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
In last week’s blog about Syracuse we introduced the Cure Violence program. We initially introduced Cure Violence seven years ago in our review of the film The Interrupters. Since then the program has expanded considerably.
Cure Violence is a public health approach to violence prevention, targeting at-risk youth to prevent shootings. Its founder, Gary Slutkin, sees violence as a contagious disease problem where violent behavior spreads from person to person as an epidemic with individuals adopting behaviors they observe in their social circles. Cure violence focuses on prevention through interrupting violent behavior and change through treatment and education.
The program shares the same vision as SafeGrowth - building capacity in neighborhoods to interrupt violence within neighborhoods themselves. However, whereas SafeGrowth focuses on a proactive way to plan long-term neighborhood development, the Cure Violence program responds to violence that has already erupted, or is about to erupt.
REPLACING PRISONS WITH PLAYGROUNDS
Slutkin envisions neighborhoods where prisons would be replaced with playgrounds and parks. This vision - reported in the Syracuse projects we discussed in our last blog - helps neighborhoods struggling with high levels of violence. That includes the Near Westside neighborhood in Syracuse.
Cure Violence relies on trained “violence interrupters”, individuals who, due to a similar history of criminality or gang membership, have credibility among the targeted groups.
The model is based on 3 components:
RESEARCH ON SUCCESS
Evaluation studies support the effectiveness of this approach. In Chicago, for example, the 2009 study reported a 41-73% reduction in shootings across intervention neighborhoods and a 56% decrease in killings in Baltimore.
In NYC, the most recent evaluation reported 27-50% reduction in gun injuries in two NYC communities and 63% reduction in shootings in one community while attitudes supporting violence have decreased and confidence in police increased.
Previous research also reported an 18% decrease in homicide across Cure Violence locations between 2010 and 2013 and 69% in non-targeted locations since the program was first implemented in NYC in 2009.
Cure Violence has to date been implemented in 10 countries across over 25 cities. These include Western cities as well as regions with high levels of violence in South America, Africa, Middle East and zones of conflict such as Iraq and Syria. This year Cure Violence also celebrated a jump in 10th place of the Top 500 NGOs in the world.
The Cure Violence model, therefore, holds a great promise to help reduce violence and victimization from gun violence in cities like Syracuse.
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.
GUEST BLOG: Tarah Hodgkinson is senior researcher in the Integrated Risk Assessment Instrument Group in Vancouver, Canada. She is a member of the International CPTED Association and a certified SafeGrowth practitioner. She is completing her PhD in criminology at Simon Fraser University.
Like the lyrics above from the best selling track Sing, too much crime prevention targets at-risk youth, but it rarely consults them. In The End of Education, Neil Postman told a fable of New York City falling into desperation. The streets are in disrepair, people are afraid to go outside and the police are unable to control the ballooning crime problem.
Not knowing what to do, the Mayor’s aide prepares to flee the city, but first reads Thoreau’s Walden, especially the quote, “Students should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?”
SAFETY AUDITS WITH KIDS
I recently participated in a safety audit with local youth in Saskatoon, Canada. With the help of a local planner and SafeGrowth advocate, Elisabeth Miller and planner Haven Rees, we reworked some of the safety audit to make it more youth friendly. We taught safety audit principles through games and examples. Finally the youth conducted a safety audit in one of Saskatoon’s neighbourhoods.
The experience reminded me how rarely youth are brought to the table when discussing safety, despite their unique experience in the urban environment. This group was particularly interesting, because they were all newcomers to Canada. Many were from countries much more violent and crime-ridden than Canada. Their experience is particularly unique, because they experience fear and safety differently.
For example, while conducting the safety audit one youth exclaimed,“of course I feel safe here! It’s so much safer than Russia!”
The youth in the safety audit told a different story than adults often do about their neighbourhoods. In a Block City exercise they were given the opportunity to build a neighbourhood with schools, shops, homes, and churches. They placed parks and shops very close to their home.
During the safety audit they also noticed things in the neighbourhood that we had missed. We were consistently surprised by their awareness and eagerness to participate. They were excited that we were taking their contributions seriously and genuinely intended to use their feedback.
GIVING VOICE TO YOUTH
I’ve had the privilege of teaching youth throughout my career. I often see their frustration when they are counted out from decisions because they are too young, or not given opportunities because adults feel they haven’t learned enough yet. However, when given the opportunity they can create beautiful and inspiring things. I’ve been impressed by the efforts to include youth here in Saskatoon.
Similar results are reported in this blog by educator Fleur Knight during her work in New Zealand schools.
I hope others will recognize the importance of involving youth in policy and neighbourhood improvements and we will stop doing things to and for youth, but rather with them.
With great respect for Martin Luther King Jr’s famous words about moving forward, I am reminded of crime prevention work in Newark, NJ.
Crime prevention can be slow and grinding. Six years ago I paid homage to participants in our SafeGrowth training with whom I am continually impressed. They are the ones who slog away at their daily chores and yet still remain committed to moving forward with changes they map out during the training.
Those local heroes are everywhere in these pages. In the past year alone they include Saskatoon, Milwaukee, Christchurch, Melbourne, St. Paul and this week New Jersey.
You may recall my posts last year about Together North Jersey, the organization that heads a multi-agency initiative to work with low income and high crime communities around Newark. Their goal: Teach skills in neighborhood revitalization, CPTED and SafeGrowth to help local groups help themselves. AlterNation was hired to head up that training and project work.
Now their final report is available. The report, Training community-based organizations in CPTED - Together North Jersey Micro Grant Program lays out the entire Newark process from top to bottom.
Project implementation is still underway and the work is unfinished. Yet team members persist at fundraising and implementation. Plus, in spite of vexatious hurdles like high crime rates they tell me forward momentum continues. This report describes how. It is one of the clearest road-maps to date on SafeGrowth in action.
The report also incorporates a new addition in the SafeGrowth story -Wansoo Im's innovative community mapping software that we tested during the class. During training walkabouts team members used their smartphones to upload real-time site evaluations on crime and fear. When we returned to the class the finished maps were waiting for us online.
Congratulations to all team members in Newark (and everywhere we have done this training). Thanks go to the organizers, funders, policy folks, community workers, police officers, researchers, and mostly the residents and local associations. Your commitment to a better future honors us and demonstrates what citizenship should look like in the 21st Century.
This past week I indulged an old pastime: riding Toronto's subway system. It looked similar to 25 years ago (albeit more worn). Similar, that is except for security provisions.
Back in 1988 I rode the system with transit, police and a victim's group called METRAC. As part of my grad work in environmental criminology, I researched a new technique for collecting fear and CPTED data - the Safety Audit.
Today that technique is in practically every Canadian city and now even the United Nations promotes it worldwide. Yet still today many CPTED practitioners confuse the Safety Audit with CPTED surveys or checklists. Safety Audits are about finding out what local people feel and fear about a location. Before then site-specific fear data was neither collected nor targeted for fixing. Some CPTED folk still don’t.
I was pleased to see dozens of Safety Audit innovations still in place. One of them was the Designated Waiting Area on every subway platform where passengers wait for trains in a marked and specially lit area. Each DWA has an emergency phone to security and is monitored by cameras. In 1988 there were few areas like this in subways anywhere in the world.
A subway (or any public transit) where people feel safer means more people take it at night. That reduces isolation and increases ridership - a win/win. Along with the Washington DC subway (also with extensive CPTED innovations) Toronto's subway today is among the safest in the world.
After reading the Less Law, More Order book mentioned below, a question came to mind. How do we actually do the crime prevention planning the author mentions? Then I thought of that old song by rockers April Wine: Doin it right (on the wrong side of town).
Picture this: A northern / mid-western city of 250,000 residents. A beautiful river winding through town with downtown redevelopment on some streets and downtown crime on others. Sound similar to anywhere-ville? Except for one thing. This city is rapidly moving forward with SafeGrowth like no other city. That city is Saskatoon, Canada.
Spending time in Saskatoon this past week reminds me how old style CPTED can evolve into a much more advanced practice. It is far beyond the one-time crime prevention initiatives, crime prevention commissions, task forces, and well ahead of CPTED planning guidelines in other cities.
Elisabeth Miller, senior city planner, has been working to integrate a SafeGrowth style planning method with their Local Area Planning (LAP). Her powerpoint from last year's ICA conference tells us how they are doing it
See Elisabeth's description of SafeGrowth in Saskatoon
My favorite line from her presentation: Unfortunately more education needed to be done as the “Let’s CPTED that” started to become a perceived solution to a number of problems….particularly for City Councilors that were being questioned by constituents.
While they still use the term CPTED, when you look at their description you see they are much more advanced. Click on their city website and see for yourself. Even there you'll see the link to their LAP method.
See the Saskatoon web description
Community safety audits, crime mapping, CPTED surveys, community participation sessions, neighbourhood by neighborhood annual reports. They now do it all. But they are beginning to do it using a coherent neighborhood by neighborhood planning style, with local participation at every level.
Saskatoon is among the first municipalities that truly get that safety cannot be relegated to checklists and police CPTED surveys. It must be a full player in the urban development and planning process.
Like they say in the song:
Go rev up your chevy, put your gas foot down
We’re doin’ it right on the wrong side of town