LAUNCHING SAFEGROWTH IN EUROPE - REFLECTIONS FROM HELSINGBORG'S H22 SMART CITY EXPO by Mateja Mihinjac & Gregory SavilleRead Now
Swedish promotional video on SafeGrowth for the H22 Smart City Expo - music video courtesy of MOOSGH
by Mateja Mihinjac & Gregory Saville
The H22 Smart City Expo in Helsingborg, Sweden is approaching its final days. What a month it has been for the two of us and the SafeGrowth neighbourhood team on the ground!
This is the first-ever demonstration of the SafeGrowth neighbourhood safety planning system in Europe and the H22 Smart City Expo is a month-long, international demonstration of all things futuristic, promising, and technological for cities in the future. Helsingborg is the host of the H22 Expo and the neighbourhood of Drottninghög has been the site of SafeGrowth community work for the past year.
In the first week, we held a series of safety audit workshops in Drottninghög where residents have been implementing parts of the SafeGrowth model. We hosted professional visitors from municipalities across Europe wanting to learn more about SafeGrowth and its methods. We demonstrated our safety audit process and technology using a mobile app to collect perception of safety data during night walking audits that communities can use for subsequent safety-based community work.
THE NIGHT SAFETY AUDITS
We also facilitated a night-time safety audit with a large group of 40 attendees from the Urban Future Conference, which was a welcome challenge. We divided participants into several small groups to demonstrate the method. It was necessary for us to keep our participants until after darkness, which mean that the audit could not effectively start until 22:30 when it finally got dark enough to observe the nighttime environment!
We were delighted to see they stayed late into the evening and enthusiastically engaged in the exercise. It was satisfying to hear such positive comments from the participants afterwards.
Our second highlight included two different H22 talks and Urban Future Conference presentations when we introduced SafeGrowth to industry partners. Both presentations included a brief overview of SafeGrowth and its initial stages of implementation in Drottninghög with Greg Saville, Mateja Mihinjac and Iman Abbas. The sessions included interactive discussions with the audience as they investigated how to adopt this in their own cities across Sweden and Europe.
We were fortunate to invite an outstanding group of panelists of our key stakeholders to the Urban Future Conference session. They included members of our neighbourhood team:
This panel shared their own personal insights into their experience with the SafeGrowth method over the past year, its potential, challenges during their work on the ground, and the future outlook.
THE LOCAL TEAM
One of the most crucial roles in the entire SafeGrowth experience at the H22 Expo was the role of the SafeGrowth team under the guidance of the city’s coordinators Iman Abbas and Mia Wiklund.
Iman and Mia helped provide direct interaction with attendees and they demonstrated the SafeGrowth method to neighbourhood and city residents, visitors, politicians, professionals, researchers and tourists who wanted to learn about SafeGrowth work underway in Europe for the first time. Iman, Mia and all the local team members continue to spread the message until the very last day of the Expo.
We were delighted with the professionalism and expertise of all our new friends in Drottninghög and we are convinced this is the exact message deserving of a smarter - and safer - city in the future.
We thank the residents and local community of Drottninghög who continue to volunteer their valuable time to make their neighbourhood safer and more liveable. Special thanks go to Iman Abbas and Mia Wiklund who have been working tirelessly while coordinating the neighbourhood team in their SafeGrowth work and planning for the H22 Smart City Expo.
Thank you all!
by Gregory Saville
With apologies to Mark Twain, that quote above is what came to mind as 2021 ends. Such a turbulent year with so many distractions – Covid, mass shootings, increasing crime, social unrest! It’s hard to look back through the lens of the 24-hour news cycle and social media and not conclude that we are going to hell in a handbasket.
Do yourself a solid and have a read of Bailey and Tupy’s exceptional book Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know. They use those increasingly rare things called facts to soundly debunk the doom-and-gloom-is-everywhere theory.
When you've read Global Trends, (and after you mask up, vaccinate, and elect better politicians with better policies), then give a thought to doing the right thing for safety in 2022 and learn some state-of-the-art theories in neighborhood crime prevention. There are a few good ones to pick from, but be careful - some only go halfway.
Here are a few to watch:
In the 1970s they created electric car alarms to cut auto theft. You know, those pulsing lights and blaring horn alarms (BLEEP...BLEEP...BLEEP) that, nowadays, most people just ignore.
Around the 1980s, they created The Club to lock a steering wheel so thieves could not drive the car. Unfortunately, thieves adapted and learned to hacksaw the steering wheel and slide The Club off. One thief said: “So if it takes 60 seconds to steal a car, it now takes 90.”
In the 1990s auto manufacturers adopted another situational crime prevention approach to harden the target. They created vehicle immobilizers, electronic devices that prevent a car engine from starting until a proper key transponder is present. Immobilizers prevent hot wiring and also eliminate that annoying BLEEP...BLEEP...BLEEP.
What is the result of situational crime prevention?
Some criminologists say the increasing adoption of security technologies has cut crime opportunities all over the world. Crime everywhere has decreased and auto theft has plummeted, as you can see on the graph.
Except, there are a few glaring problems with this theory. First, not all crime rates around the world have declined in spite of more security technology! (Latin America comes to mind).
Second, consider this...
Even with improvements to auto theft prevention, decade after decade, in the past ten years auto theft rates have NOT declined. In fact, they have started to increase! Look at the reality in the chart above of the past 10 years! How can this be? Security technologies have not vanished.
Why are auto theft rates increasing? Perhaps the situational prevention theory spends so much time hacking at the branches of crime opportunity, it missed digging at the roots of crime causation?
Consider another recent prevention theory - focused deterrence, also known as CVI (community violence interrupters). I blogged on this promising strategy a few weeks ago.
In a 2019 article, "There is no such thing as a dangerous neighborhood", Stephen Lurie says we should not fix broken neighborhoods but rather target the small group of chronic offenders in those neighborhoods who cause most problems. That is how CVI intervenes in the cycle of violence. Says Lurie:
"The notion that public disorder drives criminality can seem an intuitive approach to public safety. But if people understand that most serious violence circles specific interpersonal group dynamics in structurally disadvantaged communities, order maintenance policing seems more like what study after study shows it is: an unnecessary evil."
Regrettably, permanently resolving a complex crime problem is not as simple as intervening with the offender before they rob or shoot. As the late Desmond Tutu warned, "There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in."
No doubt we need to do something fast when violence threatens and that is something at which situational prevention and focused deterrence both excel. But there is no hiding the fact that they both hack at the branches - neither one alters structurally disadvantaged communities in any meaningful way.
Criminologists will tell you there are many seeds to crime causation. But over a half-century of criminological research amply demonstrates that the dysfunction, trauma, substance abuse, and blight in disadvantaged communities provide the breeding ground from where most chronic offenders emerge in the first place. Severely disadvantaged places create an endless supply of chronic offenders and if we want to dig at the roots of crime, and not hack at the branches, we must face those structural disadvantages. That is from where hope emerges and that is how we do the right thing.
ANOTHER WAY - SAFEGROWTH
Some criminologists and law enforcement officials will complain that it is exceedingly difficult, (and takes a long time) to deal with deep structural problems in neighborhoods. Part of that is because the expertise and professions that deal with such problems are not found within criminology or law enforcement. They are found in economic development, urban planning, neuropsychology, cognitive science, and education.
That is why SafeGrowth practitioners collaborate with experts in all those different fields and then work with residents to co-develop prevention plans. This kind of deep-dive capacity-building is neither simple nor fast. Ultimately, SafeGrowth marries community development and social prevention with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Generation CPTED. The method has been successful for decades. Our SafeGrowth book describes how we keep our eyes on the real prize.
A few other recent examples:
These are only a few of many ways forward. In 2022 let’s do the right thing and not lose sight of the fact that, if we want to build a better society, we actually have to build a better neighborhood.
Happy New Year.
by Mateja Mihinjac
At a time when a rising tide of violent crime infects Philadelphia and so many other American cities, one small pocket in that city has discovered a different way forward. A few weeks ago, community teams from the HACE Livability Academy presented preliminary plans for improving livability in their neighborhood. It was like an early holiday gift to their city and their neighborhoods and I was enormously impressed with their plans.
The HACE SafeGrowth Livability Academy has been underway in the Fairhill and Kensington neighborhoods for a few years and – although applied only to these two neighborhoods and severely challenged by the COVID pandemic – academy classes continued unabated thanks to the amazing work of HACE, the non-profit community development organization.
COVID has made life miserable for community development work. In 2020, we were forced to suddenly transition to a virtual environment that was not conducive to collaborative workshops. But a year later we’ve managed to better adapt to this new reality. Training from afar is not ideal, but the virtual environment does have advantages and we can now reach a wider audience.
WHAT IS THE LIVABILITY ACADEMY?
Over the past two months, I had the pleasure of co-facilitating the latest online cohort of HACE Livability Academy participants.
HACE has been successfully running Livability Academies twice a year since 2018. Last year, the HACE team modified the curriculum to run virtual-only sessions. This year we were able to offer both face-to-face and virtual modalities.
The Livability Academy is a 6–8-week program developed by AlterNation LLC – the company behind SafeGrowth® – in which local residents and community representatives learn skills in community leadership, SafeGrowth and CPTED, community organizing, and project management.
The Livability Academy is an integral part of the SafeGrowth philosophy and it provides a constant flow of community leaders into neighbourhood problem-solving teams to address local issues. I found it empowering to see the kinds of complex issues that the latest cohort decided to tackle in their project work.
During training, participants identify an issue and in work teams they tackle a small-scale, real-life project in their neighbourhood. In this training, the in-person, face-to-face team produced one project proposal while the online virtual team chose to divide into two project teams.
This past week all three teams presented their preliminary plans of the work they’ve done over the past few months. All three teams created inspiring projects directly within their neighborhood and they tackled persistent problems that were made worse during COVID.
Fairhill United for Livability
The first team’s project focused on activating the neighbourhood park to create a space for people to come together and build connections. They envisioned a more united neighbourhood that fosters community pride, strengthens connections between residents, and partners with neighbourhood groups, schools, and businesses to promote livability.
They divided their plan into 3 phases over the next year: outreach, clean-ups, and community celebrations. The goal is to create a movement of people to fix broken social connections, a problem made far worse by COVID. The team concluded with their slogan: “No one can do alone what we can do together”.
Literally Literacy (Increasing Adult Literacy)
This team chose adult literacy as a key liveability issue. They identified low levels of literacy as a key barrier to job access, high earning potential, and access to better healthcare. Illiteracy is one of the major contributors to overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. Illiteracy is an obstacle to personal growth and this team decided to do something. The main objective of the project is to empower adults to seek assistance with reading and increase their self-esteem while eliminating the stigma associated with illiteracy.
The highlight of this team’s presentation was their inspirational personal stories.
They summarized their stories with the phrase: “You can be all that you can be; all you have to do is take the first step.”
This team focused on the struggles of youth that (if not addressed early) can cause long-term damage to a young person’s life and the neighbourhood quality of life. They outlined multiple consequences of trauma such as emotional and behavioural issues, internalised stress, engaging in unsafe behaviours, substance abuse, and mental illness.
They proposed a 6-week program with various topics to address traumatic events. They also proposed creating a safe space with a support group for teens experiencing trauma. Two young team members, who themselves went through traumatic events, were especially inspiring in their quest to help their peers turn a new leaf. The team summarised the objective of their program: “To go from dysfunction to function.”
A HOLIDAY GIFT
I was extremely proud of all three teams for the work they completed within this short time. It is amazing how a group of people who know little, if anything, about each other, were able to take steps together and share the common purpose of improving life in their neighbourhood.
This is the true spirit of SafeGrowth and the Livability Academy. There is no better holiday gift to Philadelphia, to their community, and to themselves.
As one Livability Academy participant concluded: “It takes the whole village to raise this community.”
by Gregory Saville
It is always difficult to know when a good idea in one place is a good idea in another. Some things, like vaccines or mobile phones, transport easily from one culture to another. Covid vaccines from a few countries are now deployed all around the world in all countries and, thankfully, they save billions of lives for those wise enough to take them.
What about neighborhood programs in crime prevention?
Over the past year and a half myself and some of our talented SafeGrowth experts have been working in Helsingborg, Sweden to help residents and officials craft SafeGrowth to their city. It all began two years ago when I delivered a keynote address to the H22 Smart City Expo – a Swedish event to announce their 2022 world exposition of all things futuristic and technological in 21st Century cities.
The Smart City movement is the amalgam of Artificial Intelligence and high technology to all aspects in the operation of city life. My point was that you cannot have a Smart City if you do not have a Safe City.
SafeGrowth training began last year with local neighborhood Engagement Coordinators who, under the on-scene leadership of SafeGrowth expert Mateja Mihinjac, learned the model and began testing it themselves. With the help of our newest SafeGrowth star – Iman Abbas, who is based in Helsingborg – high school students conducted SafeGrowth fear and perception GPS mapping. Then, over the past few months, I worked with Iman and Mateja to train three teams of residents and city officials from the neighborhood of Drottninghög (I’m still practicing my Swedish pronunciation).
This past week the three teams delivered their plans for moving forward to dozens of officials, residents, and students attending their presentations.
What an outstanding event! I was witness to fantastic audience response. I saw broad smiles on the faces of the Drottninghög SafeGrowth graduates as they presented the success of their hard work over the past months.
CO-CREATING SAFE PLACES
Drottninghög now has a number of plans for safety and community engagement in different parts of the neighborhood – some projects involving placemaking around a community garden and others focused on building social cohesion between the immigrant population and Swedish residents.
Their project style included residents working alongside officials and experts. This is appropriate since the H22 Expo theme assigned to Drottninghög is ‘co-creation’ They produced a video describing their co-creation philosophy.
They are now embarking upon months of further planning as they begin to implement their plans. They want to expand their work to more projects in their community and now there is a discussion about expanding their work to other neighborhoods.
HELSINGBORG & THE CPTED CONFERENCE
Next week the Helsingborg SafeGrowth teams will present their preliminary work at the International CPTED Association virtual conference co-sponsored by Helsingborg. Their presentations are viewable to conference participants on Wednesday, Nov 3 at 3:45 PM Swedish time (11:45 AM Eastern Standard Time).
Next year, they will present their results to the world at the H22 Smart City Expo in Helsingborg. Well done to our Helsingborg friends. These are exciting times in Sweden!
by Gregory Saville
I came across an interesting artifact while digging through some old conference files this week. It brought to mind a story…
He was already a legend when he attended A Crime Prevention Workshop, the 1975 Toronto event that introduced CPTED to Canada. He had been a one-time cat-burglary (until his arrest and prison term) and he was a former Hollywood stunt man on the original Mutiny on the Bounty. University of Alberta’s Professor Gwynn Nettler delivered what must have been the most provocative paper at the event – he questioned how it was possible to do crime prevention with such poor quality science within the social sciences – a topic that would later come back to haunt today’s social sciences.
By all measures, Professor Nettler, a Stanford trained sociologist and arguably Canada’s most pre-eminent criminologist, was a charismatic, academic iconoclast. Time magazine once called him “a wonderful burglar” and later, the American Society of Criminology awarded him its highest award.
In his eulogy, the American Sociological Association wrote he “cherished music, from opera to Ellington, and cut a dashing figure with his presence, the sports cars he drove, and especially the ladies he loved.” He was the Indiana Jones of the criminology world - at least in my quarantine-deprived imagination.
SEARCHING FOR THE HOLY GRAIL
Nettler often wrote about the impotence of science within social research. “The first part of becoming a scientist…is to be able to recognize rules that merely draw circles and rules that are so phrased that everything that happens confirms them and nothing that happens disconfirms them.” As we outlined a few blogs ago, this is the essential flaw in the Routine Activity Theory of crime.
Theoretically trained scientists are taught how to recognize the error of logic circles – which is why the holy trinity of a motivated offender/capable guardian/suitable target cannot predict anything with accuracy. And without prediction, Nettler reminds us, it is neither science nor a theory. If we are to move forward in crime prevention, we must have legitimate theories on which to base our work!
For example, it might be attractive to surmise that poor lighting avails criminals to commit strongarm robberies at night when unsuspecting victims walk by. It might – if it were true. But if turning on more lights makes it easier for the crook to locate his victim, (in other words, the motivated offender adapts to the suitability of his target) then lighting provides neither the answer nor the prevention.
Or worse, as suggested recently in the Black Lives Matter movement, if CPTED controls access into some urban areas in the hope that excluding “outsiders” will prevent crime, it may end up targeting some races and income groups from others. Exclusionary crime prevention theories will not make things better, as we see in today’s racial protests.
CRIME PREVENTION MUST DO BETTER
While Nettler described some neighborhoods as triggers for crime, he was sceptical of standalone causes, like poverty and ghetto housing. The Indiana Jones of the 1970s knew enough of science to insist on clarity and reliable observations to support concepts. So what does such a theory look like within the crime prevention world today?
I have insisted at each step in our SafeGrowth work that we seize on a well-established concept of social cohesion called neighborhood collective efficacy.
Consider for a moment a neighborhood suffering from poverty, inequity, poor relations among residents, dilapidated infrastructure and housing, and hopelessness. It will be of little surprise that in such places you find yourself facing high crime and victimization risks. Incidents of street violence and fear will outstrip other areas in the city, and demands for social services will produce an exorbitant strain on municipal coffers. Locations like this are not the only place of crime, nor do they house all kinds of crime. But there is little doubt crime concentrates in such places.
Walk a short distance and you will discover neighborhoods with average incomes, adequate basic services, friendliness among neighbors, functioning infrastructure and decent housing, and some degree of happiness. Here you will uncover a fairly safe place with low crime and victimization. Incidents of street violence will be rare and municipal service providers will rarely visit such places.
Nettler described such places in his classic text Explaining Crime. Research from the geography of crime shows these patterns all over the world; crime hotspots cluster in the first type of neighborhood, not in the second. The consistency of these observations provides a sound basis to build a crime prevention theory.
So, we have.
In SafeGrowth we put this theory into practice through community development and social cohesion. Our work predicts and produces safer and more livable neighborhoods. This occurs from Christchurch, New Zealand and Toronto, to Hollygrove in New Orleans, New York, and in Philadelphia.
This is a robust theory of crime prevention that comes close to what Nettler described in his search for the building blocks of a good theory. Few social theories of any kind approach the precision of the general theory of relativity in physics. But collective efficacy and SafeGrowth are among those that aim for that quality.
When the pandemic threats and racial unrest that plague our streets begin to subside, we will search for ways out of our collective mess. Like the archaeologist seeking answers to long lost questions, we will need answers about how to rebuild safe and livable neighborhoods.
We need not look very far.
by Gregory Saville
Responding to our global COVID-19 pandemic, New York sociologist Eric Klinenberg recently wrote that social distancing will lead to, not only an economic recession but also to a future changed in unexpected ways.
Perhaps! But only gravestone epitaphs are written in stone and I choose to write my own future, which brings me to New York.
New York is the city where Jane Jacobs wrote about the power of social networks in her famous book Death and Life of Great American Cities, a book that launched the CPTED movement. She wrote that we keep the peace on our streets through an “intricate almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves.” In other words – us!
Strange advice coming from New York, the city with apartment towers far above urban parks, strangers yelling and car horns blaring! The endless rush hour! And today New York is the epicenter of the American COVID-19 pandemic, a city where thousands have already died in a country that leads the world’s infection rate.
Yet, despite it all, this YouTube showed up from New York City:
And it’s not only New York! This spontaneous flash of solidarity with health care workers has become a social epidemic of goodwill all over the world. It’s now in Italy, Germany, India, Israel, and in cities all across the Americas, from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Vancouver, Canada. Applauding with abandon – usually, around shift change at hospitals – New Yorkers join millions of others around the globe to cheer healthcare workers with pots, pans, whistles, hands, and anything else they can find.
This reaffirms the reality of Jacobs’ intricate, unconscious social network. Despite food hoarding, panic purchases, and obnoxious herd behavior, people eventually figure out that they depend on the social connections of everyday life to survive.
PUBLIC HOUSING AND CRIME
Never was this yearning for connection more evident than during our SafeGrowth work in New York City over the past two years. Members of our SafeGrowth team worked with the New York Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to teach CPTED to residents, including how to set up plans to improve life in their apartment towers. No small feat considering this public housing had some of the highest crime rates in the city.
Impressively, people pulled together in this biggest of cities, in places with so-called intractable crime rates, and they began to cut crime and improve safety. They created plans and they implemented many of their ideas because they knew they depend on social connections to survive everyday life. It was like Jane’s spirit hovered over the city that she once called home, a place where the velocity of daily living speeds past the average person at breakneck speed, as she whispered the ghostly incantation: “Pay attention to each other! Care for each other!”
As we face the new COVID-19 reality, the lesson is clear: We can create inclusive neighborhoods from far and wide, suburban and rural, rich and poor. We know how to build pro-social urban designs and places of connection and resilience. Perhaps Klinenberg was right; COVID-19 will change our future in unexpected ways. Still, more importantly, it is us who will shape what that future looks like!
For years, SafeGrowth Advocates (and many others) have fought against the retreat from public life, the withdrawal from the discomfort of strangers, and the overwhelming fear of violence by too many of our fellow citizens. In her blog last week, Mateja reminds us that we must battle both the physical and the social virus. Similarly, a few weeks ago, Tarah blogged that there is a big difference between social isolation and social distancing.
If we cling to social distancing and isolation in our public life after COVID-19, we will leave very little humane life to retain our humanity. The social is, after all, what makes society. Even the Council on Foreign Relations knows this truth – the future of global health is urban health.
William Fulton, planner and former Ventura city mayor, recently blogged that the post-pandemic city will lead to “an increase in remote work arrangements which will lead to more activity in neighborhoods, more flexibility in public transit options and a renewed appreciation for taking a walk.”
If that is the future we want then we need practical methods to deliver services where people can stay safe and healthy in their neighborhood. We need places where residents know each other and where they feel comfortable walking, day or night, and where they do not have to drive for food, medical care, and recreation.
THE UNCONSCIOUS NETWORK
Millions of strangers all over the world do not spontaneously bang pans and cheer outside their windows because they want isolation from their neighbors. They do it because they yearn to express their emotions in a safe public place in a way they can see and hear their neighbors doing the same. Even with a raging pandemic, they share a common realization that we all – healthcare workers, doctors, food delivery people, everyday neighbors, and police – need each other.
It’s the unconscious network in action.
How will cities evolve following the pandemic? Some claim cities will isolate, gate up, and separate. They say technology will prevail to protect us! But, in truth, we shall not find salvation in seldom-monitored CCTV systems or in the socially-hollow gated community. As King Lear says, that way madness lies!
NEXT BLOG: What can we do to create different, healthy, and safer places? There is another way!
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
Local shops and offices that occupy storefronts of downtown and suburban streets inject life into those places. Without them, these areas would not attract local residents or visitors and that would leave downtown areas barren and vulnerable to crime. Vacant storefronts communicate messages to passers-by such as an economic downturn, unsafe conditions, or a lack of care. These were some of the responses shared by the participants in a field study I conducted last year.
THE EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM
While an increase in storefront vacancies appears almost universal across western countries, the extent of the problem varies between countries, cities and even within the neighborhoods:
Some cities, such as Melbourne, have experienced reductions in their downtown vacant rates but have observed more issues with suburban areas. A scan across 11 suburban retail strips uncovered a vacancy rate of 8.4% with the highest at nearly 17%.
Given a commonly cited 5% “acceptable” vacancy rate, it is not surprising that vacant shopping corridors are a growing worry of commercial experts, CPTED practitioners, and criminologists who study such matters.
REASONS BEHIND VACANCIES
Vacancies are not uniformly distributed across cities and suburbs for a number of reasons. Some include:
Other possible reasons for vacancies include rezoning, gentrification and shifting consumer preferences. Ultimately, vacant storefronts not only influence the economy, but they influence safety and social life. In short, when vacancies arise, conditions also arise for street crime and worsening fear.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
In our Third Generation CPTED article last year, we pinpoint the importance of social, economic, and environmental sustainability as protective factors against neighbourhood decline. Active local shops and robust local economies are paramount for a decent quality of life. This is a core principle of our vision of liveable 21st Century cities.
The next blog will explore how vacant storefronts impact crime and possible solutions for addressing them.
by Gregory Saville
It’s useful to learn from history because – as Santayana said in The Life of Reason – those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Or, in some cases, maybe they are wise to repeat it! Sadly, when it comes to crime, it often seems amnesia afflicts those tasked with preventing it.
Consider the case of Britain’s National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal (NSNR) in 2001, a holistic approach for fixing troubled neighborhoods! This program had multiple threads with a long-term goal to rebuild what criminologists now call collective efficacy, what we call SafeGrowth.
In the 1990s crime in countries throughout the developed world was declining, with the exception of homicide in Britain. Criminologists prefer tracking homicide statistics since those data are among the most accurate. And in the late 1990s and early 2000s, homicide in the UK was bucking the trend elsewhere and was going up for reasons poorly understood.
WHY WAS UK MURDER INCREASING?
One theory is that social conditions and economic problems in deprived areas are at the root of the crime tree, hence tackling neighborhood structure should make a difference since most homicide incidents occurred in troubled neighborhoods. Crime has always festered in such troubled places; it’s the reason we locate SafeGrowth directly within neighborhoods.
Then, a few years into the leadership of Britain’s former PM Tony Blair, the government launched a neighborhood program called: National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal: A Framework for Consultation. At the time it was a very big deal! This was in the heady days before the Global Recession of 2008 and long before Brexit.
The NSNR dealt with unemployment, housing, education and crime, and it was aimed at local, neighborhood-level strategies. A few years later the government evaluated the program and asked: Did the NSNR schemes revitalize neighborhoods? Did it work?
The evaluation reads like a master class on failed implementation: Neighborhoods were not targeted properly, implementation was spotty, and some violent crime increased! Community empowerment was promised, but too often top-down planning resulted. So much for government-run programming!
And yet a strange thing happened: preliminary results were mostly positive!
The headline findings of the evaluation are that during the lifespan of NSNR there has been some narrowing of the gap between the most deprived neighbourhoods and the rest of the country...the most deprived neighbourhoods are doing better than they were! (NSNR Evaluation)
Now, almost two decades later, another remarkable trend showed up: In the decade following that evaluation, the persistent British homicide rates changed direction and began a rapid decline! Was the NSNR directly responsible? Hard to say, but it’s difficult to rule out. The homicide charts seem to indicate it was at least partly responsible.
This is a history worth remembering. And it's a history we've written about before in this blog, such as the Chicago Area Projects of the 1940s, re-evaluated in the 1980s, still preventing crime today and still underfunded in that suffering city.
Capacity-building embedded directly within troubled neighborhoods, supported and resourced by the city, informed by community development practices, employing the latest in CPTED, SafeGrowth, and prevention science. Let’s repeat that history!
by Gregory Saville
Tick tock…the clock is ticking.
I recently watched 16-year old Greta Thunberg glare at global leaders and chastise the United Nations for not doing enough about the Climate Crisis. Record numbers of wildfires burn around the world. Floods, hurricanes, and extreme weather dominate the news. And, says Greta, (and legions of scientists), because of climate deniers, Big Oil, and dallying politicians around the world, time is running out.
In truth, it isn’t from those living today that the Climate Crisis was born. It was born in the belching factories of the Industrial Age, weaned by a century of exploding (and irresponsible) population growth, and befriended by decades of poor environmental choices. Some of those poor environmental choices emerged in how we built cities – sprawl, acres of parking, carbon eating suburbs.
The result? Tax money spent on sprawl left the inner city vacant, sleepy, and blighted. Downtowns were vacated by shoppers looking for regional malls. The guts of the city were emptied into the box stores of the burbs. Studies about such development show that “living in a city can alter our brain’s architecture, making it more vulnerable to… social stress.”
So not only does pollution and smog harm our lungs and bodies, but neurophysical research suggests that poor urban living conditions negatively affect our brain biology, particularly the part that affects moods – the amygdala – such as anxiety disorders and mental conditions like schizophrenia.
However, while time runs out and Greta says we aren’t doing enough, it isn't true that we are doing nothing. Some innovations do break through.
FIGHTING BACK – H22 IN HELSINGBORG
This week I co-presented our SafeGrowth project work from New York at the H22 Summit in Helsingborg, Sweden, a conference on Smart City innovations and how they combat climate change. Delivered with my colleague Ifeoma Ebo from the New York City Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, our message showed how tactics in SafeGrowth and community empowerment in high-density housing can humanize residential towers and reduce victimization. If we are to densify in the future, we must know how to do it well.
The conference was in preparation for the H22 Smart City Exposition in Helsingborg. Smart Cities is a concept to dramatically expand data networks and sensors into city operations and embed information and communication technologies via the IoT (Internet of Things) for more efficient use of resources. The idea is if city officials can interact better with residents and monitor city life, they can more efficiently improve infrastructure and services.
It is, in effect, a technical battle against inefficiency and climate change. In the past, I have been skeptical of some smart technologies in policing and crime prevention that have not seemed so smart. So I was curious how the European smart city movement – particularly this one in Sweden - differed from what I’ve seen thus far. I was not disappointed.
CONNECTING SMART GROWTH TO SMART CITIES
The earliest battle against the environmental crisis began in the 1960s with the counter-culture warriors, triggered by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring on the insecticides poisoning our water.
Those early warriors grew into environmentalists who created, among other things, Smart Growth to confront sprawl and reimagine urban villages that offer more friendly places to live, and transit-oriented developments.
Smart Growth is another front in the climate battle. It’s an urban planning rebellion against ecological waste and carbon waste. For 20 years it has promoted new kinds of planning and zoning to improve the environment and create walkable streets. Sadly, most politicians are still ignorant of Smart Growth and few in the public have the slightest idea how it reduces sprawl thereby cutting pollution and carbon emissions.
In the 1990s I worked with a design team on one of the earliest Smart Growth projects in Vancouver – the Collingwood Village community near the Joyce/VanNess Skytrain Station. Touted today as one of Vancouver’s most successful neighborhoods, the Collingwood story has appeared in this blog. Twenty years later we now see how smart growth/transit-oriented development can last.
TICK TOCK – SPRAWL FLOURISHES
In spite of all this, anti-Smart Growth critics hope to turn back the nostalgia clock. They restrict multi-family units, spend billions on expressways, ignore efficient commuter trains, and they fight for low densities. Want proof? Look at the outer suburban rings of Calgary, Toronto, Winnipeg, Phoenix, Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Sydney, Perth, etc.
I should know; I live in one! An unpleasant fact I learned the hard way is that owning or renting an affordable home requires a wide range of housing options and, in most larger cities in the developed world, those options are limited by decades of single-use zoning that encourages lower densities. Without more affordable choices, we are left with housing from existing housing stock - and that means suburbs.
There is much to be done, not the least of which remains convincing the business-as-usual crowd that, frankly, things have changed and time is running out. Greta is right. We must do better. Sooner!
GUEST BLOG: Macarena Rau Vargas
Macarena is an architect from Chile and the President of the International CPTED Association. She has a Ph.D. in architecture and urbanism and has led urban safety projects all across Latin America and the Carribean. She currently heads PBL Consulting, is an associate consultant with AlterNation LLC, and has led the evolution of 2nd Generation CPTED throughout South America. As a citizen of Chile, Macarena and her fellow citizens have suffered weeks of violent protests on the streets of Santiago. In this guest blog, she has a message for policymakers and citizens alike - a message that resonates in other countries around the world.
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Rioters are burning factories, 11 people are dead, and over 10,000 police and troops are on the streets attempting to quell violent protests. These are times of social unrest in many countries and Chile is not immune. This very phenomenon was described in the first chapter of the SafeGrowth book: “We now see a resurgence of grassroots social movements calling for change… Do these increasing incidents of social unrest prophesize an impending future shock?”
In Santiago, it all started on October 18 when, as the result of a 4% Metro transit ticket hike, there was a spontaneous explosion of social discontent on the streets of Chile’s capital city. Even though wages in Chile have been slightly increasing and poverty falling, the rates of inequality remain high.
At this very moment, it is important to reflect and ask what will lead us to a sustainable social peace both during crisis scenarios like this and in everyday life in Chile and throughout Latin America? Is there a methodology that allows us to realize that social peace?
THREE POINTS FOR CHANGE
The first point to establish is that public security is not improvised; rather it is the methodical result of concerted public, private and citizen efforts. And those efforts must be sustained to be able to deal with crises like those we suffer today in Chile, and in other Latin American countries. Creating stable and sustainable public policies is not a simple matter – they must integrate and articulate many parts of community justice and safety: control, prevention, reintegration, and victim care actions.
The second point is that before the public explodes in a burst of social discontent, a government must have the tools and capacity to diagnose socio-environmental pathologies that destroy the quality of public life. It must know how to diagnose, with the help of citizens, the possible threats to public life, whether those threats are internal or external. Governments are not always complicit in the creation of social inequity – it often happens because they are unaware of the full implications of even the simplest social policy – like a fare hike in a transit ticket! Again, this brings us to the need for a methodology to guide us forward.
We know from 20 years of work with both 1st and 2nd Generation Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) that we now have such a methodology. In Latin America, we call this the CPTED® methodology and it offers a social diagnosis that is co-produced with local communities. A CPTED® methodology diagnosis is not similar to the surveys, polling, or social research that governments too frequently rely on for information (and as we see in Santiago, often with disastrous results). The CPTED® methodology allows the diagnosis to be rich, relevant and up-to-date; it captures the pulse of community members and their real needs.
Our experience has taught us the more hyper-focused the diagnostics, the better the solutions. For example, we know from international evidence that the proportion of those who trigger violence during peaceful protests (resulting in riots) are a minority – often an organized and concerted minority – compared to the mass of citizens they claim to represent. No doubt social unrest and frustration exist. But few public citizens want to harm people, to burn stores, or destroy property. Few want people killed.
What citizens actually want is a solution to inequity, poverty, and a decent quality of life.
The third point is that public security policies must be in concert with various members of the community, both institutionally and socially; that is why citizen dialogue is fundamental. Dialogue must involve the citizenry, the armed forces, government, universities, civil society organizations, the church, and many others.
THE BACKBONE OF PEACE
Citizenship is the backbone that links both the SafeGrowth planning method recently introduced in North America and the broad style of CPTED® that we have developed in Latin America. Both methods employ citizenship at our core because we recognize its importance in developing public policy. Citizenship and the involvement of the public empowers citizens! That is how we end up with sustainable policies and avoid crucial public policy mistakes.
Likewise, in crisis scenarios as we see today, we must avoid polarizing talk that fractures people apart from a common ground. As the city of Bogotá demonstrated in the 1980s with its "Garrote and Carrot" policies, the balance between hard enforcement control was combined with the comprehensive social actions of the citizenry. This eventually cut the homicide rate in half.
Achieving sustainable social peace for Chile is possible, but it requires methodical changes based on evidence in public policies. This crisis is a call to turn the national helm in another direction. We expect both the government and the citizens of this country to walk in that direction.
GUEST BLOG: Carlos Alfredo Gutiérrez Vera
Carlos is a Chilean architect/urban planner and a SafeGrowth Advocate residing in Honduras. He is a director of the International CPTED Association and one of the initiators of CPTED in Latin America. He has conducted CPTED throughout Central America and is co-author of the first Latin American CPTED manual. He works for a Consortium of three German companies (INBAS-SANIPLAN-SUM) giving Technical Assistance to the Honduran government with the Secretary for Community Development, Water and Sanitation, to implement the CONVIVIR program.
Freddy is a young man from the municipality of Siguatepeque in Honduras. His greatest passion is to practice bicycle motocross (BMX) on his bike, however he and his friends did not have a place to practice. For Freddy and his friends, this is not only a type of recreation, but it’s also a way to socialize and a way to avoid getting involved with illicit and dangerous activities.
Two years ago, Freddy found out a Community Hub Center was being built that would incorporate a space to practice BMX. The program was CONVIVIR, a social intervention initiative implemented by the Government of Honduras and German International Cooperation through the German Development Bank KfW, in alliance with the municipality of Siguatepeque.
CONVIVIR aims to improve living conditions for young people in Honduras living with violence, forced migration, teenage pregnancy, poverty among other problems. The Community Hub Project was called Center for the promotion of Quality of Life in Barrio el Carmen.
Excited by the idea of having a place with a BMX track, Freddy approached the municipality to see how he and other BMX practitioners could contribute. He was surprised to learn that the Hub would be built and managed by the community itself, using the PEC methodology (Projects Executed by the Community). It was an even bigger surprise that he and his friends could participate in the design of the BMX track and work as a team with a group of specialized designers.
In community meetings, Freddy and his friends came to see how CONVIVIR builds violence prevention through the recovery of public spaces, strengthening social and labor skills of young people. It accomplished that through the Center for Quality of Life using strategies like CPTED applied by the community itself.
During the planning process, Freddy was able to meet and interact with other members of the community and participate in actions that would carry out the construction of the project.
It was motivating for Freddy to know that the residents of Barrio San Juan will have access to training programs while promoting coexistence among neighbors. They will achieve a sense of belonging, be linked to democratic processes, and participate in decision-making for projects that benefit the community.
COMPLETION OF THE HUB
The Quality of Life Center in the San Juan neighborhood was finished in mid-2018. Now Freddy and his friends have a place to practice BMX and have also joined other community projects. They feel integrated into their neighborhood and have begun a process of personal growth through activities carried out on a regular basis.
The CONVIVIR Community Hubs have fulfilled their role as urban centers that promote and strengthen neighborhood construction projects. In recent years, the CONVIVIR Program has built 10 Community Hubs in three cities in Honduras; five in the city of Siguatepeque, three in the city of Gracias and two in the city of La Lima.
In each city, the Community Hubs work closely with the municipal government, thus creating a synergy between community and local government. Ideas and new community projects are born and then begin to link to other infrastructure projects.
The program has evolved into a neighborhood network linking projects in one Hub with other community infrastructure projects such as sports centers, youth houses, libraries, and urban walks, vocational training centers, and others also built by CONVIVIR.
This linking is now creating a network of interconnected hubs, in effect a practical example of the ecosystem of neighborhood hubs as described in SafeGrowth – and highlighted in chapters 4 and 5 of SafeGrowth: Building Neighborhoods of Safety and Livability.
by Gregory Saville
A few weeks ago we ran our SafeGrowth Summit just before the annual International CPTED Association conference. Both events were held at a sunny beach resort in beautiful Cancun, Mexico, and they were a study in contrasts.
The SafeGrowth Summit included an intimate group of a dozen SafeGrowth Advocates who ran informal workshops in person (and online) while the ICA conference featured over 500 delegates in formal presentations. Yet both events brought people from around the world and both were smashing successes.
This was the 6th SafeGrowth Summit comprising small, brainstorming sessions where those of us in the SafeGrowth network share successes and failures and also develop new strategies to move the concept forward. We reflected on project work this past year and examined the politics of change. We saw architectural renderings of neighborhood hubs designed by one of our Latin American members and we learned the results of a recent beta-test of our new GPS digitized field observation software.
There were inspiring accounts of the Philadelphia Livability Academies now underway and we discussed a new methodology to track our success after neighborhood projects. We talked, discussed, ate, swam, planned and, best of all, laughed.
The ICA conference followed immediately after at the same venue and produced the largest audience in ICA history. Over 500 delegates came to share successes and failures, but they focused their work on different versions of crime prevention through environmental design. While SafeGrowth uses both 1st and 2nd Generation CPTED, it does this through the lens of planning safer neighborhoods, community development, and social capacity-building.
The ICA conference featured the first-ever, commercial Expo, as well as case studies from cities around the world. Many of our SafeGrowth Advocates delivered presentations at the ICA conference. Best of all, two of our SafeGrowth Advocates, Mateja Mihinjac and Carlos Gutiérrez, won international achievement awards from the ICA.
Congratulations to all for great work to make neighborhood lives safer and more vibrant.
by Mateja Mihinjac
This summer, I led a team of eight city planners and set out to explore how the physical and social environment in downtown Saskatoon, Canada influences perceptions of personal safety. This was the first-ever micro-level, fear and safety project to use a specially tailored, digitized software app to map and analyse downtown safety in Canada. This is something geographers of crime and environmental psychologists have been studying for decades, but often without the precise measurements that we were about to uncover.
MEASURING PERCEPTIONS OF SAFETY
Perceptions of safety have been understudied in the field of criminology despite knowing that they may affect people’s use of the public realm more than actual crime. Moreover, from Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design - CPTED - we know that features on the streets, parks, and neighborhoods where we live may promote or reduce fear in that environment. Yet, we rarely measure this association.
As a criminologist specializing in SafeGrowth and CPTED, the City of Saskatoon planning department hired me for the summer of 2019 to develop and pilot this downtown project.
The first step included the development of the field data collection survey, a modified version of the Neighbourhood Safety Audit that incorporates the principles of CPTED. The survey was then digitized in a GPS location-based data collection app called Fulcrum, that allowed us to capture and record data with our mobile devices for use in subsequent analysis.
We formed two research teams of four participants from the Saskatoon Planning & Development Division. Each participant had undergone CPTED/SafeGrowth training and was knowledgeable about urban design and safety. Teams collected night and daytime data within the downtown area over 13 days.
Because we were interested in perceptions and fear at a very micro-level, the study area was confined to the blocks and laneways within a four block area. We used our new app to collect information from 108 micro-spatial locations within a radius of 30 meters (100 feet) of each location, and then we also collected 596 additional intercept surveys with members of the public on the street at the time.
Detailed fieldwork like this is laborious and time consuming, but teams were diligent and we were able to gain invaluable insights, in some cases uncovering findings about fear that were previously unknown.
What did we learn?
In our SafeGrowth training we often say: Once you learn CPTED you’ll never again look at the environment the same way. However, CPTED novices often forget that the environment encompasses both physical and social. This research provides evidence about the interplay between the physical and social environments on public perceptions. Clearly, physical and social CPTED strategies are equally important and must be part of all planning and prevention.
by Mateja Mihinjac
A couple of weeks ago a North American native man sat next to me while I was enjoying my lunch and observing the busy downtown street that had been pedestrianized during a special event in Saskatoon, Canada. I greeted him and asked how he was doing. This initial interaction led to a conversation I did not expect.
As we started chatting I soon learned he was homeless and unable to get back to his home on a First Nation’s Reserve, so he’s been sleeping in downtown streets. I offered him the rest of my lunch and a soda drink, which he accepted with gratitude.
Then he shared the words that touched my heart: “I’m just lonely.”
He explained that he often walks up and down the street to kill time, trying to get some money and just trying to survive. This day was no exception. He said he’s never seen this many people in this street, usually occupied with motor vehicles. Despite the business of the street, however, he felt lonely because he had no one to talk to. I felt honoured to have had a chance to make a connection with him and offer him what we often fail to show to street people: attention and respect.
It brought to mind two essential steps we have learned in SafeGrowth that underlie meaningful relationships and the ability to establish trust with those most vulnerable.
STEP ONE: ESTABLISH INITIAL CONNECTION
Years ago, psychologist Abraham Maslow described the importance of human connection and sense of belonging in the famous Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.
As social beings we have an innate need to connect with fellow humans and, in its absence, we crave social contact. Even more, loneliness has been identified as a growing health and social concern that reduces longevity and quality of life.
Yet, especially in public places, we often ignore opportunities for social bridges or are afraid to establish the connection because we feel too vulnerable, are distrustful of “strangers”, or we fear or stigmatize them. Some people vilify groups or individuals whose lives and choices they poorly understand without offering an opportunity to get to know them.
Establishing a connection with a smile and hello can be a simple initial step to building meaningful relationships. Some think this can be misinterpreted, but in truth, it isn’t difficult to be straightforward and honest.
STEP TWO: BUILD MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS
Meaningful relationships and human connectedness helped us survive in tribal communities and those same values can now help us survive and thrive in neighbourhood communities as well.
Our work in SafeGrowth hinges upon residents and local communities establishing trustful relationships and working together in common purpose - prerequisites for building the social glue for neighborhood problem-solving and change-making.
Having had a chance to live in different countries and meet people of various backgrounds I have learned to appreciate the importance of establishing connections with strangers. I make the effort to acknowledge, establish eye contact, smile or say hello to anyone I meet, regardless of their background or appearance.
Because of this I have been able to establish meaningful relationships in my personal and professional life, and am very fortunate to do so. I hope I will never have to say those three scary words: “I am lonely”. No one should.
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
The writing on the shop walls and the floating billboards was Anglo-Chinese. On the street, cityspeak combined English, Chinese and Spanish, a vernacular that served the homeless, the marginally employed and the unfortunate. Pollution and environmental collapse led to constant clouds and pelting rain. The affluent traveled to off-world colonies on Mars and elsewhere, leaving the rest of us behind. Bio-engineered, human-like robots called Replicants used their artificial intelligence and rebelled.
That was the horrific world described in Philip K. Dick’s book that became the 1982 sci-fi classic, Bladerunner. I blogged on Bladerunner architecture last year. When I watched Bladerunner in the 1980s it seemed like an impossible future. And it was set for such a long way ahead – 2019!
That's next year! With only a month left, how close is that future?
UNFOLDING AS WE SPEAK
It doesn’t take much imagination to see a Bladerunner vision unfolding. True, we are nowhere near that specific dystopia. We still don’t have flying cars (but we have self-driving ones!). Yet, one wonders...
This week I watched NASA’s exciting landing on the planet Mars. Space X CEO Elon Musk says he’ll get people to Mars within six years. How long before off-world colonies evolve?
This year I watched the fruits of some incredible advances in artificial intelligence and bio-engineering, including the world tour of the remarkable Sophie, the first thinking and speaking robot to attain citizenship. Sophie tells us not to worry; real robots are not like Bladerunner.
Then there is the decades-long Chinese economic miracle and the environmental mess we watch with increasing regularity in hurricanes, wildfires, species extinction and climate chaos.
Philip K. Dick, it seems, was on track. How might we derail that particular future? The usual formula is to rethink geo-politics and create a new macroeconomics. Nevertheless, the maxim ‘think global, act local’ has special relevance here. Take, for example, Philadelphia!
ONE NEIGHBORHOOD’S STORY
Over the past few years we brought SafeGrowth to Philadelphia. We now have some great advocates working for the neighborhood association, HACE. This year they began implementing their latest 10-year 2025 Neighborhood Plan.
For years HACE and friends have been diligently working to transform the blight, drugs and crime into a greener, socially connected, economically vibrant neighborhood. Now their new, SafeGrowth-infused 2025 plan is underway and they’ve been making strides.
They installed new, clean walking trails where garbage was once strewn.
They instituted Philadelphia’s first SafeGrowth Livability Academy, a collaborative on-going workshop with 30 neighbors and police during which they developed problem-solving strategies for their neighborhood.
The HACE plan envisions greener areas, community gardens, better resourced neighborhood hubs, safe intergenerational and affordable housing. HACE has already built over 200 units of affordable housing and leveraged over $100 million in redevelopment and improvements. A host of community-building strategies are already underway.
For example, they, and their partners, shut down a drug infested, homeless camp along a railway underpass. That naturally displaced addicts to street level, resulting in a public outcry (after decades of inaction). Ultimately, that led to a more coordinated city response to treat drug users, expand homeless beds and increase shelters.
There is a long way to go and resources and shelter beds are still scarce (one estimate suggest Philadelphia has 50,000 opioid addicts, many of whom end up here). But at least action is finally underway.
That is the hard community-building work that cuts crime, improves livability, and gets neighbors engaged in shaping their own future.
Too many mayors get caught up in a fear-based echo chamber that makes them vulnerable to peddlers of security technology and promises of a bright, high-tech future.
Too many city leaders act as obsequious errand-boys for the technologists, embracing the faint promise of hostile architecture, public CCTV, automated security robots, predictive algorithms seeking crime, and audio software to track gang gunfire. (Wouldn't it be better to prevent the gunfire in the first place?)
They do this with the ill-informed hope that technology will prevail. But in doing this, they snatch defeat from the hands of successful action-based community projects right in front of them. They invite a Bladerunner future.
May they fail.
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.
by Gregory Saville
We are thrilled to announce the publication of our new book, SafeGrowth – Building Neighborhoods of Safety and Livability! This book chronicles a decade of implementing and teaching SafeGrowth, along with methods like 2nd Generation CPTED, to turn troubled places back from the brink of crime.
This is part of the back cover:
"Do we really seek more CCTV cameras on public streets to protect us from the supposed enemy at the gates as we cower behind our doors? When did we agree to a public life with more razor wire, chain-link fences and cops zooming from one call to another, sirens blazing? There is a better way to create safer cities and, while some programs have existed for years, few offer a coherent way to plan cities in partnership with residents.
SafeGrowth is a new model for building crime-resistant and vibrant neighborhoods in the 21st Century."
While a decade of SafeGrowth training programs (and this blog) represent building blocks, this book frames the latest and most complete version of the model. It is the first full statement of the SafeGrowth theory. I edited and authored the book with others who attended and facilitated three SafeGrowth Summits, starting with our inaugural Summit in Canmore, Alberta in 2015 coordinated by our own Anna Brassard.
Part 1 of the book describes recent years as a time of transformation and it places social unrest, crime, and urban development into a larger historical context, especially chapter 2, "Stirrings of a New Idea".
The book then recounts the findings from three SafeGrowth Summits, particularly the first one at Canmore, Alberta where thirty participants created new ideas for planning safer neighborhoods with chapters on “The Hub Concept”, “Urban Villages” “Block Level Development” and “Livability Academies”
CASE STUDIES AND THE FUTURE
Part 3 includes case studies from the cities of Red Deer, Alberta and New Orleans, Louisiana. Another case study includes a chapter by International CPTED Association board member, Elisabeth Miller called, “SafeGrowth in Saskatoon”.
The final chapters of the book, written by Mateja, Tarah and myself, describe four principles of SafeGrowth theory. We hope you enjoy the fruits of our hard work and see how SafeGrowth offers a 21st Century blueprint for anyone who loves safer cities.
You can order the book here.
by Greg Saville
They link neighbors in common cause against crime and they collect data to build fear maps in ways never before possible. And yet community Safety Audits are among the most misunderstood, and misused, tools in CPTED.
In 2005 the United Nations Habitat program recommended the Safety Audit as a method to assess street crime and fear around the world. Safety Audits originated in the 1980s as a method to assess safety in bus and subway stops during the infamous Scarborough serial rapist crimes in suburban Toronto (ending with the arrest of serial murderer/rapist Paul Bernardo and his wife Karla Homolka).
I took part in those original Toronto Subway Safety Audits in 1988 and published a study about their power to unify residents as they record their perceptions of the neighborhood at night. Properly facilitated and staffed, Safety Audits are unique and empowering and they collect information not available on standard fear of crime surveys.
The first mistake is to think Safety Audits are the same as CPTED surveys or visual inspections for crime prevention. CPTED surveys work well on buildings and streets to assess crime opportunities in the nooks and crannies of everyday places. But CPTED experts cannot conduct a properly implemented Safety Audit; rather they can only facilitate residents. It is the native intelligence of residents that is recorded in a Safety Audit, not the assessment of an expert.
Some think Safety Audits are the same as a community walkabout, a Jane’s Walk, or Night-Out-Against-Crime. Those are not a systematic and coherent data collection activity like a Safety Audit.
SAFETY AUDITS ARE DIFFERENT
Authentic community Safety Audits:
Unlike CPTED surveys, Safety Audits extend beyond the physical environment and hone in on social factors: How involved are local residents about their neighborhood? What is the history of this place? How might local residents help improve conditions?
The latest versions of Safety Audits use computer tablets and GPS enabled software to more accurately record fear and map perceptions. A few years ago I recorded a VLOG with LISC Safety coordinator Mona Mangat on how to conduct a proper Safety Audit.
Safety Audits are the ideal tool for crime archaeology – they help residents dig up fear and perception discoveries of their nighttime city that may be invisible in other crime assessment methods.
by Greg Saville
Year-end SafeGrowth blogs often reflect the year ahead, the kind of future we want to build, and the successes we’ve made in the past year. This year there was plenty to report! But at this moment I find that impossible to think about. Only hours ago there was yet another mass shooting in Denver, Colorado, this one in a townhouse apartment project about 30 miles south of where I’m now writing this blog.
What does one say when officers respond to a domestic situation that turns into an ambush by a well-armed assailant? How does one respond to the fact that five sheriff deputies were downed on arrival, one fatally, and another two residents were also shot (but thankfully, survived), before the gunman was killed by police. Three shot citizens, four injured officers, one officer dead! Terrible...
I have been personally involved in police fatalities with officers I worked alongside. I know the consequence of emotions in the aftermath. I know the shock and raw thirst for vengeance, and the frustration at having no one alive to hold accountable (and the inevitable search to hold someone, or something, accountable).
It’s a helluva way to end the year!
WHAT TO DO?
First, we must ensure there are heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the slain and injured officers, and to the residents shot in this tragedy. Their lives will never be the same. Then we need time for grieving and eventually an inquiry into how, and why, this happened. Steps for prevention and safety must follow.
But when all that is done, when it is time to move on, there is one lasting thing that we must retain, or reclaim...Hope! That is not a small line item from our emotional ledger; it is the most important one!
It is not the easy kind of optimistic hope that blinds us to the realities of obstacles along the way, like the reality of mental instability, substance abuse, too many weapons too easily obtained, or the vicissitudes of risk in an unpredictable job.
Rather it is the kind of hope that provides us with the resilience to overcome obstacles. That is the kind of hope I’ve seen in all the successful SafeGrowth practitioners over the past year (the most recent being Herb Sutton from the last blog). It’s also the kind of hope that we need to share with our fellow citizens in troubled communities as we develop new ways to tackle the problems of our day - homelessness, substance abuse, and acts of violence like those we saw this morning.
Hope and optimism! That is what is needed to move forward and build a better future. That is difficult to see when faced with the darkness of violence. But hope provides a candle in that darkness. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
Our sincere condolences to all victims of violence this past year. In their memory, may we dedicate ourselves to making our communities safer in 2018.
by Greg Saville
Sometimes it is in smaller cities where seeds of innovation germinate and when that happens it is usually due to a few local champions. Those champions almost always credit others. In my view, they are the unsung heroes of the SafeGrowth and community development story.
I have lauded local champions over the years: Cincinnati's’s Sarah Buffie in 2009, the late Andy Mackie from Port Townsend, Washington in 2012, and Philadelphia’s Amelia Price in 2015. This year I met more but I want to applaud one: Herb Sutton.
Herb is the crime prevention coordinator from North Battleford, a small city of about 20,000 population in central Saskatchewan, Canada. For years North Battleford held the title of the highest crime severity rating of any Canadian community with a population of at least 10,000 people.
Elisabeth Miller and I taught SafeGrowth and CPTED to Herb two years ago and then last year ran a training in North Battleford. Herb’s team project for the 2015 SafeGrowth training was building a community garden next to a new homeless shelter to break down some stereotypes and decrease disorder problems.
A summary of that project concluded: "This project …provided opportunities for business owners, employees, and their families to meet [shelter] staff and some of the clients, as well as clean up the area. It was through planned and intentional efforts to build relationships that we were able to reduce the NIMBYism and fear of crime.”
Since then Herb and his colleagues have moved forward and this month’s issue of Canada’s national magazine, Maclean's featured that work. Maclean's showcased both the success and the challenges of programming in North Battleford. Like much crime prevention in troubled places, progress is slow. Yet to date it is impressive: regular team meetings on CPTED and problem-solving, town hall meetings on safety, a new CPTED review committee, downtown art, block parties, and safety audits.
It has produced early results. While crime rates in Saskatchewan increased 9%, this past year crime severity in North Battleford declined 8%. But all this is not without setbacks. Chronic underfunding continues and recent spurts in gun violence from gang activity persist. But so too does the work of Herb and his colleagues.
In a way that demonstrates the seriousness and leadership of a remarkable champion. As Canadian rocker Gordon Downie from The Tragically Hip once lyricized,
With illusions of someday
Cast in a golden light.
No dress rehearsal
This is our life.
That seriousness and persistence is, ultimately, our life. It is the only way forward. Thanks, Herb, for the inspiration.
by Gregory Saville
Providence, Rhode Island, an hour drive from Boston, is among the oldest cities in the U.S. and one of the first to industrialize. Today it confronts post-industrial poverty and associated crime. Yet it retains a lively cultural life and, with considerable urban reinvestment and 5 colleges and universities, it is working to breathe new life into ethnically diverse neighborhoods.
Residents from Providence participated in the recent Chicago SafeGrowth training to learn concepts from 1st and 2nd Generation CPTED and apply them to one of their small-scale trouble spots. They chose Trinity Square, an area that suffered 15 violence crimes, 10 property-related crimes, and over 200 police calls for service in the 6 months leading up to the class.
As the Providence SafeGrowth team describe in their report “most of the activity on that site is negative in nature and works against the progress of positive growth with high levels of drug activity, panhandling, homelessness, and abandoned property.”
The team knew their first step was to work with local stakeholders such as police and break down fear of crime and activate spaces with a series of organized activities. They started getting locals involved in positive social events. They chose a Trinity Square bus stop to install some board games and then launch a promotional program for regularly scheduled events.
Last week, on the inauspicious date of 9/11, the team ran their first weekly Game Off event, with residents from around the area. It was a smashing success as shown in the photos.
They plan to run this regularly. They are committed to establishing a more positive environment at this location and re-establishing the Trinity Square area as a neighborhood asset.
Congratulations to the Providence SafeGrowth team.
By Tarah Hodgkinson
Safe injection sites have been a point of contention for several years around the world. Some claim drug use is a public health concern needing harm reduction strategies, while others claim drug use is immoral and should remain criminalized.
Over the last few months, I have spoken to public safety organizations and police across Canada. These organizations cover everything from domestic violence to traffic safety, but the topic persistently arising remains illicit drug overdoses. For example, British Columbia recently announced a health crisis resulting from increases in overdose deaths, a situation experts believe results from lacing heroin or meth with intense potency additives like fentanyl.
Thousands die each year from these overdose deaths, almost 30,000 in the U.S. alone, and the numbers are getting worse. While illicit drug use is not new, public response to it seems to be changing. Communities are shifting away from punishment and looking towards harm reduction techniques.
In Canada, none is more famous than Insite, North America’s first supervised, and legally protected, injection location where clients are given clean needles to use in a safe environment. Furthermore, they are given access to a myriad of health services such as nurses and substance abuse counselors.
In spite of a raft of political attacks by anti-drug organizations, and claims of imperfect science, the overwhelming preponderance of research results to date on the Vancouver drug injection site are positive. This includes a comprehensive 2011 study in the prestigious UK medical journal, The Lancet.
HARM REDUCTION DOESN'T REPLACE COMMUNITY-BUILDING
Other harm reduction models are also emerging across the country. In Ottawa, a managed alcohol program helps chronically homeless and alcoholic individuals seek stability and avoid binge drinking. Harm reduction is an important community-building step to address drug overdoses in Canada.
However, community-building also means better investment in prevention and drug use alternatives. There is still very little investment in long term solutions such as detox and recovery services, job opportunities, community supports and wrap-around models – all demonstrated to have a significant impact.
A well-known example is Portugal. Over 15 years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. Since doing so, drug use has declined and overdoses have plummeted. Portugal invested in health care, job creation and other social supports. These alternatives had a dramatic impact on drug-seeking behaviour.
The claim that there are not enough resources for this kind of harm reduction investment collapses when faced with contrary logic or evidence. The fact is it is far more expensive for the criminal justice system to tackle drug crime. Community reinvestment - the basic premise of SafeGrowth - is well worth the effort in dollars and lives.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
When you ask people to provide an example of crime prevention, the first program they mention is Neighbourhood Watch (or Block Watch). This is not surprising considering that for 45 years it has been implemented extensively. Police departments offer toolkits for residents and many neighbourhoods sport signs that say “Block Watch Community – All suspicious behaviours will be reported to the police.”
Neighbourhood Watch originated in Seattle in 1972 when the Law and Justice Planning Office conducted a survey and found that residents were most concerned about burglary. They created a program to:
The program produced massive declines in burglary rates (48-61%). Thus, Neighbourhood Watch was deemed an exemplary project and, backed by the National Crime Prevention Council and most police departments, it took off across North America.
Some positive results continue today. For example, British research shows it cuts burglary in UK neighbourhoods by 16% to 26%.
However, Neighbourhood Watch has been subject to considerable criticism. Research demonstrated that expansions of the program in different cities produce positive results only in middle-class neighbourhoods that already had strong social cohesion. Other studies found that it tended to have negative consequences, including increasing fear of crime.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
So what happened to this exemplary project?
Current versions of Neighbourhood Watch have missed the mark in addressing crime problems and mobilizing residents to address them. Some accounts claim they do not encourage neighbours to organize around crime issues that they care about.
Instead, today’s programs are a shadow of what they once were; they play lip service to a once well-designed program by posting signs and handing out flyers. In most case, residents call their local police service to install signs and give residents information on how to secure their homes or notice suspicious behaviour. Unfortunately, they miss the point regarding what contributed to the success of the original program – people!
THE MISSING INGREDIENT
This is in direct opposition to the action research methodology that underpins SafeGrowth - to address relevant crime issues with local residents, not to or for them. When people and context are removed from the equation, all we are left with is a feel-good program.
We don’t need signs, flyers and more door locks. We need engaged neighbourhoods where police and residents work together on crime issues that matter most and then co-create lasting solutions. That is how we move forward.