.
The conference top six finalists in the Herman Goldstein problem-solving awards were fascinating. One project from Chula Vista, California resolved crime riddled motels infested with drug dealers, prostitutes, and a flood of violence. Tellingly, only after a careful analysis did they craft a response with CPTED, property improvements, targeted enforcement, incentives, and improved management strategies. They even created a guidebook from which others can learn.
They started with the worst offenders, gave suggestions for how owners could gradually enhance their properties and let them choose strategies they could afford. They tracked improvements over a few years. Where compliance faltered, they moved in. The better motels became models for the worst.
Notice how these practitioners didn't assume the checklist position in their research stance! They avoided blind adoption of policy or programs. What made the difference here (and all the POP finalists) is the means by which they took action during their research.
The Chula Vista motels submission won top prize this year. Congrats to them. We should pay attention. Check out their guidebook.
I just finished reading Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest: How the largest social movement in history is restoring grace, justice, and beauty to the world. It's a great eco-story. Read carefully and you'll see ties to safer cities.
We live in a community, not alone, and any sense of separateness that we harbor is an illusion. Sustainability is about stabilizing the current disruptive relationship between earth's most complex systems - human culture and the living world.
How might we do our part with SafeGrowth and CPTED/Design Out Crime?
I recently chatted with Lorraine Gamman, an innovative and leading proponent of design-out-crime based at London's Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Lorraine sent me a fascinating idea for streetscape greening that might reduce graffiti targets: covering graffiti-prone blank walls and non-descript facades with moss. (Lorraine has a forthcoming article on this in the fall 2009 issue of the CPTED Perspective newsletter).
Moss! The stuff we used to spray from sidewalks. Turns out moss absorbs carbon dioxide, requires little maintenance, grows easily, insulates buildings, and removes vulnerable graffiti surfaces. Best of all, if designed well it makes an environment attractive. Even "vandalized" moss grows back quick with very little help.
It turns out we may have been too hasty removing wall moss. As the photo above shows, Japanese tech savvy leads the way for getting this right. Check out this video of Eco-moss.
A beautiful streetscape, graffiti-free, ecologically-friendly! Hawken would be proud.
Ever get irritated at the person who butts ahead of you in line? How about that cell-phone addict who forgets to signal and turns in front of you? Even worse - the Blackberry zombie who can't stop texting! Is rude and obnoxious behavior on the rise?
Rebecca Gaytko is my new urban planner friend from Dayton, Ohio. She participated in the recent SafeGrowth training in that city and, along with Chief Biehl, is among a small group of positive voices for SafeGrowth. Rebecca recently sent me this facinating article on bad behavior and design.
Read bad behavior blog
If SafeGrowth means safety inside a neighborhood (which it does), it must also mean the careful design of very small items in our lives. If safety emerges from urban designs that create positive experiences and opportunities for healthy, fun choices (which it does), it must also mean little things make a big difference.
There is an approach to crime prevention called Designing Out Crime (DOC). The DOC folks fix and tamper with the products of our lives - our cars, phones, purses - to reduce the risk of theft or their use in crime. In olden days we thought this the stuff of security companies. Nowadays it's a whole field of study.
Read DOC research
Today DOCers have reinvigorated the design of products in new and interesting ways.
Nowhere are they more advanced than in the UK.
Read about the UK Design Out Crime program
Rebecca reminds me we mustn't forget the importance of small items in our lives. True, they do not excuse bad behavior. But there is no doubt when it comes to our behavior, the devil is in the details.
San Antonio, Texas doesn't sound like a place where urban designers can see how to build successful places for the future. You might not think so, but you'd be wrong.
I just spent time exploring the fabulous San Antonio Riverwalk. It is not what you might expect to find near the Alamo in western Texas. 25 years after planning began it has become a lively and vibrant connector between businesses, restaurants, shops, and apartment/condos in the heart of the city. It runs along a redirected canal-like waterway of the San Antonia river. Lined by Cyprus trees, much of it lies below city streets.
I can't speak about other parts of San Antonio. But this part is a joy to experience. It was very busy with walkers, joggers, and tourists. Riverwalk looks like a jewel in the city. An excellent example of neighborhood planning (formal and informal).
Is it a taste of Amsterdam in Texas? Perhaps! Both are similar in city/region population size. The Riverwalk architecture and arched pedestrian bridges echo feelings of Hollands' romantic canal walkways.
But stepping outside the Riverwalk area, I wonder!
Amsterdam, with 26 murders in 2007, makes it among the safest larger cities anywhere. Despite complaints by locals of drug excesses, the liberalized drug business in Holland ends up with fewer drug users than in the U.S.
San Antonio, in spite of recent declines in violent crime, suffered 122 murders in 2007. For US cities that's middle of the pack and it also has a nasty rep for property crime.
Numbers like these, of course, say nothing about culture, demographics, and access to handguns - all part of the urban crime picture. Numbers also don't tell the whole story. But here they do tell one thing, in case it still needs saying:
Urban design and planning alone cannot do the job to make places safe.