by Mateja Mihinjac
As we enter a new decade, I can’t help but wonder: How might my work and the work of other safety and crime prevention professionals be affected as temperatures continue to rise and weather conditions become even more extreme?
I am fortunate to have lived and worked in various countries, including Australia and Canada. People often associate the first with hot weather and beaches and the latter with cold winters and snow. This is especially true at this time of year when large parts of Australia are experiencing extremely high temperatures and devastating fires while Canada may be bracing for the next polar vortex this winter.
Are these two countries, on the opposite sides of the globe, struggling with contrasting environmental conditions that relate directly to contrasting crime and safety concerns?
There is long-standing research on violence and the thermal environment, or what is sometimes called the seasonality of crime. It reminded me of research I came across a few years ago about the possible association between temperature and crime.
That research found a correlation between warmer weather and various forms of crime and incidents and attributed this to an increase in outdoor activities during warmer days. The researchers of this study in Philadelphia also suggested that extreme temperatures, especially extremely cold, have the opposite effect as people are discouraged to go outdoors.
However, there is Canadian research contradicting that view and suggesting violence can also increase at the opposite end of the thermal scale.
One 1995 study in Canada’s Arctic Nunavut Territory reported that violence rates among the Inuit in the north were far higher in Baffin Island villages (most of which are above the Arctic Circle) than those in the warmer cities over a thousand miles (2,000 kilometers) to the south.
THERMAL EXTREMES AND VIOLENCE
While the Arctic study is explained through cultural and sociological causes, the Philadelphia study falls into a group of opportunity-theories that suggest comfortable weather conditions at any time of the year (warm gentle summers, balmy winters) are associated with the increased number of people outdoors resulting in increased concentration of both targets and potential offenders.
Other studies suggest the rise in alcohol consumption during the hot months of the year contributes more to murders and sexual assault, as well as other crimes such as road rage. This is especially a problem where temperature variations are large. Therefore, in these instances, it appears extremes in high temperatures or mango madness might be behind violent and aggressive behavior.
The homicide data in the State of Queensland, Australia for the past 22 years show a somewhat increased homicide rate during the hottest months of the year: December and January. This association was especially strong for the tropical north where temperatures are most extreme.
A NEW PATTERN EMERGES
However, when the data were examined for the Brisbane City police division for both homicide and all crimes respectively, they found no identifiable monthly patterns. This suggests that while temperature conditions may be part of the crime puzzle, we cannot draw conclusions about crime based on this single variable.
Perhaps thermal effects on violence apply to both high and low-temperature extremes, as the Canadian research suggests? It seems that the opportunity-theory does not always explain why some places are less safe than others, especially in relation to temperature.
This has been our experience during SafeGrowth programming in neighborhoods throughout the world. Even with extreme temperatures, healthy and vibrant neighborhoods with plenty of pro-social opportunities tend to be safer. Could it be that, whatever temperature extremes a community suffers, opportunities for pro-social behavior are a powerful prescription for building healthy communities with fewer crime opportunities?
THOUGHTS FOR THE NEXT DECADE
In 2014, Harvard trained economist and statistician Matthew Ranson made a bold prediction:
"Between 2010 and 2099, climate change will cause an additional 22,000 murders, 180,000 cases of rape, 1.2 million aggravated assaults, 2.3 million simple assaults, 260,000 robberies, 1.3 million burglaries, 2.2 million cases of larceny, and 580,000 cases of vehicle theft in the United States."
Sobering words as we begin a new year!
And yet, as we have seen over the past few years, there are solutions at hand if we choose to adopt them. Collectively we can find effective answers to both halt the progression of global warming and to address community safety challenges that may be associated with the temperature effect.
by Gregory Saville
Tick tock…the clock is ticking.
I recently watched 16-year old Greta Thunberg glare at global leaders and chastise the United Nations for not doing enough about the Climate Crisis. Record numbers of wildfires burn around the world. Floods, hurricanes, and extreme weather dominate the news. And, says Greta, (and legions of scientists), because of climate deniers, Big Oil, and dallying politicians around the world, time is running out.
In truth, it isn’t from those living today that the Climate Crisis was born. It was born in the belching factories of the Industrial Age, weaned by a century of exploding (and irresponsible) population growth, and befriended by decades of poor environmental choices. Some of those poor environmental choices emerged in how we built cities – sprawl, acres of parking, carbon eating suburbs.
The result? Tax money spent on sprawl left the inner city vacant, sleepy, and blighted. Downtowns were vacated by shoppers looking for regional malls. The guts of the city were emptied into the box stores of the burbs. Studies about such development show that “living in a city can alter our brain’s architecture, making it more vulnerable to… social stress.”
So not only does pollution and smog harm our lungs and bodies, but neurophysical research suggests that poor urban living conditions negatively affect our brain biology, particularly the part that affects moods – the amygdala – such as anxiety disorders and mental conditions like schizophrenia.
However, while time runs out and Greta says we aren’t doing enough, it isn't true that we are doing nothing. Some innovations do break through.
FIGHTING BACK – H22 IN HELSINGBORG
This week I co-presented our SafeGrowth project work from New York at the H22 Summit in Helsingborg, Sweden, a conference on Smart City innovations and how they combat climate change. Delivered with my colleague Ifeoma Ebo from the New York City Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, our message showed how tactics in SafeGrowth and community empowerment in high-density housing can humanize residential towers and reduce victimization. If we are to densify in the future, we must know how to do it well.
The conference was in preparation for the H22 Smart City Exposition in Helsingborg. Smart Cities is a concept to dramatically expand data networks and sensors into city operations and embed information and communication technologies via the IoT (Internet of Things) for more efficient use of resources. The idea is if city officials can interact better with residents and monitor city life, they can more efficiently improve infrastructure and services.
It is, in effect, a technical battle against inefficiency and climate change. In the past, I have been skeptical of some smart technologies in policing and crime prevention that have not seemed so smart. So I was curious how the European smart city movement – particularly this one in Sweden - differed from what I’ve seen thus far. I was not disappointed.
CONNECTING SMART GROWTH TO SMART CITIES
The earliest battle against the environmental crisis began in the 1960s with the counter-culture warriors, triggered by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring on the insecticides poisoning our water.
Those early warriors grew into environmentalists who created, among other things, Smart Growth to confront sprawl and reimagine urban villages that offer more friendly places to live, and transit-oriented developments.
Smart Growth is another front in the climate battle. It’s an urban planning rebellion against ecological waste and carbon waste. For 20 years it has promoted new kinds of planning and zoning to improve the environment and create walkable streets. Sadly, most politicians are still ignorant of Smart Growth and few in the public have the slightest idea how it reduces sprawl thereby cutting pollution and carbon emissions.
In the 1990s I worked with a design team on one of the earliest Smart Growth projects in Vancouver – the Collingwood Village community near the Joyce/VanNess Skytrain Station. Touted today as one of Vancouver’s most successful neighborhoods, the Collingwood story has appeared in this blog. Twenty years later we now see how smart growth/transit-oriented development can last.
TICK TOCK – SPRAWL FLOURISHES
In spite of all this, anti-Smart Growth critics hope to turn back the nostalgia clock. They restrict multi-family units, spend billions on expressways, ignore efficient commuter trains, and they fight for low densities. Want proof? Look at the outer suburban rings of Calgary, Toronto, Winnipeg, Phoenix, Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Sydney, Perth, etc.
I should know; I live in one! An unpleasant fact I learned the hard way is that owning or renting an affordable home requires a wide range of housing options and, in most larger cities in the developed world, those options are limited by decades of single-use zoning that encourages lower densities. Without more affordable choices, we are left with housing from existing housing stock - and that means suburbs.
There is much to be done, not the least of which remains convincing the business-as-usual crowd that, frankly, things have changed and time is running out. Greta is right. We must do better. Sooner!