by Gregory Saville
Twenty-five years ago I participated in an experiment. Paul Wong, Barry Davidson, and I decided to sponsor an international conference on crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). We had no idea if it would work, a vague hope that something bigger would come out of it, but no guarantee that anything would occur.
We met in Calgary with 70 other CPTED acolytes including (among others) Stan and Sherry Carter from Florida, Tim Pascoe from the UK, Tom McKay from Peel Region in Ontario, Patricia and Paul Brantingham from Burnaby, BC, Mike Sheard and Brian Foote from Vancouver. The International CPTED Association (ICA) grew out of that conference.
This year the ICA celebrates its 25th Anniversary with hundreds of members all over the world. The current ICA President is from Chile, the Vice President from South Africa, the Executive Director is from Slovenia, the Secretary, and Treasurer from Canada and Board members from the U.S., Australia, India, Malaysia, Ecuador, Denmark, the Netherlands, Britain, Mexico, and New Zealand.
But things were not always so rosy and, like CPTED, the ICA ebbed and flowed with the political currents of the day. The ICA was born following a period of criminological research in the 1980s, some of which led to new ideas like situational crime prevention and environmental criminology, and others that led to the broken windows theory and routine activities theory.
HOT AND COLD RESEARCH
Some of that research was revolutionary: Situational crime prevention gave us practical prevention strategies; environmental criminology showed how crime clusters along pathways and urban nodes; the geography of crime described crime hotspots.
But not all new theories were helpful. Some were Mr. Potato Head theories – full of holes and bland in taste. Others were saturated with fancy euphemisms that complicated simple ideas. Yet others removed the social aspects of CPTED and replaced them with target hardening.
Then there was broken windows theory, which some consider CPTED. Broken windows transformed into zero-tolerance enforcement – a controversial police enforcement tactic for anti-social behavior. Broken windows back-fired spectacularly, especially politically. While it cut crime in New York, crime also declined by the same rate in San Diego with zero broken windows tactics. Broken windows tainted the original CPTED message. Even today, unwitting activists still claim broken windows is CPTED.
Broken windows co-creator, Professor George Kelling, once told me he could not fathom how his theory went so far off track. In my view, broken windows ended in the hands of police managers suffering institutional autism – an inability to communicate outside their profession and themselves. Distortion comes easy to those who do not read history. The same thing happened in CPTED when practitioners, falling victim to slipshod assertions, adopted target hardening and CCTV cameras and ignored the social world where crime actually happens.
THE ICA AS OCCAM’S RAZOR
Fortunately, the ICA is a practitioner-oriented organization more interested in what works than what sounds good, a kind of self-correcting organizational Occam’s Razor. In the early 2000s, it began introducing more holistic strategies, such as certification programs. ICA conferences travelled from Canada and the U.S. to Australia, the Netherlands, Chile, and Mexico.
Within a decade the ICA had online training resources and a network of experts around the world. Gerard Cleveland and myself introduced 2nd Generation CPTED at ICA conferences in 1997 and 1998, which brought social factors back into CPTED. Since 2017 the ICA has dramatically expanded with webinars, course accreditation, online masterclasses, newsletters, white papers, and new guidebooks. This past year the International Standards Organization published the first-ever CPTED ISO, which ICA members helped to create. In short, the ICA is flourishing.
AND WHAT ABOUT CPTED...?
In some places today CPTED remains mired in target hardening – a buffet of lights, locks, and cameras with hedge trimming for flavor. Poorly trained practitioners still use these methods to exclude groups, thereby promoting what is called ‘hostile architecture'. Social activists have caught on and, rather than figure out the true nature of CPTED and how hostile practices deviate, they label all CPTED as racist using the same biased reasoning that they blame on CPTED practitioners.
In truth, the ICA has a formal code of ethics opposing hostile architecture. Sadly, too many CPTED practitioners are not ICA certified, not all courses are ICA accredited and they are not required to follow the ICA code of ethics. As they say, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).
In other places, CPTED has grown into community-planning practices called SafeGrowth. On this blog, you will find a rich history of neighborhood development, community-building with social and economic programs, and personal development through neighborhood programs like Livability Academies. Both 1st and 2nd Generation CPTED play a role in SafeGrowth, but the quality of life (what 3rd Generation CPTED called neighborhood livability) plays a bigger role.
Happy 25th birthday to the International CPTED Association!
If you want to learn more about the ICA, or attend the 25th Anniversary ICA virtual conference, Nov 2-4, 2021, check out their website.