by Tarah Hodgkinson
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat with folks living in one of Northern Queensland’s islands in Australia. While speaking to local Indigenous leaders and community members about safety and liveability, I was struck by one particular issue they raised: transportation.
Over the years we have posted many blogs on urban transportation and how it enhances liveability, including some creative innovations in the harshest climates. This time the story emerged from rural environments. I heard that it was often difficult for residents to find transportation to attend health care appointments, pick up groceries, visit with friends, and attend local events. Typical public transit such as buses or trains were not an option, because the population was small and very spread out.
The issue resonated for a few reasons.
First, in many of the rural communities I’ve worked with in recent years, I hear stories such as local kids unable to get to after-school activities or no access to basic health care and affordable food because they couldn’t get to their doctor or shops. In North Battleford, Canada, for example, clients of the local shelter explained that despite being able to get a ride into town for services, they were unable to find transportation home on the same day, leaving them stranded.
Second, this issue was particularly important for older individuals. When our team partnered with the huge non-profit AARP a few years ago to run a SafeGrowth Search Conference in New Orleans, we learned quickly that transportation issues restricted access to necessary services and raised issues of safety for vulnerable populations like the elderly.
Third, transportation issues also affect those living with disabilities. During my time with the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, I learned that many of our clients lacked accessible transportation, aside from a bi-weekly accessibility bus, leaving them isolated and unable to leave the house.
Often called transport poverty, the inability to access affordable and reliable transportation can result in a number of social issues. For a once-rural kid like myself, it often meant a lack of opportunities to engage in extracurriculars that offer pathways for success. Transport poverty also leaves many individuals feeling isolated and unable to engage in their community - one of the essential quality of life messages in 3rd Generation CPTED.
In some locations, informal networks emerge to create solutions to this issue. In the Australian town of Roma, Queensland, a local Indigenous elder spent most of her day driving local kids around to meetings and to school.
At the MS Society in Ontario, there was an informal network of volunteers and other support staff who offered rides and helped people get to appointments and other things they couldn’t do without the accessibility bus.
These stories are inspiring and remind us of the innovative and creative ways people come together to overcome issues in their neighbourhoods and communities. But there are more formal ways of making transportation easily accessible in order to allow people opportunities to build new networks and relationships and participate fully in their communities.
For example, Demand Responsive Transit and Flexible Integrated Transport Systems offer a flexible and shared service that allows people who live near to each other to share transportation when buses or trains are not available or physically accessible. These systems allow users to pre-book transportation, meet at their home or nearby and travel to selected locations like shopping, health and community facilities or transportation hubs.
Essentially, it is like a big taxi for people in your area, but far more affordable by using a standard low fare (public transit focused) and can be easily accessed through phone technology like apps. These kinds of programs are used in parts of Europe and Australia.
Public transportation should be affordable and accessible to everyone. It allows us to connect and engage fully in our community, while also accessing services to improve our health and quality of life. And after a year of COVID-19 – it might be more important than ever.
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
When we think about crime, we tend to think about the city. We think about robberies, gangs and guns and we imagine dark alleys or vacant lots. We don’t tend to associate rural areas with crime. We often romanticize them as idyllic places where life is slower, people know their neighbors and crime is rare.
However, the data does not support these imaginings. In Canada, for example, with only two exceptions, the top 20 highest crime rate communities are all towns or small cities in rural areas.
Imagining crime beyond the city can be difficult. While the overall number of incidents are lower in rural areas, crime rates in rural Canada and Australia are often higher than their urban counterparts. In the U.S., although large urban cities like New Orleans, Atlanta, and Chicago compete for the title of crime capital, the States with the highest crime rates are among the most rural – Alaska, New Mexico and Nevada.
WHY IS CRIME RURAL?
Rural issues are different as well. The recent research reveals high rates of theft and violence, particularly domestic violence, impaired driving and the use of crystal methamphetamine. In areas of drought, water theft is a major problem.
Rural crime is intimately linked to changes that have affected rural communities such as a reduction in job opportunities, poverty, few opportunities for youth, and a lack of access to mental health and addiction treatment services. Additionally, many rural communities are ethnically homogenous, but rural policies often alienate indigenous populations.
Further, increases in immigration have led to increasing tensions and scapegoating onto these already marginalized groups. This is in spite of the reality that legitimate research on immigration and crime reveals that immigration leads to a decrease - or zero effect - on crime.
Rural crime also poses unique problems for prevention. For example, building local capacity in rural communities is much different than in urban areas. While rural areas account for approximately 17% of the population in North America, developing crime prevention strategies is no easy feat where distances are not walkable, services are difficult to access, and local stakeholders are few.
These problems are exacerbated when most research on the causes and solutions to crime comes from studies in urban areas. It is no small matter that CPTED was a product of large cities and none of the original writers spoke of rural areas.
Rural criminology is a new branch of criminology trying to better understand these issues. There is now a rural criminology division at the American Society of Criminology and a Centre for Rural Criminology at the University of New England in New South Wales, Australia. However, these groups are relatively new and their ideas are still emerging.
Only in recent years have we seen research emerging in the conferences of the International CPTED Association about crime prevention in rural areas.
At this point, there are no easy answers to preventing crime in rural communities. We have seen some success in smaller communities in Canada where SafeGrowth has been adopted wholeheartedly by local leaders, such as in North Battleford, Canada. However, as we gain a better understanding of the rural correlates of crime, we continue to adapt our methods and strategies to these new contexts - what SafeGrowth has always done.