by Mateja Mihinjac
During our SafeGrowth classes, we conduct a tabletop exercise called a ‘design charrette’ based on designing an urban park. The purpose is to teach students how to use collaborative design when they begin their crime prevention work.
In almost every case the teams end up placing a circular design into the centre of their park – a water feature, park gazebo, or perhaps a children’s play area. In over 20 years of running this exercise, virtually every class comes up with some circular feature dead centre in their park.
There is something psychologically ingrained about centrally located social gathering places, echoing the tribal campfires of ancient times. In fact, we have archaeological evidence of the power of tribal campfires going back 50,000 years.
It is as if our collective human culture seeks to gather around those ancient campfires of prehistoric times for safety, storytelling and celebration. It is a cultural meme that remains in our subconscious.
KRESOVANJE – BONFIRE FESTIVAL
This cultural meme also has a tradition in Slovenia. Following a 2-year hiatus due to COVID, this year’s May 1st celebrations finally brought back the beloved Slovenian tradition – the bonfire festival or “kresovanje” in Slovene.
May 1st symbolises International Workers’ Day (also known as Labour Day or May Day) which commemorates the historic struggles and gains of the labour movement. In 1889 the international federation of socialist groups and trade unions designated May 1st as an international holiday, which has since become a public holiday in many countries around the world.
While on May 1st many countries observe formal public events, marches, parades and more or less peaceful demonstrations, in Slovenia we also burn bonfires on the night of 30 April. It turns out these bonfires have a symbolic meaning – perhaps a cultural reflection of the human tendency to seek out central places that we discover time and time again in our classroom exercises.
SYMBOLISM OF BONFIRES
Bonfires originate from a pagan tradition believing that the strength of fire supports the sun to strengthen its power and shine with full strength as summer starts to approach.
However, with the emergence of the Labour movement bonfires acquired a somewhat different purpose. They were used as a highly visible communication tool that accompanied the marches and public speeches and were intended to increase awareness about the workers’ rights.
Today, the bonfire festivals in Slovenia hold largely a social gathering role. While commemorating the importance of the workers’ unions through speeches, the bonfire festival also includes live music celebration, food and drink stalls with the ritual of bonfire burning and people gathering around the fire representing the highlight of the evening.
Events such as bonfire festivals are fuel for the community. In SafeGrowth we refer to the cultural principle that represents actions of the heart. These are the instincts that show up in our classes on the design-a-park charrette. Just imagine how much progress in neighbourhood development we could achieve by combining actions of the heart with those of the mind – systematic and organised actions to enhance social cohesion!
by Tarah Hodgkinson
I’ve been back in Canada for a few months now after living in Australia for a few years. Something I missed terribly, though none of my Canadian friends could believe it, was snow. In Brisbane, the weather never dropped below 8 degrees Celsius and most of the Australians I knew had never seen snow in their life.
I, on the other hand, had grown up surrounded by snow. For the first month every time a few flakes fell I had my face pressed against the window like a little kid.
A few weeks ago Ontario received a massive snowfall. Several cities, including Toronto and Ottawa, woke up to a minimum of 30-40cm. It shut down major roadways and forced a snow day on the first day school classes were supposed to return to being in person.
So why all the fuss about snow? The last time I wrote about snow, I was complaining about the injustice of snow on sidewalks for folks living with disabilities.
This time I wanted to write about how snow, much like other collective weather events, has the potential to bring us together. When I woke up the day of the snowfall I couldn’t wait to get outside and start shovelling (remember it had been a while).
But what I found amazing was how quickly the neighbourhood came out to join. I met many of my neighbours for the first time. We laughed as we tried to dig out our cars. A few local residents helped older folks to shovel out their driveways and sidewalks. It became a whole day affair. People stopped and chatted and planned who/where else needed some help. When some people ran out of steam, others took over until the neighbourhood was walkable again.
A PARADISE BUILT IN HELL
This quickly reminded me of an oft-quoted book on this site – A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit. She suggests that when we face exceptional events like extreme weather or disaster, it often creates a sense of connection and unity - something we have all been missing lately.
While not all extreme weather events may trigger long term social cohesion, there are those that do. You may recall it was the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that led to our involvement in the New Orleans, Hollygrove livability project. Back in 2010 and 2011, this site posted blogs on how Hollygrove resident teams removed blighted homes, how they launched a flurry of targeted revitalization projects, including a seniors walking group and a decade-long community farm, and how they ended up cutting crime 78%.
These small, but significant, moments are part of the tapestry that make great neighbourhoods. Residents take an opportunity to help one another and gain connection in the process. They get a better sense of who lives nearby and what kinds of support they might need. They are also more likely to talk to each other when issues like community safety emerge and decide to do something about it.
Maybe this is why I like snow so much.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
We have written extensively on this blog, and elsewhere about the importance of the “third place”. In Ray Oldenburg’s work The Great Good Place, Oldenburg discusses the importance of the third place: Third places are spaces other than home (first place) and work (second place) where folks can meet, gather, connect and build social cohesion. He names several types of third places including cafes, hair salons, barbershops, pubs, libraries, bookshops and more that are at the heart of any great community. These are spaces that people can spend lots of unstructured time in without having to spend much money.
In the wake of COVID-19 many of these local places are starting to disappear. Unable to keep up with the rising costs of rolling lockdowns and having to restrict the number of patrons, many of these establishments have either limited the time you can spend in them or been shuttered altogether. This has led to several issues including vacant storefronts, reducing foot traffic and eyes on the street, and increasing monopolies of these spaces by large corporations that are less interested in creating a space for their neighbours and building community cohesion.
We know that social cohesion relies on third places to bring together people together. We also know that a lack of these places, can reduce social cohesion and increase risks of crime. Never has that been a more prominent issue, than during a pandemic when we are literally more separated than ever before.
However, there are some shining rays of hope in neighbourhoods around the globe. In Brisbane, Australia for example, a small café called the Red Bowler, feels exactly like a third place. Here, the café is not only a place to grab a coffee and a bite to eat, but the staff also know the locals, regulars sit down at comfy couches near you to strike up a conversation and the owners hold weekly events including movie nights, live music, and even mobile dog washes. No one is rushed out and as a result, the community builds.
This is just one example of a commitment to create places that are neutral, inclusive and a home away from home. As we continue to emerge from the seemingly endless impact of COVID-19 on our everyday lives, it is more important than ever that we revive and support these third places. They are the neighbourhood cornerstones of connection that will help us to not only recover but thrive again as communities.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
There are many ways a community can celebrate culture and come together, even if briefly, to share a sense of togetherness. Fireworks have the power to do this in a collective moment of joy and fun.
I had the opportunity to enjoy Riverfire this week here in Brisbane. Riverfire is a fireworks show celebrating the conclusion of the Brisbane Festival, a large, three-week art festival held annually in September across the city.
The fireworks show was fantastic. But what was even more fantastic was the way in which it brought people together.
There have been many critiques about fireworks over the years. These include concerns about air and noise pollution, animal welfare, possible injury (particularly for men), and even fires. The last one is particularly concerning in Australia that has been suffering severe bushfires for many years.
In Canada, many have also critiqued the celebration of national holidays like Canada Day, particularly this year, in the wake of the discovery of almost a thousand Indigenous children’s graves.
Many of these criticized celebrations include fireworks. All of these critiques are valid. Indeed, we need to think critically about how fireworks can be used safely and honourably. These considerations not only include where but also when fireworks are appropriate.
But after two years residing in a foreign country, separated from family and friends, and watching the horrors of an international pandemic unfold, I was ready for some fireworks.
Fireworks are meant to elicit joy and bring us together for a moment of excitement and wonder as thousands of tiny colourful sparks light up the sky. They are an effective way to celebrate culture, collective identity and social cohesion – goals we all share in our communities.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
In our SafeGrowth work, we aim to help people create integrated neighbourhoods inclusive of race, class, age, and ethnicity. We strive to promote the development of local leadership in order to attend to the needs of all residents. Most importantly, the grass-roots leaders and mentors in SafeGrowth neighbourhoods also show up in the amazing ways they build local safety and liveability every day.
I recently spoke with a community that was lamenting about the fact that Indigenous youth do not have clearly defined elders. I started thinking about the role of elders more broadly, in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and the important role they play in social cohesion and livability.
When we think of elders, we often think of Indigenous leaders who have been appointed to represent their community. They are individuals who governments and organizations can turn to in order to liaise with the group or community. For example, Indigenous leaders, as we define them today, often fill a political post that fits colonial and government needs for representation.
However, the history of elders points to leaders and mentors who emerge organically. These elders did not represent their community or have any authority. Rather they were recognized as advice-givers. According to one author, they developed slowly, asked good questions, had knowledge and were revealed by deed.
Elders are, in many ways, mentors. They hold knowledge, give advice, and care for others. And both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities need these leaders. Mentoring is one of the most consistent protective factors against offending. As noted by criminologist Irvin Waller, one good mentor can help pull a young person out of a potential life of crime.
STIFLING MENTORSHIP BY DESIGN
But the ways in which we currently set up our neighbourhoods and communities remove opportunities for the emergence of mentors and elders. In Our Kids, Robert Putnam talks extensively about how geographical divides along race and class lines have created neighbourhoods and communities in which young people never meet potential mentors or elders. He goes on to explain how this further polarizes and marginalizes certain areas so that they may never pull themselves out of poverty or cycles of crime.
When we design neighbourhood living so that it stifles the personal mentorship of elders, we ourselves commit a kind of crime: we rob young people of the opportunity to connect with another generation. It’s no wonder they often feel disassociated from neighbourhood and family life.
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.
Wow, what a week its been. I had a few ideas for this week’s blog, but it feels negligent not to write about what is affecting all of our communities right now. And that is COVID-19.
We are in an unprecedented time for this generation. The world is shutting down and a highly contagious flu is spreading like wildfire across our increasingly connected world. Indeed, we are witnessing a global pandemic.
Here in Australia, universities are closing their doors and classes are going online. Residents are being encouraged to stay home and avoid social gatherings. Many are panic-buying toilet paper and other necessities, leaving shelves totally empty. Grocery store chains are being forced to limit the purchase of numerous items.
More importantly, and almost completely against our ethos at SafeGrowth, people are being told to socially distance themselves from others. Major public health authorities are encouraging people to work from home (if they can), stay home if they feel sick at all and avoid large social gatherings to “flatten the curve.”
And this is the right advice. For highly contagious viruses like COVID-19, the risk of exposure is huge for people who are older, have weakened immune systems, respiratory issues, or other preconditions. Social distancing will reduce the demand on already over-burdened hospitals and their staff who, like Italy, will quickly run out of treatment facilities.
But, as we know, social distancing is not an option for many of our fellow SafeGrowth communities, who do not have access to paid sick leave or are living from paycheck to paycheck and have to work to survive. Never have these issues seemed more pressing.
Furthermore, social distancing can also lead to social isolation. By staying home and away from others, we can feel disconnected and lonely. And while social distancing is an important part of protection from viruses, as we know from research, social isolation isn’t good for our health. Just yesterday I received a message from one of my close friends at home. She has been instructed to work from home and is already feeling alone and isolated.
PARADISE BUILT IN HELL
What do we do? Well, we have many accounts of what humans do in disaster to help guide us. Eric Klinenberg’s book Heat Wave details how older women survived one of the worst heat waves in Chicago in 1995. They called each other. Every day, they sat is tubs full of water or under air conditioning or fans and called to check in on each other and stay connected.
Rebecca Solnit’s book Paradise Built in Hell, reminds us throughout human history, in disaster situations, humans engage in incredible acts of altruism. They donate more, set up relief shelters, check on their neighbours and prepare meals for those who can’t.
In this time of uncertainty, instability, and fear, we encourage our fellow SafeGrowth community to reach out and check in with each other (phone, skype, facetime, letters!) and share those extra items you may have bought with those who may be struggling.
Most importantly, be kind to one another and don’t forget to wash your hands!
by Tarah Hodgkinson
“The town is called Penguin?", my friend said to me as we drove along the highway in Northern Tasmania. "We have to check that out!” And so, I took the exit.
We came upon the town centre of this coastal community to find a large penguin statue. But not only the statue, everything was penguin-themed. Penguin play areas, penguin posts, even penguin trashcans. All of the stores along the main street were littered with penguin artwork. We had to know more.
It turns out that Penguin, Tasmania is aptly named. Penguins gather in the rookeries along their beachfront. While penguins are pretty interesting creatures, especially to those of us from the Northern Hemisphere, it wasn’t the local wildlife that caught my attention.
What was interesting was the way in which penguins had become a part of their community’s culture. So much so that every placemaking attempt featured the cute little southern birds. There are several areas across the state where Penguins can be found, but this town had dedicated their entire community’s identity to these birds.
I worried that the focus on penguins might solely be an attempt to attract tourists. However, it was clear that the penguin theme was fairly organic and community-based. Each of the small seaside stores had committed to the theme in their own way. Some stores had fun penguin-themed names, others had large stuffed penguins in their windows and still, others had painted penguins on their walls. Even more exciting, the town holds a penguin-themed community market that has been running for twenty years.
COHESION AND CULTURE
If there was any doubt that the town was committed to their shared culture, their reaction to developers trying to capitalize on the town’s proximity to penguin rookeries proves otherwise. When I did some digging about the town’s history, I found that they had prevented some major development plans that would have dramatically changed the landscape of the downtown area and potentially affected their community’s cohesion and culture.
Not only had local residents fought hard against the development, but they also started heritage listing their storefronts. By the end, they had heritage listed 26 sites and prevented the development plans.
Tourism can dramatically impact neighbourhoods in desirable places (see the backlash in Barcelona to increasing tourism). Further, while developers often try to capitalize on these opportunities, it is clear that residents who work together to maintain control over their local history not only can protect their local culture but continue to grow and expand that culture for their entire community. In this way, community-based tourism is often an exercise in building local culture and cohesion.
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
I recently read John McKnight’s 1995 book The Careless Society: The Community and its Counterfeits. It reminded me of the vital importance in what we term vision-based asset mapping in our SafeGrowth work.
McKnight shows how elevating community capacities, rather than focusing on community deficiencies, can mitigate the many threats to community life that stem from a forest of unfocused and inefficient social services.
THE SOCIAL SERVICE INDUSTRY
The book’s core premise of “a glass half full” explains why systems of professionalized social services embedded within our daily lives fail to generate authentic citizen communities that care. As we teach in SafeGrowth, building cohesion in troubled communities is difficult when residents don’t care, or when they expect other organizations to solve local problems with no local involvement.
The issue McKnight sees with communities surrendering their power to the social service system is the assumption that communities are not able to identify their problems and solve them on their own, or with the assistance of others.
Thus starts the dependency-creating cycle that external service providers propagate. Then, as service professionals present themselves as experts with a suite of solutions to proposed problems, they often justify their own raison d’être while contributing little to positive change in the communities that have become dependent on them.
All this generates negative side effects and leads to a disabled citizenry and weakened community ties resulting in a loss in local capacity to self-organize. In effect, says McKnight, we become surrounded by community services but isolated from the community.
This does not mean that social services and others offer no value. However, communities need to themselves identify these services as useful and thus become active, rather than passive, actors in the life of their community.
VISION-BASED ASSET MAPPING
McKnight offers asset mapping as a tool for empowering communities and building capacity.
In our SafeGrowth work we help residents tap into the neighborhood resources to realize whatever vision they create to resolve problems within their neighborhood. We use this neighborhood social analysis as an important part of visioning and problem identification.
However, unlike McKnight’s broad scan, we tailor our approach into vision-based asset mapping - tailoring assets toward a specific vision for that problem. This step is repeated for different areas gradually building a repertoire of assets for the entire neighborhood. Neighbors themselves learn not only much more about local gifts for capacity-building right at their fingertips, but they learn how to use them for problem-solving.
The vision-based asset mapping approach empowers residents to become active in solving neighborhood problems. At the same time, they choose what social services to summon and reduce their dependency on external service providers.
by Mateja Mihinjac
During my recent visit to New York City, I was thrilled to witness the upsurge in cycling in this iconic city. As an avid cyclist, I love when cities provide infrastructure for bipedal commute.
Promoting physical and social connections through design, such as increased bike usage, fosters interaction and establishment of social ties. In SafeGrowth we know that this also influences safety and perception of safety.
New York City, the metropolis well known for its traffic congestion and yellow cabs, has followed the lead of several European and Australian cities and in the past decade expanded its cycling infrastructure. Cycling in the city has since 2005 increased by an astounding 260%, currently amounting to 450,000 daily trips.
In 2013, the city also introduced the nation’s largest bike sharing program Citi Bike, which currently offers 603 bike stations and 10.000 bikes across the city’s five boroughs. These bikes are extensively used by city dwellers and tourists alike.
Exploring Manhattan on a bike
CYCLING FOR HAPPINESS?
Replacing motorised commute with biking impacts health and social connectedness, two of the three most important contributors to happiness in urban environments.
Moreover, planning for environmentally sustainable cities that prioritize cycling and walking is intrinsically linked to socially cohesive communities.
IMPROVING CYCLING INFRASTRUCTURE
Talking to locals revealed that despite great progress, cycling infrastructure could benefit from several improvements. The first was more bike lanes and Citi Bike stations outside downtown and affluent areas, a common need in other cities.
Ironically, those living on the peripheries of the cities and those less prosperous are the ones who would most benefit from biking connectivity.
The second issue concerns safety. A 2015 article reported 90% of bike lanes in New York City were unprotected, meaning the majority were lanes without a safety buffer between cyclists and cars. This is surprising knowing that protected bike lanes can reduce the risk of injury by 90% and also increase ridership.
CYCLING FOR CITIES OF TOMORROW
Promoting cycling in progressive cities like New York is an excellent avenue for developing environmentally and socially sustainable cities. Planners should encourage future expansions of bike infrastructure in less affluent areas and designers must follow guidelines for safety and buffered lanes.
Designing future cities around cycling will contribute to overall healthier and happier cities.
By Tarah Hodgkinson
One of the main tenets of SafeGrowth is social cohesion. I recently spent a few weeks in Australia as part of a conference and research trip. During this trip, I spent some time in hostels on the east coast of the country. I was reminded of the importance of shared spaces or third places and their role in encouraging social cohesion.
Third place is a term coined by Ray Oldenberg in his book The Great Good Place. Oldenberg claims that we have three places:
COFFEE SHOPS - MORE THAN COFFEE
Examples of the third place include local coffee shops, pubs, rec centers, barber shops, farmers' markets, community gardens and other places where people can come together, meet and socialize.
Third places are more than just a location outside of work and home to congregate. These places must have certain characteristics in order to become a third place. They should be neutral (no one has claim over them), they should be leveling (no one social status matters more), they should be free or inexpensive, they should be accessible to everyone, there should be regular faces and they should promote conversation over everything else.
Australian hostels get how to do third places. They boast numerous shared spaces including shared kitchens, recreation rooms, seating areas, computer areas and cheap cafes. This is ideal for the traveler trying to connect with others.
This is vastly different than hostels in Canada and some in Europe, that operate more as a hotel, where the only shared spaces are bars and restaurants, which are not only costly but don’t encourage natural conversation.
What can Australian hostels teach us about community engagement? Oldenburg claims third places are the center of civic engagement and civil society and necessitate the steps of social change. They do so because they allow people to come together, to share ideas, discuss issues and mobilize for change.
When I stayed in hostels that had third places, I met fellow travelers with ease, learned about fun, entertainment hot spots and made friends, many of whom I am still in contact with. This did not happen in the hotel-like hostels. In neighborhoods, third places trigger social engagement and cohesion and this is the beginning of how we start changing neighborhoods for the better.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
There has been a great deal of media recently regarding the immigration policies of the United States and the now blocked executive order banning citizens from numerous countries. During this madness, I traveled to attend the Western Society of Criminology’s (WSC) annual conference in Las Vegas.
Academic conferences have become a bit of a ritual. Go, give a talk, see some other talks, network with some new colleagues, catch up with old colleagues, and check out the local city. Unlike SafeGrowth trainings or SafeGrowth Summits where we teach how to address local problems affecting local people and create local solutions, most academic conferences are bereft of any action research and rarely, if ever, engage with the local community.
Rather, they present a string of experts in specialized areas, talking about small and trifling data, without any local voice or real change. Claims of “policy implications” often suffice for demonstrable action.
AT THE CONFERENCE
However, the vibe at WSC this year was markedly different than other academic conferences. It was clear that a number of those attending were shaken by recent political choices. Many of the annual award winners used their acceptance speeches to demand a call to action around what has been called, discriminatory, racist and Islamophobic policy decisions.
Alex Piquero, winner of the Western Society of Criminology President’s Award, gave a talk on immigration that undermined the misconception that immigrants commit more crimes.
On the street, however, it appears these divisive politics are emboldening a new generation of culture jammers. With their rights under attacks, citizens have taken to the streets, various prime ministers have promised to protect those who seek refuge, universities are making statements, staging protests and waiving application fees to those affected.
What can be done?
At this critical time, it seems that neighbourhood engagement is the key. In SafeGrowth that happens by empowering and training citizens to solve their own neighborhood problems and by rebuilding trust, collective efficacy, and social cohesion. These are the actions that help everyday citizens learn practical skills to destabilize the narratives that seek to divide, rather than unite us.
Given the unsustainabity of sprawl, the persistence of crime hotspots, and the unending call for a stonger sense of community, there is a thirst for on-the-ground examples of cohesive, safer and resilient neighborhoods. Cohousing is one.
I’ve been visiting cohousing projects around Denver over the past few months and working with a group establishing an art and culture oriented cohousing community. Here is what I’ve learned.
Cohousing is not for everyone. Some prefer towering condo apartments. Others prefer remote homes hidden in the bush. Those, of course, are legitimate choices.
However the overall trend is in the opposite direction. Over 80% of the developed world lives in urbanized cities. The UN says the majority of the world is now urban. More people migrate into cities than ever before. The truth is, cyber-creep notwithstanding, we are urban and we are social.
I’ve been following the cohousing movement for 20 years. I described cohousing here 5 years ago - Avoiding a wire-esque future and Fernwood Urban Village in Victoria, BC.
Most cohousing projects look like 25-35 unit condominiums with private residences and amenities similar to those anywhere. Yet cohousing communities are designed differently because they are designed by and for residents themselves in collaboration with architects. Cars are kept to perimeter parking and pedestrian walkways, gardens, and common greenspace areas are in the center.
Cohousing governance is painfully democratic, intricate, and based on extended friendship networks. Those networks emerge from things like carpooling, shared childcare, sharing tools and common facilities like workshops and community gardens. Networks emerge from regular training in conflict resolution, mediation, and governance methods - the latest version is sociocracy. In the cohousing group I work with we are offering training in emotional intelligence skills.
Cohousing architecture includes a central common house with a library, guest rooms, play areas for kids and a large dining/kitchen area for community meals a few times a week.
A few years ago the Cohousing Association of the United States funded a national survey of the cohousing phenomenon. How successful is cohousing and how does it differ?
Here is what it found:
In my experience, cohousing has lower crime and a greater desire for collaboration on difficult problems. They live more sustainably with shared gardening, recycling and ride sharing. And at the very core of social sustainability, they seem to call police less frequently to solve most problems that they instead solve themselves.
There are still issues to resolve in cohousing. For example internal conflict is lessened but it is not absent. But on whole cohousing is the most cohesive, safe and resilient neighborhood design I've seen yet. It’s a model worth considering in the 21st Century city.
GUEST BLOG - Mateja Mihinjac is a criminologist at Griffith University, Australia completing doctoral research into CPTED. She has co-taught SafeGrowth and CPTED and is a member of the International CPTED Association. She kindly submitted this blog on her recent research on CPTED and public transit.
I was recently asked to conduct research on CPTED in a transit environment. When I surveyed the academic literature I expected to find articles focused on physical modifications and security features alone — this has been a constant in most transit agencies. I ended up pleasantly surprised.
There were numerous references to social elements in crime and perception of safety. Many authors recognised that the physical environment alone had limited effectiveness in managing risks of crime and perception of the riders’ safety.
CPTED RESEARCH ON TRANSPORT
For example, in the waiting environment Loukaitou-Sideris study in 1999 identified that negative land uses and deteriorated surroundings contributed to crime prone bus stops in Los Angeles. In London research by Newton, Patridge and Gill in 2014 showed that crime proneness at underground stations was characterised by its above ground social environment.
As early as 1991 Saville published research regarding how the shortage of human presence posed increased risks for riders in the walking environment. A few years earlier Van Andel discovered the same on the en-route environment for both bus and train locations.
In 2010 Yavuz and Welch found that the simple lack of people on the platform induced fear for train users and that presence of CCTV did not mitigate this perception. Finally, research by Delbosch & Currie in 2012 and by Cozens and Can der Linde in 2015 demonstrated that social characteristics surrounding the waiting environment were more influential in perception of safety than characteristics of the physical design alone.
This research reinforces prior blogs regarding the importance of community culture and opportunity-based connection in the transit environment.
Improving social conditions at the micro environment is a major theme of 2nd Generation CPTED and SafeGrowth, identified in 2001 by Lusk as social bridges in the transport environment. Social bridges reduce anonymity amongst the riders and make them more likely to assist one another in case of an incident, a phenomenon now known as the by-stander effect.
Next time when you catch a ride downtown put your mobile phone away and have a conversation with a stranger. It may change your life.
In 2010 Vanessa Barker published an intriguing study just released on the internet: Explaining the Great American Crime Decline.
I love this study.
Barker reviews three studies on the crime decline: Frank Zimring’s The Great American Crime Decline, a report by Goldberger and Rosenfield and a book by Wallman and Blumstein, The Crime Drop in America.
You might think the crime decline topic is old turf with explanatory paths we’ve walked many times: less street cocaine, bigger and fuller prisons, tougher policing, smarter policing, legal abortions.
Alas, says Barker, none of those standard stories emerge from the research intact.
INSIGHTS FROM URBAN ECOLOGY
Barker moves away from standard stories onto Insights from Urban Sociology. Crime theorists will recognize references to collective efficacy and neighborhood structure. For those unfamiliar with crime theory, SafeGrowth is a megamenu of these same insights. Probably why I love the study...duh!
The changing structure of downtowns and changing youth culture falls squarely into these insights. Such changes help build more cohesive neighborhoods, not in places like Ferguson but in enough places to make a difference.
These insights include social and environmental factors this blog has held front and center, like business associations, non-profits, schools, social services, cultural activities, transport systems, and housing. They include examples of collaborative commons and social cohesion.
THE IMMIGRATION BOMB
That’s when Barker drops the bomb! When she re-examined urban ecology studies on immigration she discovered how increasing immigration has helped reduce crime, not increase it!
“Sampson…suggests that increased immigration in the 1990s sparked urban renewal and economic growth in immigrant-dense neighborhoods like Queens and Bushwick in New York, the West Side in Chicago, South Central Los Angeles, and cities like Miami. The inﬂux of immigrants corresponded with increases in income and decreases in poverty.”
THE NATTERING NUMPTIES
I’d love to see that debate in elections now underway in Canada, and next year in the U.S. Sadly what we get instead is hollow sound-bite nuggets from a bunch of nattering numpties.
Case in point: Last week the NDP party in Canada proposed to hire 2,500 more cops. They want to cut crime on Canadian streets…streets where most crime is still declining!
INFINITE MONKEY THEOREM
Sadly the standard stories persist, lately in the theory that crime declines resulted from increased security worldwide (in technical terms, guardianship). And we are served up a buffet of advanced statistical techniques that hit and peck at data in shiny, new datasets.
It’s a kind of infinite monkey theorem for big crime data. Remember the theory that predicted the monkey who hits and pecks keyboard keys for infinity will almost surely end up creating Hamlet.
I say leave the monkey alone! Barker and colleagues are onto something, something we’ve known for a long time.
GUEST BLOG – Mateja Mihinjac is a criminologist at Griffith University, Australia completing her Ph.D on the implementation of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). She is a certified SafeGrowth instructor and has taught SafeGrowth in Australia and New Zealand.
Diane Zahm, urban planning professor and former ICA Chair, once wrote that without citizen involvement in the process and locally relevant practices, implementation of CPTED strategies is “merely security and not really CPTED”.
I uncovered that quote recently while researching CPTED theory and history. I was amazed how much information supported the social and motivational aspects of CPTED and yet were largely ignored in contemporary CPTED literature. From my research it was clear CPTED, as originally intended, was more similar to SafeGrowth than the physical, 1st Generation CPTED today.
DEATH AND LIFE
In Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs wrote of urban life and “eyes on the street” representing the foremost example of the design that supports informal control and builds social capital. Similarly, Elizabeth Wood emphasised that people’s needs and desires should be taken into account and that “design cannot do everything for the population”.
Newman’s 1972 concept of defensible space relies on the social fabric to create the expression of territorial proprietorship. Therefore the power to defend space is not a consequence of architectural design but rather its prerequisite.
Following Newman, the Westinghouse CPTED studies examined the most comprehensive demonstration CPTED projects. The studies emphasised the importance of motivational reinforcement, a concept that somehow got lost in the implementation process. As a result, outcomes were mixed.
A 1993 evaluation of the Westinghouse studies concluded:
“The reason for inconsistent and temporary effects appears to be that crime and violence arise from interactions between the social environment and the physical environment, which cannot be controlled entirely through manipulations of the physical environment.”
Given the power relegated to social reinforcement in the work that pioneered CPTED, how did it get lost in modern CPTED theory?
Social motives for crime receive practically no attention in modern CPTED with the exception of Second Generation CPTED in which social and community aspects are reintegrated back into CPTED practice and theory.
With the renaissance in community-development called collective efficacy, the exciting social design revolution called tactical urbanism, and the evolution of SafeGrowth as a new way to plan safer neighbourhoods, I hope CPTED will join these new 21st Century movements and finally recognize the need to fully integrate the social and the physical.
For it is within community where the power to drive social change emerges.
News of armed regional conflicts around the world distorts the truth of local crime. That truth? Crime in developed countries continues a long plunge into lowly rates unknown for decades.
As Vanessa Barker notes in her research, criminology has no idea why. Frank Zimring’s book on the The Great American Crime Decline does say why criminologists can't figure it out:
“The knowledge gap in current social science understanding comes almost equally from the unavoidable weakness of a non-experimental discipline and from avoidable provincialism and ideological blinders.”
Crime plummets in places where police are underfunded, like the UK, and in places where police enjoy copious salaries, like Toronto.
Crime plummets before, during and after the Great Recession (kind of puts the lie to the idea that economic downturns trigger it or abundant times stop it). It plummets with or without mass incarceration, like the US versus Canada.
It plummets where security is abundant (vehicle immobilizers, gated communities) and also where security is scarce, like my own city where lighting is poor, gates are rare and burglar alarms a luxury.
THE MEDIA WEIGHS IN
The Economist Magazine says the reason crime plummets is that today’s crime-prone cohort, young males between 18- 34, are more civilized:
"Young people are increasingly sober and well behaved. They are more likely to live with their parents and to be in higher education."
Really? Well, in Better Angels of Our Nature psychologist Steven Pinker does suggest something similar he calls the civilizing effect.
The Toronto Star quotes government statisticians who stir new police practices, reduced alcohol consumption and inflation into their causation broth in a frantic search for an answer. Ultimately they have no idea.
THE SOCIAL COHESION EFFECT
Through it all, two social cohesion ingredients persist:
The truth is crime has always concentrated in inner-city neighborhoods. It stands to reason improvements in the inner city - better housing, improved infrastructure - magnify the power that neighbors have to control problems through social ties, watching over each other and so forth (the social side of defensible space that Oscar Newman wrote about).
Then add aging demographics together with the civilizing effect and neighborhood redevelopment and you have a workable recipe, a one-two-three punch in prevention practice.
The social cohesion effect is good news in the 21st Century city, especially considering the persistent plague of urban homelessness, gangs and drugs. It’s especially positive for SafeGrowth practitioners and those who practice targeted community development such as LISC. It points the way forward.
An email showed up this week from a crime prevention colleague in a far-away city.
“Not sure if it's a sign of the times or just the fast pace, long work hours, and long bus commutes…but it’s a bit of an uphill struggle to get some communities to take ownership of their neighborhood issues.”
It’s a theme I’ve heard over and over - getting residents, shop-owners and locals out of their homes, away from TV to “do” crime prevention. Setting aside their boredom (or their fears) and working together in common cause.
That theme hovers raptor-like over work that depends on building community. Sometimes called capacity building, or in the latest sociological parlance collective efficacy, this is the idea ofcommunity engagement.
Engagement is the road kill of community crime prevention, in one moment obvious and in another impossible.
Academics study it, policy wonks insist on it and social workers claim it brings meaning to neighborhood life. Yet none of them tell us exactly how to do it, how to get people outside and “engaged”.
In criminology the grandest experiment in community engagement was the juvenile delinquency work in the famous Chicago Area Project back in the 1930s and 1940s (still going on). Even today strains of that work echo in studies about cutting youth violence with community engagement.
Police too did their bit during the community policing era with community engagement strategies, though they were usually limited to those monstrosities where cops sat up front in some hall to "engage" the community (sort of) in community meetings.
There were experiments with neighborhood substations, now long gone (closed in the name of funding cuts as expenditures turned instead to fancy computer programs, night-vision goggles and new military equipment). In most cities all that remains is the police/community meeting room (usually adjacent to the front foyer at HQ).
And still none of that tells us anything about the simplest question: How do we get neighborhood dwellers engaged and into the public realm – their street, parks, community halls – where their lives intersect in a real way?
FOOD AND FUN
Then I remembered this lovely, formally adorned, Muslim mother at a SafeGrowth training a few years ago. She came up to me and said quietly, “you know, in the Muslim community engagement in daily life starts with great meals and tasty food. Celebration starts in the stomach.” Actually, I thought, it does for everyone! Potlucks, barbeques, corn and hotdog roasts, lemonade stands!
Interesting, isn’t it! It is the fun and joyful things of community life like food, music, and play that draw people out. It's those times when they meet and share in each others lives in a gradual and ‘smell-the-roses’ kind of way. Less community organizer and more community jester.
Social media = social cohesion? Today during the LISC sponsored Twin Cities SafeGrowth training we heard some terrific planning projects to enhance safety on the new light rail Transit Oriented Development in St. Paul.
Among the presentations was an idea to incorporate social media and Facebook into one of the neighborhoods as a 2nd Generation community cohesion strategy. Cool.
Then I came across this: The City 2.0 crowdsourcing project from the 2012 TED Prize.
It's a new website with a platform to "surface the myriad stories and collective actions being taken by citizens around the world. We draw on the best of what is already being discovered by urban advocates and add grassroots movers and shakers into the mix."
I especially found the City 2.0 Safety part of the website fascinating. It expands to show Gallup's new poll on quality of life conducted over the past 3 years and mapped with categories like nighttime safety, community satisfaction, and stress.
The future is being written as we speak.
In the file under pathetic behavior, a video came to my attention this week. CPTED creates defensible space by dividing space into semi-private and private zones. Occasionally this is done with fencing. I've blogged on fences before.
Some think fences are signs of mutual respect. Robert Frost's famous poem "Mending Wall" re-popularizes Plato's and later Ben Franklin's phrase "good fences make good neighbors". At the end of his poem Frost asks, "Why do they make good neighbors?"
One blogger I've read believes good fences represent the equality of neighbors while protecting the independence of each. For him keeping fences in repair is good citizenship. Another contends fences "maintain the fabric of community."
It's true the fabric of a community is maintained by mutual respect with minimal ambiguities. But if only a fence can do that then how much "mutual respect" really exists? Can't neighbors reach a respectful, reasonable agreement to balance privacy with communal sharing?
The bulldozer-caper in the video above suggests the answer: No! (At least for the ill-tempered or the insane). Fences, apparently, don't make good neighbors. Good neighbors make good neighbors.
Novices to CPTED sometimes see things with a clarity others lack. Jennica Collette is a planning student at the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. She and fellow students recently completed their first CPTED study. In this guest blog she summarizes their findings and comes to similar conclusions as reported by Harvard University design students in March.
As part of a University of Waterloo social planning class, a group of fellow students and myself wanted to know how urban form influenced safety, both actual and perceived. We chose university campuses, a context that was relevant and familiar, and compared our suburban campus at University of Waterloo to the urban campus at University of Toronto. It was our first CPTED experience.
We started by familiarizing ourselves with CPTED lingo including Oscar Newman’s Defensible Space Theory and Jane Jacob’s "eyes on the street". We looked at reported statistics and charts as well as perceived safety through site visits and random interviews. The results weren’t what we expected.
Initially we assumed the University of Toronto was less safe. Why? Perhaps the strong association between large urban centres and crime or the idea that people who don’t necessarily “belong” at the University can wander through the campus freely and easily. But during interviews we were told both campuses felt safe. Other than identifying some areas of concern, like poorly lit loading areas in Toronto or a woodlot trail in Waterloo, there were rarely moments where students felt like they were in any danger.
When we crunched the numbers we discovered, on a per student basis, there were more crimes at the University of Waterloo than the University of Toronto. Granted, both of these campuses experienced very few serious crimes, mostly petty theft and mischief, but there were simply more of them in Waterloo.
One of the most significant differences between the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo was the presence of people. Even during reading week Toronto’s campus was bustling with activity. In Waterloo, during the weekends and evenings, you could count the people on one hand.
Toronto’s safe environment can be attributed to a combination of multiple uses, permeable grid form and high densities. The Royal Ontario Museum, the Ontario Legislative building, and Queen’s Park all lie within the campus boundary and the grid form makes the campus as much a waypoint as a destination.
In Waterloo a ring road topped off with berms surrounds the campus. We were told buildings were oriented with crowd control in mind rather than legibility. All this makes the campus particularly unappealing for a visitor.
Does built form influence actual and perceived safety? Our first CPTED experience confirmed it does. What we found mostly is that there is so much more to safety than movement predictors and improving lighting (though that is part of it). From a planning perspective a large part of making environments safe is activating spaces and activating communities. It turns out that is also the conclusion of Second-generation CPTED.
Whether it a campus or residential neighbourhood, the key seems to be having people present who are engaged in their environments.
Andy Mackie played harmonica at a local restaurant/theatre during open-mike Monday nights, just down the street. A painting of him hangs on the wall at the back of the bar.
Andy believed music was a gift so he gave free lessons and harmonicas to school-kids. He paid for those harmonicas with money for his medication. He paid with his life and he wouldn't have it any other way.
Community capacity-building is one of those phrases that spreads over everything like goo. Different practitioners use the term to mean different things. Thus, it means everything and nothing. What is "community capacity?"
The best way to get at capacity is through asset mapping. Asset mapping is based on the work of John McKnight and John Kretzman. Asset maps substitute the idea of deficiencies and needs for community assets - turning a negative into a positive. Assets include physical features and groups.
They also include those things that might seem invisible like the talents, skills and experience of the elderly. Andy Mackie was a talent and an asset. He was definitely not invisible.
If you want to know what positive community-building looks like, watch the video.
In a November speech Gladwell describes Roseto in which one researcher:
"realized he’d stumbled on a place where the sense of community was so strong, and so powerful, and so supportive, that it enabled people who lived there to effectively deal with the stress of modern life and live a kind of magical life. They had created community bonds that were so extraordinary that they were able to overcome the pattern of illness and mortality in American life."
It is a great story. It is all about the very things most important to community developers, prevention specialists, police, and anyone else interested in safe places.
Gladwell is clearly an ally of what we are trying to achieve. Read Gladwell's speech HERE.
Imagine: When the fog of traffic congestion clogs our streets (and our minds), imagine a safe place near your home with quiet beauty and solace. Imagine neighbors putting out daily coffee and tea for passers-by in mini-street cafes. Imagine bulletin-boards, cobblestones and artistic murals, flowers and gardens on your street. Imagine it can all start with a potluck.
I recently spent time exploring Portland, Oregon. Some equate Portland with rain and overcast winters. But other records matter more - Portland's outdoor street life for example. Portland is one of the world's greenest cities, the fittest and most eco-friendly city in the US, the best US city for biking to work, renown for land use planning and light rail, and a top ten city for architecture and design.
Portland's not perfect. While it has about the same ethnic and income mix as cities of similar size, it does have the country's second highest unemployment rate. It has problems with car thefts and burglary. Yet of the 75 largest cities, Portland's murder rate is consistently in the bottom 10 and robbery in the bottom 20. It has one of the lowest violent crime rates of any city in the country.
One wonders about the obvious; Do the things that make it vibrant account for the things that make it safe? Residents describe it as one of the safest places in the country with the highest high quality of life.
Portland's neighborhoods are alive. Interest in civic affairs is alive. In the neighborhoods (away from the clogged Interstate) cars seem secondary, people and bikes first.
Nowhere is this exemplified better than with Portland's City Repair movement, now in dozens of cities across the country.
Pioneered a decade ago, innovator and architect Mark Lakeman is a leading proponent. He told me local residents decide for themselves what they want their streets to look like and how their intersections should function. Some want community interaction or seasonal celebrations. Others want slower traffic or beautiful public art.
City Repair creates artistic and ecologically-oriented placemaking through neighborhood projects. They began by tackling the urban grid. They convert residential street intersections into public squares. They use paint, plants, and permaculture. They construct non-toxic solutions from the local environment. They combine public art with benches, lampposts, play areas for kids, and gardens alongside public streets. It is remarkable to see this in person.
If you can, go there and see for yourself. Nowhere have I seen intersections transformed so creatively by local action.
This is citizen government and a positive example of direct action. When we talk of placemaking in SafeGrowth, City Repair is exemplary. It yields great promise and optimism.
People are drawn to see beautiful art or sculptures in formerly boring grid intersections throughout the city. I watched cars slow to safer speeds where there were no stop signs. Well designed street art is a natural traffic calmer.
I heard of doomsday pundits who said it was impossible (until it was done by others). I heard of traffic engineers predicting chicken-little (then shown how to build creative and functional intersections).
Mark says, we are engaging people where they live and they are building new relationships. They are creating physical artifacts that encourage them to gather after the fact. They see these artifacts and they interrelate with them and the stories broaden and deepen.
That is placemaking at it's best.
Check it out.