by Mateja Mihinjac
It feels as if overnight our lives have dramatically changed. People getting sick and dying by thousands, hospitals inundated with an influx of patients, the economy heading into recession, and countries in lockdown. There is much uncertainty about what the future months will bring.
At a time when our solidarity should be at its highest, reports show how criminals (and some politicians) are exploiting people’s fear and how crises like these “bring out the worst in humanity”. Despite these bleak times, we cannot let COVID-19 also become a social virus. We need to start building resilience now so that we can tackle the challenges that lie ahead.
In the previous blog, Tarah wrote about the importance of maintaining social connections while we physically distance ourselves from our loved ones. Our positive personal relationships keep us grounded.
Luckily, with today’s technology maintaining social connections is easier than ever. And new social innovations are arising to help us connect, such as the Canadian caremonger movement.
As family members are trapped in their homes, many find it difficult to cope and maintain peace. Children and youth who lack peer support and school connections, due to social distancing, rely more than ever on their parents to provide support and reassurance.
This brought back personal memories of the 1991 Slovenian Independence War when my family had to shelter from potential bombing in a 2 x 2 metre basement space. As a young child, I did not grasp the severity of the situation as warplanes flew over us. To make it easier on my brother and me our parents made the hours of basement hiding appear like a game. As a result, my memory from then is that of closeness and safety.
For children, the quality time they spend with their parents during these weeks might define whether they remember grief and trauma in the years to come or a sense of care and safety from which they can build resilience. The family bonds they develop during this time represent a critical point in the life of children that can protect against potential future anti-social behaviour and criminality.
Our neighbourhoods are our tribe. A socially cohesive neighbourhood is resilient and able to rebound and restore quicker than a neighbourhood with alienated residents when confronted with hardship. We have published our account of how SafeGrowth provided collective action and neighbourhood resilience in a post-disaster New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
As Tarah mentioned in the last blog, the current social distancing restrictions are in stark contrast with the SafeGrowth philosophy. But we can still continue to greet local residents with a smile as we pass them (from the appropriate distance), we can talk to our neighbours and check on their wellbeing, and thank our local business and services for their work in supporting us. We can start planning local events and meetings, and set common goals to work towards as we restore our neighbourhoods post-crisis. We can activate our tribe and prepare for collective action now.
In the next blog, Greg will describe practical ways we can move forward into the future following COVID-19. As life starts to normalize in the coming months, we will slowly start rebuilding our lives. It won’t be easy. We will continue being cautious about physical interactions, travel restrictions will likely still be in place, unemployment and homelessness will be high, businesses will go bankrupt, and many of us will grieve for loved ones lost to the pandemic.
Despite the promises of a job stimulus and financial assistance, governments won’t have the resources and capacity to help everyone, every family and every neighbourhood. But there are things we can do to plan for the future.
We cannot let COVID-19 become a social virus. Our shared global experience will change us collectively. Our hope at the SafeGrowth Network is that we realise how interdependent we are and how important it is that we build resilience not only within our family and friendship networks, but within our neighbourhoods where we spend our lives.
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
Where will we emerge in the next few decades and where will crime fit into the future city? Our new book, SafeGrowth - Building Neighborhoods of Safety and Imagination (we announced it in our last blog), has a chapter dedicated to answering this question. Here is an excerpt:
A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
“The Smart City is the latest addition to the urban planning lexicon. Smart cities - also known as digital cities or wired cities - encompass the idea that new information technologies will transform city services by better managing urban affairs.
It is, as yet, unclear how the Smart City will impact safety, inequality or crime neighborhoods. Advocates speak glowingly of the Smart City vision, such as how digital technologies might lead to a new form of e-governance. Already there are signs this is coming to pass. Ubiquitous CCTV security cameras on public streets already require police monitoring and response.
In cities like London, England, there are over a half million CCTV cameras pointed at streets, sidewalks, and parks, and the trend is worldwide. In Calgary, for example, there was an 80 percent increase of CCTV cameras on public streets from 2011 to 2016. Now over 1,100 integrated cameras point at buildings, sidewalks and streets throughout the city, all monitored at the city’s Integrated Security Centre.
NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH IN CYBERSPACE
Another Smart City innovation is neighborhood-networking websites, a social network for neighbors via websites that focus on specific areas. This allows neighbors to share information and plan events, such as block parties. It is a 21st Century version of Neighborhood Watch that fosters neighborliness (or just old-fashioned nosiness). Because network members must live within the designated neighborhood, and identify themselves to others on the website, these websites tend to avoid some of the rancor that plagues other social networking sites.
Neighborhood-based social media do have safety and security advantages; residents can monitor and report nearby break-ins, car thefts, or even organize block parties to get to know each other in real time. It’s easy to imagine how SafeGrowth neighborhoods, where residents work together to tackle local problems, might relish a cyber version of Neighborhood Watch that needs no police management, is accessible 24/7 on tablets and cell phones, and requires no neighborhood meetings that otherwise clutter busy schedules.
Yet both Smart City innovations come with drawbacks. In spite of claims for protection from crime, civil libertarians complain that constant CCTV surveillance on public streets invades our privacy. And evidence is inconsistent whether CCTV in public streets works better than human-based systems, like Jane Jacobs’ eyes-on-the-street. Further, private neighborhood social networking services are not easy to monitor for cyberbullying, in spite of claims to the contrary and there have been complaints about racial profiling. How does one decide what to do?
Will the Smart Cities movement hinder or hamper SafeGrowth neighborhoods? As yet, there is no clear vision of what Smart Cities will become. Perhaps we should worry less about the technology and more about educating the Digital Generation on how to build a SafeGrowth city in the 21st Century?”
For the full story, get our SafeGrowth book from Amazon.
One of the more offensive ideas I’ve come across in criminology is the theory that some high crime neighborhoods never change. They remain that way for decades and they are impervious to recovery. Equally offensive - and no less true - is a belief that zero tolerance enforcement in crime hotspots or hardening targets in those high crime neighborhood is the best we can do.
No doubt crime persists in some places. Enforcement and situational prevention too can help. But they are far from the best we can do. Places do change and we can be part of that change. To peddle the inevitability of crime persistence or the impossibility of neighborhood rebirth is to embrace empirically unsound, intellectual funk.
That was my thought last week in Philadelphia where we worked with Philadelphia LISC, the Philadelphia Commerce Department, and Police Department to launch more SafeGrowth community development projects.
We’ve been here twice over the past few years, most recently last year where impressive project work is still underway. One of those SafeGrowth projects started four years ago - Rainbow de Colores park - won accolades and was featured in an award-winning video for reducing crime and transforming a drug infested, shooting gallery at a handball court into a safe place alive with neighborhood life.
Last week energetic and dedicated commercial corridor managers, police officers, architects, city officials and residents began SafeGrowth projects in commercial corridors across the city. We did our training on 5th Street North, an area called El Centro de Oro,often associated with high crime and some of the highest drug dealing hotspots in the city.
There is much to be done here (and elsewhere). The truth is that positive transformation is no more inevitable than stagnation. Fortunately work is already underway.
5th STREET NORTH
For example on 5th Street positive things are happening: street-scaping, thriving restaurants, an active arts and music scene, and vibrant community groups such as the innovative HACE (the Hispanic Association of Contractors and Enterprises) where we held our training. This corridor is revitalizing. Things are looking up!
You know something special is going on when you hear that local residents and shop owners take it on themselves to clean graffiti from the decorative, steel palm trees lining 5th Street North. To one author those hand-crafted trees are “a beloved symbol of the many Latin American islands represented in the local population.”
Obviously, undeterred by obsolete criminology theories, local pride and cohesion is where neighborhood transformation begins.
Date: Tues, Feb 22, 2011
Location: Christchurch, New Zealand's second largest city
Time: 12:51 pm
Event: 6.3 magnitude earthquake
Result: 185 dead, thousands injured, $40 billion damage, 80% downtown destroyed
Three years later Christchurch is still rebuilding and recharging. Emerging from the collapsed buildings, destroyed roads, ruined homes and considerable personal loss, the city is making some discoveries.
I spent the past week introducing SafeGrowth in this beautiful country with its magnificent countryside and easygoing people. Four teams from the Phillipstown neighborhood of Christchurch are the first to try it. Yesterday Christchurch TV covered the training in a newsclip.
Turns out they have a few cards up their sleeve.
First, police use Neighborhood Policing Teams throughout the city with experience in CPTED. Clearly there are some progressive police leaders who see their value.
Second they are experimenting with innovations. One is hundreds of temporary shipping containers to house everything from banks and stores to offices and coffee shops. The containers are painted bright colors and positioned in interesting configurations. They are rarely vandalized.
Their ace in hand is an outstanding CPTED planning team. Led by experienced CPTED practitioner Sue Ramsey, they are advised by renowned CPTED architect Frank Stoks. It was from Stoks' doctoral dissertation on rape in Seattle 30 years ago where the Toronto METRAC organization drew many of their survey questions for the famous Women's Safety Audit.
Sue described the work in Christchurch at the 2013 International CPTED Association conference. Christchurch is well positioned to start a whole new SafeGrowth transformation up from the rubble of disaster.
Ever notice a bright colored house? Ever noticed thousands?
There are obvious contenders for the throne of most colorful city. San Francisco's Lower Haight district or Miami's South Beach come to mind. Even better: Brazil's painted Favela's in Rio, Chile's Valparaiso, or Newfoundland's St. Johns in Canada.
But I know of no city that has intentionally attempted to transform blight, crime and the energy of a place through color. Until now.
In this TED.com talk Edi Rama, former mayor of Albania's capital, Tirana, describes how his city began their city transformation with paint. Check out the simplicity and impact.
This is an inspirational city and an inspirational mayor.
A year ago we completed SafeGrowth training in Fairmont Village, a neighborhood in San Diego. We set up neighborhood leadership teams to tackle neighborhood problems. I'm thrilled to say they're still at it!
Coordinated by Jessica Robinson from San Diego State University's Consensus Organizing Center and assisted by nationally renown crime analyst Julie Wartell, project team members are still doing the hard work to make their neighborhood a better place to live.
Project sponsor, Price Charities has a long history of neighborhood philanthropy involving revitalization and safety in the larger area called City Heights, the region encompassing Fairmont Village.
City Heights has overcrowded schools, parks and streets in disrepair, and 37% of residents below the poverty line. In the 3 years prior to 2010, Fairmont Village suffered 63 robberies and 94 burglaries.
CPTED theory predicts robbers and burglars are emboldened when streets are empty and neighborhoods in disarray. The SafeGrowth leadership teams tackled those concerns. Their SafeGrowth projectsreflected that:
They were able to enhance city development work that spruced up the business area and revamped a local school. Leadership teams extended that into livability and walkability.
In fact Price Charities has now hired a full-time crime prevention coordinator and Jessica continues to help organize. She has created a great new website to describe the initiative. Check out their City Heights Safety Initiative website.
This week I gave a talk in Jackson, Mississippi where I met some terrific, forward-looking folks. They reminded me of Sarah from last blog. Their energy recharged my batteries, especially the lead organizer, John Dinkins a fellow with the right stuff.
Did crime get solved? Not yet. As the Jackson photos in this blog show, fear and crimes exist there and (as elsewhere) have for many years. They won't vanish overnight - especially with our tired methods so ineffective in the past.
What happened at the meetings? We sat around tables talking crime prevention. I told stories of safety and SafeGrowth in other places. We shared ideas. I heard of previous successes and failures.
We talked about organizing neighborhoods, how SafeGrowth might work there, and virtual e-networking. We talked about more extensively diagnosing neighborhood crimes and mapping fears. We talked about how to bring in more community and expanding this dialogue.
Is this the answer? Not completely. But shared dialogue is how these things get started.
Read the biography Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary, about Jacobs' early days at community meetings. Those meetings decades ago started an urban revolution that transformed for the better our thinking about urban life.
To me the Jackson meetings felt like that - confusing, exciting, necessary. I saw - yet again - a thirst not easily quenched by retribution, fixing broken windows, nor by extinguishing self-interest crime.
It is quenched by building an authentic sense of community in people's lives along with a healthy neighborhood to support it. That, ultimately, is the point.
I am continually struck dumb by the palpable idiocy of politics and government when dealing with neighborhood crime.
CPTED teaches us territorial control of public spaces by residents is how we begin to reduce crime. Local pride in urban features, like bus shelters, is how residents take their own streets back from drug dealers. Pride comes from local involvement. It doesn’t take CPTED-trained architects and urban designers to figure this out. It is fairly obvious.
But obvious knowledge is not enough to prevent crime and build communities.
Case in point: events this past week in the New Orleans neighborhood of Hollygrove.
A few weeks ago I spent time teaching SafeGrowth in New Orleans, a city still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I saw so many folks dedicated to making things better. They are a dynamic and impressive bunch. Dynamic for the creativity they bring to revitalize blighted streets. Impressive for their dogged persistence fighting the malaise that so often blocks forward movement.
Hollygrove is an area plagued by persistent crime. It is a poor place with deteriorating roads and abandoned houses, many slated for demolition. Yet there is hope and potential. In one place I saw an innovative non-profit garden center with locally grown, organic produce and training programs to teach residents how to grow their own food. In another place residents described how they are attempting to work together to turn a blighted space into a place called home.
Perhaps the most exciting story is a locally-conceived and locally-constructed bus shelter, built in partnership with a national non-profit that brings architecture students together with communities. Over 50 residents participated in the bus shelter project. In fact the shelter was paid through fund-raising by local residents themselves. Imagine – in a place where poverty permeates – residents found non-government funds to build a creative bus shelter on their own. What an excellent example of local territorial control of their own public space and pride in ownership!
Initially the regional transit authority approved the Hollygrove bus shelter. Then, at the last moment without public dialogue, they made a decisive policy decision. They reversed their position! Someone apparently believes it is better to install a universally static design for bus shelters throughout the city.
This sounds to me like another example of the no disruption crowd, those uncomfortable with change and who prefer things simpler, cheaper and easier.
Is a universal static design simpler? Since when was simplicity an answer to complex problems such as transportation and crime in a place so vexed? Anyway, the city already has an artification project in other parts of the city where local artists paint bus stops.
Now Hollygrove has done one better! They've created their very own unique (and immensely more interesting) design. Somehow, that message got garbled in the halls of politics.
Is a universal static design easier? Since when was laziness an excuse for not preventing neighborhood crime and not building livable communities? Besides, the design, construction and funding of the Hollygrove bus shelter was finished by the residents themselves.
Cheaper? Is neighborhood safety really all that cheap?
Decisive policy-making? Perhaps so...with all the resolve of which only the deluded are capable.