by Mateja Mihinjac
This week I came across a recent study suggesting that economic factors are a stronger predictor of prosocial behaviour than “urbanicity” – living in either an urban or non-urban area.
This spiked my interest because we commonly hear that small towns have close-knit communities and always-helpful residents. Yet, at a recent International Colloquium in which our SafeGrowth team presented our findings from rural environments, one of the common threads throughout the whole Colloquium was that small towns and rural communities deal with similar crime and safety challenges to larger cities.
They are not the idyllic communities romanticized about in movies and novels. Perhaps there is more to it than neighbourhood size and population density?
The study, “Neighbourhood wealth, not urbanicity, predicts prosociality towards strangers” looked at prosocial attitudes across 37 different UK neighbourhoods of various sizes. In each neighbourhood, it measured whether:
It turned out that rural or urban characteristics were less important than expected. Rather than urban characteristics (“urbanicity”) – that might contribute to anonymity and diffusion of responsibility thus resulting in reduced willingness to assist others – it was actually economic deprivation that was the strongest predictor of prosocial attitudes and willingness to assist.
While these findings might not translate into different contexts across the world (rural areas in the UK are less deprived than their urban counterparts), they do suggest that it is neighbourhood liveability that results in collective prosocial attitudes, in both rural and urban places.
It seems counterintuitive to expect that people living in deprived neighbourhoods are concerned with anything other than basic survival needs. How can they direct their energy into their neighbourhood when they are competing for available resources needed to survive?
Living in a deprived neighbourhood also means that residents are less likely to share the same expectations about the neighbourhood or to trust and work collectively towards common goals. That is why rural or urban, it is neighbourhood trust, shared expectations, and working together that helps build a socially cohesive and liveable neighbourhood.
As we describe in Third Generation CPTED, it is neighbourhood liveability that best improves the conditions that will advance neighbourhoods from a Basic level to Moderate and Advanced levels. We learned long ago that improving neighbourhood liveability provides residents and community workers an effective goal for targeted community development work.
The most powerful approach for improving liveability and prosocial attitudes is through organized neighbourhood action with the emphasis on building local capacity. This recent study provides yet more research support for our real-life discoveries about what makes places safer.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
September marks suicide prevention month. Numerous events and strategies are popping up around the world from RU OK? Day in Australia to #Bethe1To in the United States. All of these strategies are attempting to address suicide and mental health.
In many of the neighbourhoods where we work, suicide and mental health is a common topic. Indeed, I spent time with a rural community a few weeks ago in which residents recounted the loss of several young lives to suicide. This has only been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19 related to social isolation and financial insecurity. Fortunately, there are suicide prevention strategies that can make a difference.
Suicide prevention can take many forms. Target hardening approaches try to increase the effort to take one’s life in the hopes of saving lives by making suicide more difficult.
Some of these efforts include physical barriers, such as fencing on tall bridges to prevent jumping. Others are somewhat unintentional, such as removing carbon monoxide from domestic gas supplies in the UK that resulted in almost a 100% decrease in suicides by gas poisoning.
HOW, BUT NOT WHY
While these kinds of target hardening prevention strategies are useful, and often successful, they do not address the why of suicide. Suicide is often the last resort, an attempt to escape inconceivable pain and trauma. This pain and trauma do not occur in a vacuum but are influenced by a person’s mental health and their environment. One example is long-term mental health problems arising from adolescent bullying in the neighborhood. Another example is adverse childhood experiences within the family.
Clearly, suicide prevention can do much more than a marketing campaign to tell people to reach out, or by making suicide more difficult.
While the risk factors for suicide range from individual to ecological, there are numerous ways that we can make our neighbourhoods and communities more resilient to suicide. These include structural changes such as affordable and accessible housing and shelter, paying people a living wage, creating neighborhood opportunities for youth and the elderly and inexpensive access to health care including locally-based, mental health and trauma-informed care.
If we are to fully address and mitigate suicide, these structural changes are integral in the creation of a healthy neighborhood.
Healthy and liveable neighbourhoods, where people are connected, cohesive and cared for play an important role in improving mental health and preventing suicide. And we all have a role to play in that kind of prevention.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
5:15am – SLAM! CRASH! BANG! That is how I wake up every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning. Three days a week, when the garbage and recycling truck comes to empty the bins below my second-floor window. It’s been three times a week for 5 months now. They start at the ungodly hour of 5:15am. Always waking me up.
The first time I heard it I nearly jumped through the wall. When I first moved into one of the units of the six-story apartment, I was told that the truck came twice a week.
I know I sound like I’m complaining. You might suggest I go back to sleep after they are done (not possible), or that I close my window (I do) or I turn on the AC and blast a fan and wear earplugs (check, check, check). You might say “calm down, you chose to live in the city” (try using public transit outside of a city).
But noise pollution (excessive noise caused by machines, transport and other humans) has a harmful impact on humans and animals. Numerous studies have examined the effect of increased noise levels on health. Noise pollution has been found to affect the nervous and endocrine systems and can cause numerous health issues from anxiety and heart disease.
Most importantly, it disrupts sleep, which can be a catalyst for all of these health issues, as well as low birth weights for pregnant women. Additionally, sleep disruption caused by noise pollution can also reduce focus and harm productivity.
NOISE AND CPTED
As Mateja and Greg described in their recent blog introducing 3rd Generation CPTED, there is more to neighborhood livability than fear and crime. Noise pollution and its impact on public health is part of 3rd Generation CPTED because of its critical role in creating successful, peaceful neighborhoods.
While crime and noise have very different consequences, both fear of crime and noise pollution impact neighborhood livability. If people do not feel comfortable in public areas due to noise, they will not spend time there. It’s difficult to get legitimate “eyes on the street” (1st Generation CPTED calls it natural surveillance) when residents are hostile towards their streets.
Fortunately, communities all over the world are starting to pay attention to noise pollution. New technologies are helping to better discern the impacts of noise pollution, and laws and regulations already in place are beginning to expand. In fact, organizations like Noise Free, have made it their mission to reduce noise pollution as part of a larger public health mandate.
However, many suggestions for responding to noise pollution are individually focused on encouraging the consumer to buy expensive noise-cancelling headphones, rearranging their furniture in their house or purchase other muffling agents.
Even more extreme, some suggest that people just move. But moving to a quieter neighborhood is not an option for most people, in particular, because noise pollution tends to be worse in poorer neighborhoods.
Not surprisingly, those poor neighborhoods are often where crime and fear flourish and where we end up working to introduce SafeGrowth.
There have to be better local solutions to reduce these risks and protect those most affected. Planners and developers already use highway barriers to reduce loud traffic, but this is not enough. For example, one solution might be educating policymakers on how to create local noise mitigation legislation, especially the sleep-interrupting version. It might be possible to better notify (and enforce) noise violators, improve tree coverage that can block noise, or create “no horn zones”.
Creating safe and livable neighborhoods isn’t just about reducing crime, its also about ensuring that city designers and decision-makers, and residents themselves, treat all neighborhoods fairly and ensure all forms of health and well-being are part of the 21st Century neighborhood.
By Mateja Mihinjac
I had a fairly happy childhood. The suburban village my parents adopted as a family home offered the necessary amenities - two small grocery stores, a bakery, fresh produce store, kindergarten, primary school and a small library. And they were all within a ten-minute walk. We also had a home garden, we could play on the street and I was surrounded by the green fields and nearby hills that became my beloved recreational spots.
Most importantly, this was a safe neighbourhood.
However, as I grew older, my needs and wants also increased. Village life no longer satisfied my yearning for exploration, learning, working and socialising, and the surroundings and facilities felt outdated and bland. It was as if time in the village had stopped.
THEORY OF HUMAN MOTIVATION
I later realized it was me who had outgrown the village. It continues to satisfy basic needs, but it hasn’t evolved. It has failed to adapt to the reality that, more than ever, humans strive for more than simply surviving and addressing our biological needs. We have higher-level psychological needs such as feelings of belonging, self-esteem and social connection. We have needs for personal growth and self-fulfilment. Abraham Maslow outlined this in the Theory of Human Motivation nearly 80 years ago.
Moreover, we crave a meaningful existence by being able to contribute to the experience of others. Maslow explained this highest level satisfaction in his later work using the term self-transcendence.
It should therefore not sound unusual or extraordinary for people to expect that their neighbourhood should offer a high quality of life by providing opportunities for realising those high-level needs.
THIRD GENERATION CPTED
This is the message that Greg Saville and I convey in our recently published article Third Generation CPTED.
The main premise of our new theory is that for the highest quality of life, a 21st Century neighbourhood should offer more than minimum services and necessities. Good transport, proper sanitation, a healthy environment, ample food, adequate shelter, and local safety are critical, but not enough. Recreation opportunities and social activities too are necessary, but they still don't reach the highest level of motivational satisfaction. So residents drive away and abandon their neighbourhood to find something they cannot locate nearby.
Applying the Neighbourhood Liveability Hierarchy we propose that residents should be able to strive for more advanced opportunities to satisfy their highest needs, while all the basic and modest provisions exist in every place. Such an advanced neighbourhood planned in a holistic and strategic way will help it evolve to support the needs of its inhabitants.
In SafeGrowth we offer the hub concept as an epicentre for such developments under the ownership of neighbourhood residents.
The main premise of the concept is participatory democracy and decision-making potential of the residents who would continually assess and address neighbourhood needs thus help it maintain a high quality of life.
Our SafeGrowth advocate and friend Carlos Gutierrez has recently also offered a view of networked community-driven hubs in the violence-stricken nation of Honduras. His story is remarkable because it showcases how community-driven neighbourhood hubs drive local progress and offer opportunities for high-level needs, which concurrently aim to address violence and promote safety.
NEIGHBOURHOODS OF THE FUTURE
As our basic needs are met, we must create places that allow us opportunities to grow towards higher-level needs and uncover innovative and exciting ways to satisfy them. If we can’t find those opportunities in our living environment, we will look elsewhere and alienate ourselves from our neighbourhood and its inhabitants in the process.
Unfortunately, so many amenities are concentrated in large downtown centres, or in huge, disconnected retail box stores surrounded by acres of parking, that they restrict the opportunities for satisfying high-level needs in suburban areas like the village of my youth. The suburbs become places that excel in basic services and residential use, but where opportunities for self-actualization and transcendence are rare.
Our neighbourhoods must respond to the needs of 21st Century lifestyles and they need opportunities for their inhabitants to flourish in local life and participate in meaningful neighbourhood decision-making. Perhaps then, as neighbourhood attachment grows, residents will enjoy their neighbourhood not only because it’s their living environment but also because it helps them fulfil their potential.
by Mateja Mihinjac
The discussion about the quality of life in 21st Century cities often centers around livability. In SafeGrowth we encourage residents to identify livability indicators so they can improve the quality of life in their neighborhood. Livability matters.
Up until 2018, The Economist magazine crowned Melbourne the most livable city in the world for 5 years straight (Vienna taking the title last year). But what is livability?
Livability indices usually focus on statistically measurable data. For example, The Economist’s Intelligence Unit each year ranks the world’s most livable cities by five categories: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.
However, residents and visitors may not relate to their cities in uniform ways as presupposed by these metrics. Instead, they may offer subjective opinions of livability more meaningful to them.
My colleagues from Melbourne, Fiona Gray and Matt Novacevski, similarly remind us that livability indices alone disregard people’s emotional connection to cities, neighborhoods and places. They offer the concept of lovability as a more meaningful measure.
The quality of life for residents transcends the five livability categories listed above. In a recent article, Fiona, Matt and Cristina Garduño Freeman state that practical aspects of the city are not sufficient. Instead, they argue that aesthetic qualities of the city are also important because they trigger an emotional reaction and foster connection to places.
In their Melbourne lovability index project they asked residents to share what they love about their city and why. Answers included: beauty, aesthetics of the city, culture, history, tradition, diversity of activities and opportunities, and having places for people to come together to celebrate.
Some cities, such as Singapore, have already included lovability as an extension of livability focus of their city planning. Clearly, citizens must have a say in assessing the quality of their cities, including involving them in decisions regarding city planning.
A METRIC FOR THE FUTURE
In SafeGrowth we recognize the importance of emotional connection to each other and to our neighborhoods. We distinguish between “actions of the mind” (actions to create social cohesion), and “actions of the heart” (actions that create emotional connection and neighborhood identity).
Lovability, therefore, offers the potential to merge objective and subjective measures of quality of life. A resident-driven and neighborhood-focused description of city living will expand the concept of livability to make it more meaningful and long-lasting.
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 Mateja Mihinjac
During my recent visit to New York City, I was thrilled to witness the upsurge in cycling in this iconic city. As an avid cyclist, I love when cities provide infrastructure for bipedal commute.
Promoting physical and social connections through design, such as increased bike usage, fosters interaction and establishment of social ties. In SafeGrowth we know that this also influences safety and perception of safety.
New York City, the metropolis well known for its traffic congestion and yellow cabs, has followed the lead of several European and Australian cities and in the past decade expanded its cycling infrastructure. Cycling in the city has since 2005 increased by an astounding 260%, currently amounting to 450,000 daily trips.
In 2013, the city also introduced the nation’s largest bike sharing program Citi Bike, which currently offers 603 bike stations and 10.000 bikes across the city’s five boroughs. These bikes are extensively used by city dwellers and tourists alike.
Exploring Manhattan on a bike
CYCLING FOR HAPPINESS?
Replacing motorised commute with biking impacts health and social connectedness, two of the three most important contributors to happiness in urban environments.
Moreover, planning for environmentally sustainable cities that prioritize cycling and walking is intrinsically linked to socially cohesive communities.
IMPROVING CYCLING INFRASTRUCTURE
Talking to locals revealed that despite great progress, cycling infrastructure could benefit from several improvements. The first was more bike lanes and Citi Bike stations outside downtown and affluent areas, a common need in other cities.
Ironically, those living on the peripheries of the cities and those less prosperous are the ones who would most benefit from biking connectivity.
The second issue concerns safety. A 2015 article reported 90% of bike lanes in New York City were unprotected, meaning the majority were lanes without a safety buffer between cyclists and cars. This is surprising knowing that protected bike lanes can reduce the risk of injury by 90% and also increase ridership.
CYCLING FOR CITIES OF TOMORROW
Promoting cycling in progressive cities like New York is an excellent avenue for developing environmentally and socially sustainable cities. Planners should encourage future expansions of bike infrastructure in less affluent areas and designers must follow guidelines for safety and buffered lanes.
Designing future cities around cycling will contribute to overall healthier and happier cities.
During a hectic month of business travel with little time for blogging I read the recent book by Charles Montgomery, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.
Montgomery says: "If we are to escape the effects of dispersal, then dense places have got to meet our psychological needs better than sprawl."
That idea resonated during an afternoon walk in the prairie city of Brandon, Manitoba where I worked this week. Brandon is one of those mid-western cities with wide streets and sprawl suburbs. Yet even here I found an interesting (and dense) lower income multi-family townhouse project that Montgomery would appreciate.
There is a tendency to think of low income, multi-family housing as crime-ridden. Yet this attractive, well designed multi-family complex had plenty of social mojo. Kids enjoyed a playground in clear view of nearby windows, walkways and grounds were clean, and dozens of people enjoyed their small front yards, barbecues, and common garden areas.
Police told me there were few calls for service here even though it housed 300 residents in a hundred units, very high density compared to the nearby sprawl.
Nearby, as Montgomery might predict, a traditional suburb was vacant, graffitied, and sparse. In my hour-long walk there I uncovered only a few people, mostly working on cars. Few streets had sidewalks and I saw no one on their front lawns.
The New York Times says about Happy City, "It was only a matter of time before someone figured out that if there were new things to say about happiness and a new interest in the evolution of urban life, the two subjects could be linked together." Montgomery has chapters on How to be Closer, Convivialities, and Redesigning for Freedom. They fit what I saw here.
"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."
Back in New Orleans this week talking at a crime summit hosted by Louisiana AARP. The topic is how SafeGrowth and the Hollygrove success story might work throughout the city.
The highlight was meeting old friends from Hollygrove and watching them tell their story to groups from throughout the city. A 78% decline in crime rates this year is quite a story, especially when crime elsewhere in the city is plateauing.
Recently there has been an increase in New Orleans homicides. Hollygrove's homicides have declined from 20 to 4.
HOW DID THEY DO IT?
How, they were asked, did they turn things around?
Difficult to spell out in clear steps. Certainly plenty of early steps were underway soon after Hurricane Katrina. A garden center was reinvigorated by volunteers (see photo). The city began a program of condemning and demolishing blighted properties (over 35% of all homes were condemned when we did our first SafeGrowth session 3 years ago. Today that's down to just under 20%).
Then AARP Louisiana came to the table with their Livability Academy and training. Change sped up considerably.
For me this neighborhood continues to improve due to the soul and gumption of some local residents. They started their own non-profit organization and now claim ownership for making changes themselves.
Here's a few things the residents did:
1.Installed their own street lighting when they could not get the city to do it
2.Could not get official street signs so used politicians signs from the last election to make their own (see…politicians can help troubled neighborhoods!)
3.Quadrupled attendance at Night Out Against Crime walks
4.Cleaned and swept their own streets.
5.Absent landlords refused to move lawns, local residents did it
6.Partnered with police and the city to shut down a drug house
7.Created a seniors walking group - the Soul Steppers - to take back their streets. Soul Stepper groups are now throughout New Orleans
8.Got a problem bar to get rid of drug dealers
9.Bus department would not repair a bus shelter so they built their own with recycled materials
And so on.
That's how you start to turn a place around.
To my friends in Hollygrove, congratulations! It's a great way to start the new year.
It's time to balance the leger.
This blog talks about problem cities and successful cities. Vancouver's Downtown Eastside has made a few appearances here as it represents the former, mainly due to persistent poverty and crime. So why does Vancouver consistently vie for top spot of the world's most beautiful and livable cities?
Partly because every city in the world has poverty and crime. More important is whether productive and innovative solutions are employed to tackle them. I've never doubted Vancouver has tried numerous times to make things better in Downtown East Side (perhaps, though, not as seriously as it should).
Another reason Vancouver tops the best cities charts is - from a city-livable point of view - a commitment to Jacobsian-style walkable neighborhoods over the car-city disease found too often in too many modern cities. True, Vancouver's bus system leaves much to the imagination (and to quality). Yet it does boast success in both elevated rail and commuter rail and has made inroads for bikes.
Mostly I think Vancouver shows a commitment from citizens, planners, and successive governments to the abundant natural environs that bless this remarkable city. It's one reason the 2010 Olympics are there this month.
No wonder! Large portions of waterfront are open to the public via parks and boardwalks (not fortressed from the public by private condos). Stanley Park is the largest urban park anywhere (larger, and arguably more beautiful, than New York's Central Park). Successful neighborhoods cluster around Skytrain Stations, such as Vancouver's "showcase of community planning", Collingwood Village (to which, I disingenuously admit, my former consulting partner Paul Wong and I provided extensive CPTED advice 15 years ago).
Most of all, Vancouver's beauty just takes your breath away. The winter Olympics are underway. It's Vancouver's time.
Check it out here.