by Greg Saville
Years ago I spent an afternoon with the exceptional urban designer Richard Gardiner. Anyone reading encylclopedia references about the beginning of CPTED will recognize Richard Gardiner’s name, especially his 1978 book Design for Safe Neighborhoods, the first attempt to transform CPTED into a comprehensive planning system.
In our chats, Richard described how he had moved away from CPTED and began focusing on the serious congestion problem of street parking. He had developed an ingenious parking management program to tackle the assumption that “free parking is actually costing governments and institutions millions of dollars each year without their actually being aware of it. Public parking in cities constitutes the third-highest hidden cost that U.S. cities face each year.”
I'm embarrassed to admit I just didn't get it. Urban land economics wasn't my thing back then; it seemed unimportant. But in the years since then, I came to see the huge impact on both safety and urban finance. This was especially the case when I observed the Portland Intersection Repair program where residents reclaimed their neighborhood by reclaiming their local intersection.
PARKING SPACES FOR LEASE
Lately, I’ve seen a fascinating variation on this theme: Municipalities that lease the street parking areas in front of restaurants and bars. The bars turn this area into outside sitting areas, eating areas or other uses for their patrons.
Does this help make sidewalks and streets safer by putting more eyes on those streets? Does it make those streets less safe at night if those same bars have poor management and thereby trigger drunken street brawls and drunk driving?
Obviously, funds from leased parking spaces will feed city coffers and that might help recover the hidden costs of free parking (or with few meters, minimally costed parking). Those funds might help cash starved municipalities reinvest into their cities.
But what, I wonder, does this mean for other types of transportation, such as bicycle riders who still have inadequate and safe parking spots for their bikes?
Traveling across the country in recent weeks I enjoyed street musicians from one coast to the other. They came in the form of brass jazz bands in New Orleans to piano players on the Venice Beach Boardwalk in Los Angeles.
Every urban center in the world features street musicians - also called buskers - those performers who provide entertainment for handouts. In France, they are Troubadours and in Mexico Mariachi bands wander the streets and beaches.
Buskers have been part of city life for centuries, probably dating back to antiquity. England’s Henry VIII first licensed them as minstrels. And among their numbers, you can count Benjamin Franklin, Josephine Baker, Tracy Chapman, Rod Stewart and Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirque du Soleil.
Many cities license buskers, such as Toronto and London where they must audition to play on subway platforms. Most cities regulate them to ensure they are not a nuisance or hazard.
From a street safety point of view, they offer the opportunity to bring some legitimate eyes onto isolated areas and activate dull spaces with interesting life. A few years ago Steve Woolrich blogged here about the successful Red Deer, Alberta street piano.
Little attention is paid to busking in the crime prevention literature. But our experience suggests that properly applied to key areas, street musicians can activate public places and make them safer. If anything it is usually the buskers who are victims of theft, not the other way around.
ENTER THE IPNAS
My concern in recent years has been the over-regulation of buskers like street musicians, especially considering the UK’s newest law, the Anti-Social Behavior Crime and Policing Bill.
Under the oddball acronym IPNAS - Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance - the new law heaps a cornucopia of rules on everything from irresponsible dog ownership to border security and terrorism. And like all omnibus bills, they are a Genie out of the bottle once they get into the hands of local authorities with bizarre predispositions (aka Ferguson).
I understand attempts to cast a wide net of hyper-regulation over the streets of UK cities, especially when threatened by street thugs, drunks, and hooligans.
But for every action, there is a reaction. This action could also limit the ability to activate streets with human entertainment and instead replace it with cold, mechanical CCTV eyes with the promise of a safe viewshed on downtown streets, a strategy with mixed empirical results in the UK and even more questions in the US.
Then I found a review of the IPNAS laws in The Guardian. It brought to mind the stories of some of our greatest cultural contributors, Benjamin Franklin, Rod Stewart, Tracey Chapman and Guy Laliberte:
These laws will be used to stamp out plurality and difference, to douse the exuberance of youth, to pursue children for the crime of being young and together in a public place, to help turn this nation into a money-making monoculture, controlled, homogenised, lifeless, strifeless and bland. For a government which represents the old and the rich, that must sound like paradise.
R2D2 patrolling the street in modern day California?
Whenever I read the classic sci-fi Oath of Fealty I think of that mirror world where privileged insiders reside behind their technology fortress and the rest of us are the mob at the gates. Except we forget that in Niven and Pournelle’s novel their technology fortress was modeled on an arcology, a real-life creation of walkable, ecological, and community-based cities where people collaborate to survive.
Such is the paradox of security; exclusion vs inclusion is hardwired into the beast.
Ultimately intention is the key. It fits no one except cynics to claim human nature makes every invention retrograde. Aerial flight may allow militaries to bomb, but planes also allow millions to travel world-wide and experience cultures in every global nook. That arguably brings us closer together.
ENTER THE K5
K5 is an autonomous data machine - aka, a security robot. Advertised by Knightscope as an autonomous neighborhood crime watch, the K5 appeals to both corporate and community. Tackling the high turnover in the security profession (by some accounts up to 400%), the K5 provide more reliable eyes-on-the street for everything from asset protection to identifying threats like armed intruders in schools. It then contacts police with real-time, reliable data and does so 24/7 without sleeping on duty.
The online promo describes automatic license plate recognition (for stolen cars), CO2 and temperature sensors (for fire), facial recognition with cameras, and low-light video sensors for night-time property monitoring. The gizmos on this robot are impressive; LIDAR, GPS, inertial and odometer sensors, geo-fencing for autonomous control, directional microphones, proximity sensors, and the list goes on.
I don’t really know what to make of K5: Big Brother’s Techno-Bride or R2D2’s charming bleeps? I suppose, ultimately, intention is the thing. True, removing humans from eyes-on-the street is scary. No doubt the robo-phobics will sound alarms.
On the other hand, who said people had to be removed just because they have their own K5 in their neighborhood?
Knightscope warns us about epidemic crime. While rates are increasing in some places, crime science and police statistics say the opposite, all of which is beside the point. Even in a time of record-breaking crime declines security needs remain high. What bank doesn’t have security cameras?
Whatever the case, for some reason when I look at K5 I am not reminded of Schwarzenegger’s cyborg in Terminator. I’m reminded of Huey, Dewey and Louie, those cute robot drones from the 70s enviro-sci-fi flick, Silent Running. And they end up saving us from ourselves.
Novices to CPTED sometimes see things with a clarity others lack. Jennica Collette is a planning student at the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. She and fellow students recently completed their first CPTED study. In this guest blog she summarizes their findings and comes to similar conclusions as reported by Harvard University design students in March.
As part of a University of Waterloo social planning class, a group of fellow students and myself wanted to know how urban form influenced safety, both actual and perceived. We chose university campuses, a context that was relevant and familiar, and compared our suburban campus at University of Waterloo to the urban campus at University of Toronto. It was our first CPTED experience.
We started by familiarizing ourselves with CPTED lingo including Oscar Newman’s Defensible Space Theory and Jane Jacob’s "eyes on the street". We looked at reported statistics and charts as well as perceived safety through site visits and random interviews. The results weren’t what we expected.
Initially we assumed the University of Toronto was less safe. Why? Perhaps the strong association between large urban centres and crime or the idea that people who don’t necessarily “belong” at the University can wander through the campus freely and easily. But during interviews we were told both campuses felt safe. Other than identifying some areas of concern, like poorly lit loading areas in Toronto or a woodlot trail in Waterloo, there were rarely moments where students felt like they were in any danger.
When we crunched the numbers we discovered, on a per student basis, there were more crimes at the University of Waterloo than the University of Toronto. Granted, both of these campuses experienced very few serious crimes, mostly petty theft and mischief, but there were simply more of them in Waterloo.
One of the most significant differences between the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo was the presence of people. Even during reading week Toronto’s campus was bustling with activity. In Waterloo, during the weekends and evenings, you could count the people on one hand.
Toronto’s safe environment can be attributed to a combination of multiple uses, permeable grid form and high densities. The Royal Ontario Museum, the Ontario Legislative building, and Queen’s Park all lie within the campus boundary and the grid form makes the campus as much a waypoint as a destination.
In Waterloo a ring road topped off with berms surrounds the campus. We were told buildings were oriented with crowd control in mind rather than legibility. All this makes the campus particularly unappealing for a visitor.
Does built form influence actual and perceived safety? Our first CPTED experience confirmed it does. What we found mostly is that there is so much more to safety than movement predictors and improving lighting (though that is part of it). From a planning perspective a large part of making environments safe is activating spaces and activating communities. It turns out that is also the conclusion of Second-generation CPTED.
Whether it a campus or residential neighbourhood, the key seems to be having people present who are engaged in their environments.
Sometimes a successful neighborhood just grows organically with gentle nudging from planners. It isn't really planned. In fact, Jane Jacobs tells us, the best neighborhoods rarely are.
At this week's International problem-oriented policing conference I mentioned to my audience they should begin understanding prevention not by analyzing high-crime hotspots, but rather by looking at low-crime coolspots. Those are the places where we learn what to do right.
Toronto's Annex neighborhood, where I strolled today, is the proof. Well-known in the city, it is a busy, sometimes gritty, and successful neighborhood. It is neither trendoid and expensive like The Beaches in the south, nor coiffured and rarified like wealthy Forest Hill to the north.
There are street people and graffiti. But the graffiti is artistic and interesting and the street people seem less desperate than elsewhere. It's certainly not a crime hotspot.
Shops, restaurants and bookstores line the street for students and tourists. Grocery stores, postal stations and dentist offices mix in for locals. There are street watchers from sidewalk cafes, proliferate bike racks, and lovers glancing down from rooftop perches between smooches. There's just enough disorder to make things interesting and just enough eyes on the street to make it safe.
This is where Jane Jacobs lived most her life. I can see why.
A half century ago an urban activist and writer from Greenwich Village in New York changed our world. Attacked as plain talking and a "housewife", her detractors of that day strangely assumed vigorous urban life could thrive without both. She spoke of mixed land uses and social diversity when others didn't. She reminded us safe, walkable streets are the life force of the city and thick networks of relationships are the oxygen to that life.
She taught us to pay attention to the importance of the simple things: the laundromat, the corner store, the street mailbox, the coffee shop, the park bench. She cautioned us not to dismiss the fun gifted us by murals, street artists, musicians, buskers. Some call this "urban disorder". They do not truly see the city as she did.
She triggered the demise of dismal highrise apartments to house the poor. In New York and later in her new city of Toronto, she led (and won) protests against neighborhood-eating freeways. She applauded heritage buildings when others tore them down. She launched a thousand barbs against soul destroying "urban renewal" - now long gone. She is responsible directly for the creation of crime prevention through environmental design - CPTED - and by extension, the Design Out Crime movement.
We take for granted these ideas today. We should not.
This activist, "housewife", and urban visionary is Jane Jacobs. Her best selling book Death and Life of Great American Cities set the world of city planning and urban development afire. I just read a fascinating biography, Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary by Alice Alexiou.
Her message is still relevant today for those who love vital, safe, and enriching cities.
In my blogs of late I am struck by Jacob's legacy. Consider bus stops in New Orleans, graffiti artists in Montreal, moss walls in London, and painted intersections in Portland. It is all very Jacobsian (she'd probably hate that term).
Jacobs warred against those from above dictating to those below. Her weapons? Demonstrations, petitions, letters...but mostly sharp words and clear-headed thinking from direct observation.
The last word to Jane:
The least we can do is to respect - in the deepest sense - strips of chaos that have a weird wisdom of their own not yet encompassed in our concept of urban order.