by Mateja Mihinjac
As winter is fast approaching in the northern hemisphere the trees are losing their colorful blankets of leaves. Coupled with that come cloudy overcast or foggy days with short pockets of sunshine signaling the dreary months ahead when we’d rather stay indoors than be exposed to the monotone grey outside.
However, it turns out there might be ways to break the bland world of winter and introduce some color into our neighborhoods to influence our mood and emotions.
Environmental color psychology research shows color can be used effectively to create emotional responses at conscious and unconscious levels.
In simplified terms, red, orange, and yellow colors create a stimulating cognitive response whereas green and blue have a calming effect on our nervous system. This is an evolutionary adaptation that once helped us survive, but is also is an effective strategy to stimulate desired moods in outdoor spaces.
The commercial, design, and health industry has been using this knowledge with great success to promote revenue and to elicit desired emotional responses by incorporating designs that connect us to nature, what is known as biophilic designs.
None of this is a new idea. Ethnic neighborhoods have been using colors for years to showcase their cultural identity and tradition. For example, "Chinatown's” or “Little Italy's” are often characterized by red color whereas "Greek Town's" are wrapped in blue/white designs and blue light installations. This creates a sense of identity and neighborhood attachment for people of that neighborhood’s heritage.
It turns out color psychology might also play a role in crime prevention.
COLOR PSYCHOLOGY AND CRIME
Understanding the importance of a person-environment interaction was the message of CPTED pioneer, C. Ray Jeffery, who emphasized that we must appreciate how external and internal stimuli affect our brain’s response to the environment.
There is anecdotal evidence from Glasgow, Scotland showing how blue color lights might help with suicide and crime prevention. Reports of lower crime rates and increased community ownership also emerged after the mayor of Tirana, Albania decided to use bold color design on many of the city’s buildings.
More detailed research on the color/crime prevention story is, as yet, scarce and inconclusive, but one fact remains: reports from all over the world indicate that residents respond positively to colorfulness and even crave opportunities to partake in them.
COLORING NEIGHBOURHOOD LIVEABILITY
While bringing color to the neighborhood might be an effective solution to generate interesting places that promote social interaction, such initiatives also offer a great opportunity to work in partnerships with local residents and co-create these colorful places together.
One great example is the Intersection Repair Project that creates colorful neighborhood intersections and combines that with residents who co-design their own streets. A few years later, our SafeGrowth team from Christchurch, New Zealand, successfully used the same approach for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere.
Of course, coloring neighborhoods does not magically solve neighborhood crime. We still need research on the internal workings of how our brain interprets these places – what Jeffery called internal cognition and internal environment. We have only recently seen reignited academic interest in this topic, for example, our recent study on Third Generation CPTED.
In this new approach, we link internal cognition to Maslow’s theory of human motivation. We emphasize that every high functioning neighborhood should offer opportunities for satisfying both individual and collective needs. Satisfying those needs at the neighborhood level is an important factor in neighborhood liveability. Colorful design throughout our daily public life that elicits positive moods may go a long way to satisfy at least some liveability objectives.
by Mateja Mihinjac
The public bench has become an indispensable part of city life. It represents a primary seating option for taking a rest, conversing with a friend, having a coffee or a meeting, or simply observing the theatre of the street.
However, occasionally a bench is blamed for drug dealing, panhandling, loitering, vagrancy, or homelessness. This has led to calls for eradicating them or revamping them to reduce their attractiveness for prolonged occupation.
This knee-jerk reaction is not uncommon. We’ve written before about target-hardening approaches, hostile architecture and even vilifying the trees for crime problems and safety issues.
Criminalizing loitering, especially when perceived as acts of lower social class, is a common example that diminishes use of public space.
These simplistic decisions are often underthought, short-lived, and are notorious for dehumanizing particular groups of people.
The question of removing benches extends beyond the presence street furniture. It is also about civility, ethics and inclusion. This sentiment comes from our New Zealand SafeGrowth Advocate, Sue Ramsay, who argues that the public debate around city planning should not only evolve around walkability but also sitability. Consider, for example, the needs of the elderly and less able groups in public space.
BEYOND THE BENCH
In a bid to address undesirable uses cities should encourage positive uses of their downtowns if they don’t wish to surrender them to vilified groups. Installation of benches, in particular, is often part of downtown revitalization programs because they attract diverse users and communicate to them they are welcome to use public space.
Importantly, we should be aware that disorder and undesirable behaviors are a symptom of a social problem greater than design.
Before vilifying the bench, how about clearly understanding what underlies the problem and targeting collaborative programs that help? How about work programs and skills programs for those with nowhere to go but benches? How about revitalizing downtowns through festivals, activities, local shops and cafes that focus on desirable activities?
A public bench is the epitome of public life. It allows one to both socialize and be alone, yet remain connected to the social world around them. It is the symbol of access to communal outdoor spaces.
by Mateja Mihinjac
It’s been nearly 60 years since Jane Jacobs called for integrated mixed-use cities rich in social and economic opportunities with livable and safe neighborhoods. Following almost a century of car-domination, urban design with people at the center is once again gaining traction.
A few years ago we blogged on this idea in the Denver neighborhood of Edgewater and the walkability ideas of urban planner Jeff Speck. In more and more cities, neighborhood development is once again in vogue.
The Australian city of Brisbane is one of many cities revisiting these ideas. Following public input, in 2018 the Brisbane government issued a blueprint with a plan to create “a city of neighborhoods”.
Melbourne too has introduced the idea of 20 Minute Neighbourhoods where “people can access most of their everyday needs within a 20-minute walk, cycle or local public transport trip”.
These ideas resonate with our concept of re-imagined urban villages and the “Hub Concept”, which we presented in our SafeGrowth book last year.
However, despite the need for an integrated and holistic approach to reimagined neighborhoods, it is the physical shape, especially transportation infrastructure, that receives the most attention.
Consider the expansion of pedestrian zones and car bans in city cores. Consider also the worldwide boost in micro-mobility with bike-sharing schemes and the boom in electric scooters.
Yet, as innovative as such ideas are, cities often neglect integrating these physical innovations with social and economic plans to address social relations, local identity, and local economy. And they rarely adopt them in suburbs.
THE MISSING ELEMENTS
This may be part of the reason that cities are not always successful in promoting their people-centered designs. The Melbourne plan, for example, has been criticized for non-holistic thinking and fears the plan may suffer from infrastructure deficits.
Critics challenge Melbourne planners to consider the Vancouver planning model, which is to design a walkable neighborhood that embeds physical amenities closely into social activities and services.
This is the concept for Collingwood Village in Vancouver, a 4,500 person neighborhood that includes market housing, 15% public housing, a community center, schools, daycare, playgrounds, food and play areas, and an adjacent public transit station, all within a 10-minute walk. (Full disclosure: Greg Saville, from our SafeGrowth team, helped the designers of Collingwood Village plan for safety and livability in the early stages of that development.)
Unfortunately, developers and decision makers rarely consider locally-based social amenities and programs to boost community pride and local identity. Further, most of these new neighborhood concepts are concentrated near downtowns where house prices are hyper-inflated, versus car-dependent suburbs that are void of crucial services.
If we truly wish to create cities with an interlinked ecology of neighborhoods, we should start expanding walkable neighborhoods to suburban areas. Jane Jacobs envisioned these ideas over 60 years ago. We now have the knowledge and tools to realize that vision. In SafeGrowth, we believe the 21st Century should become the Century of the Neighborhood. The time has finally come to put those ideas into practice.
by Gregory Saville
It’s difficult to get worked up about crime in a place like Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. Surrounded by lush beaches, palm trees and bathed in tropical sun, most visitors to the Island are unaware of the recent surge in gun crime or fears about drugs. To be clear, Barbados does have among the lowest crime rates of all the nearby Caribbean Islands, isolated somewhat from the political unrest in nearby Venezuela and blessed with competent police services.
Instead, what you notice in the city is the energy and bustle during daytime and the quaint Victorian and Georgian architecture, high ventilated gables and wide verandas along the narrow, serpentine streets. But if you look closely there is something missing: litter and graffiti.
Bridgetown and the surrounding areas seem remarkably free of litter, garbage and graffiti. True, there are some spots, here and there. And graffiti pops up now and then. But overall, the streets (and the beaches, for that matter), are remarkably clean.
This is in stark contrast to other tourist destinations where garbage is a common fact of life. New Orleans, for example, following the Mardi Gras festival, is a mess. Even after clean-up, the city has litter everywhere. And as we know from CPTED 1 theory, the image of a place has an impact on perceptions of safety and security.
It wasn’t always this way in Bridgetown. Graffiti was rampant and litter and illegal dumping were of major concern. Newspaper editorials carped about the problem and tourism experts warned about its impact.
Anti-litter and clean-up campaigns and community-led groups like the Barbados Guardians have effectively cut litter significantly. Anti-graffiti programs in schools have brought a new public discourse to the issue.
There is no doubt many larger environmental problems remain unresolved like over-filled land waste sites, ocean plastic dumps, and others. But, at least with street litter and graffiti, Bridgetown shows it is possible to marshal public opinion and local commitment, with the help of government, and change the lives of everyday people for the better.
That is, of course, the basic message of SafeGrowth. Bridgetown shows how that is possible with graffiti and litter control.
by Mateja Mihinjac
Vacant land is concerning because it attracts vandalism, provides refuge for drug activity and squatting, and attracts other undesirable behavior. In SafeGrowth we often find vacant lots and empty properties are associated with crime and disorder.
Fortunately, there are ways to transform these liabilities into assets. In our work, we encourage communities to activate vacant land in order to prevent a downward spiral of neighborhood disorder emerging from empty properties. This form of activation is also known as meanwhile spaces.
THE PROBLEM - VACANT LAND
Land vacancy is a prevalent issue especially in formerly highly industrialized cities across North America that are dealing with the consequences of economic downturn. Some of these cities suffer from hypervacancy where 25-50% of properties per census tract have been neglected.
We know from 1st Generation CPTED that this is due to poor territoriality or ownership resulting in decreased quality of life. We know from 2nd Generation CPTED that different neighborhoods have different thresholds for tolerating social destabilators (like vacant land), before they tip into social disorder. A timely response to vacancies can halt the slide into disorder.
Some cities have successfully rebuilt former factory buildings into housing. Others, as I've written in prior blogs, transform vacant lots into community gardens and community gathering places. And yet there are many cities that still struggle with vacant land and the consequences of poor upkeep, disorderly conduct, and crime.
Cities across North America and Europe are increasingly activating vacant land – a phenomena sometimes called meanwhile spaces – and temporarily using it to boost the local economy, provide jobs, advocate for social justice, and attract prosocial activities. These include pop-up markets and shops, placemaking, festivals, food trucks, art installations, programs by non-profits and civic collectives, and other activities that benefit the local community.
Meanwhile spaces are a form of tactical urbanism allowing local participation, and they also help developers see what people want in a particular space.
In Paris, one place was transformed into a temporary marketplace with diverse, small enterprises. It gave community groups and startups use of a rent-free space rent free until 2020 when the developer intends to commence with the construction.
Another example, from a prior blog, was SafeGrowth advocate Brad Vassallo's description of the pop-up market-place in Philadelphia, a city suffering over 40,000 vacant lots.
In Christchurch, New Zealand, an entire downtown commercial area, destroyed following a devastating earthquake, was transformed into a beautiful shipping-container shopping district. It was a temporary solution that now has wide acceptance and popular appeal (and may become a permanent feature of the city).
There are many low-cost and low-risk ways that meanwhile spaces can respond to the needs of residents and their neighborhoods. Creative design strategies can adapt quickly to changing conditions, such as layering multiple activities into one space, thereby injecting life and vibrancy into the local community.
Meanwhile spaces strengthen local relationships, build resilience and provide ownership to spaces that could otherwise attract undesirable activity. They may also signify a shift in modern city planning toward temporary and more responsive use of space.
However, what resonates most with me as a criminologist is the importance of a dedicated local community for transforming vacant spaces from liabilities into assets, thus preventing crime and disorder.
by Gregory Saville
With 267 murders last year, Detroit has a city population of 700,000 and murder rate 8 times the national average. It suffers a decimated tax base and in 2013, the largest city bankruptcy in US history. Naturally, you might associate it with crime, racial inequity, and blight. But would you associate it with urban innovation and rebirth?
With a renaissance of late, a lively downtown Detroit looks far different than a decade ago. And while that transformation is triggered by large, corporate reinvestment, it is the inner and outer suburbs where much of the blight and crime originates. How, I wondered this past week on project work in Detroit, does a neighborhood reinvent itself?
Then I met Pastor Barry Randolf at his Episcopal Church in the Lower Eastside neighborhood of Islandview. Not only has Islandview begun transformation, but Pastor Barry and his team have grand visions for the years ahead. Our task was to teach the SafeGrowth program in the neighborhood and work with our new friends at the Restorative City initiative.
New initiatives have fertile ground in a place like Islandview thanks, in no small measure, to Pastor Barry. He leads his church with programs like a community garden, a tea manufacturer, T-shirt design company, landscaping company, an employment program, a bike repair shop, mentorship programs, media production workshop, audio/video production, and others.
SPEARHEADING LOCAL LEADERSHIP
Not only does the church provide opportunities for jobs and work, but it also spearheads a community development corporation to build and purchase affordable housing (213 units in the neighborhood thus far). Pastor Barry told me that he and his team locate small numbers of market-rate housing across from well-designed, affordable housing to help stabilize and diversify the neighborhood. They then hire local residents to work with builders and learn the skills of construction.
Pastor Barry’s work is widely featured in local media and we were thrilled to offer our SafeGrowth tools to Islandview’s considerable toolkit. For me, the Islandview story illustrates the value of local organization and the power of competent neighborhood planning. As we say in our SafeGrowth Vision Statement, the successful 21st Century city will be based on a linked network of self-governing and self-learning neighborhoods.
When it comes to designing out crime beyond superficial security strategies, urban development and community-building like this digs at the roots of crime. With apologies to E. F. Schumacher, small truly is beautiful. Thanks, Pastor Barry, for the reminder.
Fog's rollin' in off the East River bank
Like a shroud it covers Bleecker Street
Fills the alleys where men sleep
Hides the shepherd from the sheep
- Paul Simon, Bleecker Street
by Greg Saville
Walking through Greenwich Village in New York City, as I did last week, is like walking through American history. It reminded me of Simon and Garfunkle's 1960s song Bleecker Street, a nostalgic ode partly about a neighborhood New Yorkers call ‘The Village'.
Greenwich Village is the place of America’s first integrated nightclub with Billy Holiday and where Edgar Allan Poe wrote poetry. It’s the neighborhood where Albert Einstein, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charlie Chaplin sat for sculptor Jo Davidson, and where Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsberg started the Beat Movement. Bob Dylan started here. Jewish intellectuals fled Nazi Germany to the Greenwich Village campus of the New School for Social Research.
Breathing life into the neighborhood is Washington Square Park, the nexus of public life in The Village. Fifty-seven years ago another Greenwich Village luminary, Jane Jacobs, published her landmark text, The Death and Life of Great American Cities in which she wrote about the attempted destruction of Washington Square Park.
SLICING WITH AN EXPRESSWAY
In 1961 Washington Square Park was to be cut in half by an expressway and a pedestrian overpass, diced into slices by Robert Moses, former NYC Parks Commissioner. Moses was a leader in the modernist movement of city planning and, more than others, he led an urban renewal revolution to build expressways and expand growth into suburbs.
On one hand, Moses built hundreds of city parks and public swimming pools, but on the other he divided neighborhoods with an orgy of expressway building. In the late 1950s, Washington Square Park, the lifeblood of Greenwich Village, was next in line; that is until Jacobs and her fellow Greenwich neighbors mobilized public support against the plan.
It’s difficult to imagine the decimation of Greenwich Village, the heritage it entailed, and the history it enshrined if Moses had been able to plow a wide expressway through the beating heart of that park. In many ways, Jacobs and others launched a crusade against Moses and modernist planning theory. Fortunately for us, she succeeded.
A half-century after those battles, a stroll through this iconic Greenwich Village park offers tangible proof how, at least in this case, local efforts and bottom-up thinking blew away the master planning fog of some top-down schemers.
It felt strange looking at a faded, black and white wall photo of a downtown street from 1900. No expressways. No cars. Only horses, buggies and Victorian dressed pedestrians. The Model T Ford was eight years away.
I wonder if those pedestrians had the foggiest notion of the transport tsunami that would befall their children a few decades forward?
Expressways and cars changed everything. Horses and buggies vanished. Expressways depleted cities of the middle class and led to deserted high crime downtowns. They triggered sprawl and, along with vanishing streetcar lines, the decline of urban villages. In return cars offered individual freedom to roam and opportunity to escape congestion and crime in congested downtowns.
Last week another mobility tsunami emerged - car free cities! Norway announced that the central area of the capital city Oslo will be car-free in 4 years. The Oslo council plans to permanently ban vehicles from their central city.
It’s hard to argue the plan isn't futuristic. SafeGrowth blogs in the past describe similar visions, a theoretical design called The Venus Project and an urban experiment called Masdar City, currently under construction.
Oslo, however, is the first existing major city with over a half million residents to attempt it for real. It is unclear how 60 kilometers of new bike lanes will help residents navigate Oslo’s -5C, snowy winters. Horse buggies perhaps? Yet their plan to create a carless city heralds a truly visionary future.
Reflecting on the allure of a pleasant downtown stroll in the fading days of late summer, a thought occurs; the quality of urban design sets the stage for crime or vitality.
Downtowns can draw people in for pleasant strolls or for traversing a no-man's land where drug dealers, hookers, and gang-bangers ply their trade with impunity in dark nooks and crannies.
In one way or another land uses are the key to urban safety and from what I saw this summer, success or failure depends on one particular type of land use - the surface parking lot.
PARKING LOT DESIGN
We obsess on the parking lot as though cars are old enough to want their own room. They are everywhere. By some estimates they comprise up to 30% of downtown land use. It's as though cars have their own vote in the urban household. And if you talk to developers and shop owners, they do.
Yet to anyone amendable to reason and unwilling to sing the praise of the status quo, most parking lots are shameful. They are under-lit (or over-lit), poorly designed and offer poor access controls (or fortress-like walls). They are perfect spots for crime. CPTED consultant John Roberts has written a passionate story about suburban parking lot crime in Target: Wal-Mart.
Similar risks exist in urban parking lots. The obvious design flaw is wayfinding. Wayfinding is an abysmal mess in most parking lots. Wayfinding is one of the easiest problems to solve. A few years ago Saskatoon planner Elisabeth Miller and myself created a design guidebook including 24 design recommendations for surface parking lots.
Here are a few other examples:
"If you demolish the whole city for the flow of traffic, what destination for that traffic would be left?" - Mark Wagenbuur, How The Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths
Whenever I show crime prevention successes and examples of livable streets it doesn't take long before someone barks: That can never work here! We're too different!
Everyplace is different. Everyplace has similarities. Transferring a good idea from one place to another depends on one factor: Imagination!
Transferring ideas from one place to another is called scalability. No successful company says "that can't work here". They say, "how can we make it work here."
With that in mind I found a fascinating Twitter this week from my livability consultant colleague Megan Carr. Megan highlighted a short video by Mark Wagenbuur called "How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths".
Holland has more bicyclists per capita than anywhere. Yet it is the world's safest place to cycle due to a carefully designed bike infrastructure.
It wasn't always this way. Following WW2 the Dutch copied the American auto orgy: bigger roadways, more cars, tearing up public transit. They destroyed their old bicycle paths.
Eventually they realized their cities couldn't cope with expanding traffic and increasing traffic deaths. By 1971 the annual number of car child deaths on roadways climbed to 1,400. Then came the 1970s oil and economic crisis. Costs skyrocketed.
Sound familiar? Today in the middle of the Great Recession the leading cause of US deaths for 4-14 year olds is car crashes!
The Dutch changed direction. During the 1973 oil crisis they instituted Car free Sunday's. Their goal was to cut oil dependency, increase road safety and street livability. It worked. By 2010 the number of child car deaths plummeted to 14 and that's not a typo! Drop two "0"s from 1,400! Today Holland has among the most livable and walkable streets in Europe.
My favorite line from the video is for the can-never-work-here crowd: "The Netherlands problems are not unique. Their solutions should not be either."