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!
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 Mateja Mihinjac
Embedded within SafeGrowth practice resides a number of tactics, one of which is CPTED - crime prevention through environmental design. CPTED is often criticized for being simplistic and reductionist in its solutions and for promoting fortressing while displacing undesirable activity.
In January, Greg reprinted an article he wrote a few years ago about the exclusionary nature of CPTED when it disregards some at the expense of others.
These side effects may seem unsurprising considering that the word “prevention” implies attention to undesirable behaviors. However, years of experience teach us that not every crime problem will benefit from simply restricting behaviors; we also need to provide alternatives and support desirable conduct.
This does not infer a binary approach to CPTED but rather attention to details because, when it comes to intended and desirable outcomes, context matters! It is therefore prudent to outline some of the 1st Generation CPTED principles using a pendulum between restrictive and desirable behavioral outcomes.
THE CONTEXT PENDULUM
A broader view of CPTED is nothing new; it can be observed in the early writing of CPTED by the original authors. For example, we know from Oscar Newman’s work on defensible space that territorial influence is most powerful when it combines “latent territoriality and sense of community” when residents care for shared spaces and each other.
Tactics to uncover latent territoriality include designing visual contact between residential areas and building semi-private areas where neighbors can congregate, factors that still emerge today in research.
Methods to enhance the social climate of an area include getting people to better know, and care for, each other with cultural and recreational activities.
Newman predicted this latent territoriality promotes ownership through supporting pro-social behaviors while concurrently deflecting unwanted use without the need for physical reinforcement.
Similarly, Jane Jacobs extended her discussion of “eyes upon the street” and argued that streets are safe when they provide opportunities for desirable activities by offering people a reason to occupy them, as we described in recent blogs on sidewalks and alternatives to bollards.
There is no shortage of other methods to create desirable locations, for example through tactical urbanism and placemaking that build pro-social activities and informal supervision.
Mainstream 1st Generation CPTED continues to undermine the need for investing in social capital as the underlying prerequisite for effective and sustainable crime prevention.
In SafeGrowth, we employ 2nd Generation CPTED to promote social cohesion, local pride and social interaction. The goal is to swing the pendulum towards pro-social conduct and away from an anti-social, target-hardening mantra. Ultimately, the key for quality of life in neighborhoods is finding the right balance between the two.
Fog's rollin' in off the East River bank
Like a shroud it covers Bleecker Street
Fills the alleys where men sleep
Hides the shepherd from the sheep
- Paul Simon, Bleecker Street
by Greg Saville
Walking through Greenwich Village in New York City, as I did last week, is like walking through American history. It reminded me of Simon and Garfunkle's 1960s song Bleecker Street, a nostalgic ode partly about a neighborhood New Yorkers call ‘The Village'.
Greenwich Village is the place of America’s first integrated nightclub with Billy Holiday and where Edgar Allan Poe wrote poetry. It’s the neighborhood where Albert Einstein, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charlie Chaplin sat for sculptor Jo Davidson, and where Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsberg started the Beat Movement. Bob Dylan started here. Jewish intellectuals fled Nazi Germany to the Greenwich Village campus of the New School for Social Research.
Breathing life into the neighborhood is Washington Square Park, the nexus of public life in The Village. Fifty-seven years ago another Greenwich Village luminary, Jane Jacobs, published her landmark text, The Death and Life of Great American Cities in which she wrote about the attempted destruction of Washington Square Park.
SLICING WITH AN EXPRESSWAY
In 1961 Washington Square Park was to be cut in half by an expressway and a pedestrian overpass, diced into slices by Robert Moses, former NYC Parks Commissioner. Moses was a leader in the modernist movement of city planning and, more than others, he led an urban renewal revolution to build expressways and expand growth into suburbs.
On one hand, Moses built hundreds of city parks and public swimming pools, but on the other he divided neighborhoods with an orgy of expressway building. In the late 1950s, Washington Square Park, the lifeblood of Greenwich Village, was next in line; that is until Jacobs and her fellow Greenwich neighbors mobilized public support against the plan.
It’s difficult to imagine the decimation of Greenwich Village, the heritage it entailed, and the history it enshrined if Moses had been able to plow a wide expressway through the beating heart of that park. In many ways, Jacobs and others launched a crusade against Moses and modernist planning theory. Fortunately for us, she succeeded.
A half-century after those battles, a stroll through this iconic Greenwich Village park offers tangible proof how, at least in this case, local efforts and bottom-up thinking blew away the master planning fog of some top-down schemers.
by Mateja Mihinjac
Criminologists like to compare crime prevention to disease treatment. The evidence-based proponents, specifically, point out that by failing to adopt the same rigorous scientific method used in medicine to inform policy and practice, criminology lags 150 years behind medical science. However, what these proponents miss is that advances in preventive medicine have moved beyond the traditional understanding of causes and treatment of diseases, also known as allopathic medicine. Today many forms of medical practice are evolving into integrative medicine.
CURE: A ONE SIZE FITS ALL APPROACH?
Prior blogs on ethics and going to the doctor have discussed the poor suitability of methods from physics for studying a complex social phenomena such as crime. This issue is further exacerbated by research that breaks problems into small bits for study – the reductionist approach – and attempts to generalize from those isolated findings.
Generalising from reductionist studies is even more problematic given that the complex environments where crime flourishes tend to mediate the impact of prevention outcomes. For this reason, artificial intelligence expert Jim Manzi is skeptical that an experimental revolution in social science will prove fruitful in addressing intricate social issues.
TREATMENT: INTEGRATIVE CRIME PREVENTION
With little success in treating chronic and complicated diseases using the allopathic model, integrative medicine emerged. Integrative medicine goes beyond simply treating symptoms, but rather deals with underlying factors in a holistic and partnership fashion. Patients assume ownership of their health while under the guidance and support of a health practitioner. Together they devise individualized treatment from a wide range of approaches that deal with a person’s complete physical, mental and social well-being. The ultimate goal is addressing root causes.
In criminology, many so-called evidence-based programs use reductionist experiments with little success. Therefore translating an integrative health care model into crime prevention means that we should be moving away from reductionist approaches and thinking more broadly about creating holistic and sustainable programs for individuals and their communities.
We need to identify multiple approaches that can work together towards achieving immediate prevention outcomes and also address the root causes of crime problems. This means that crime prevention professionals and researchers need to approach the problem by working together in an integrated way to fit solutions to the context, economy and politics of each neighborhood. Further, criminologists need to work with community members in such a way that promotes a two-way exchange of knowledge and a promotion of local ownership over problems.
It seems unjust to denounce current criminological methods as outdated because they lack the same scientific rigor of medical science (which itself is evolving). Instead, we should acknowledge advances made in integrative based medicine.
Crime prevention neglects these breakthrough developments and continues to believe that solutions grounded in reductionist forms of the scientific method will yield universal responses to unique problems. Instead, by drawing from the evolution of medical science into integrative medicine, integrative crime prevention offers a more fruitful path for our future work.
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.
Beautiful places and streets attract people. They put eyes on the street, a basic principle of urban safety. I was recently reminded of a master architect of beauty, the award-winning Arthur Erickson, an architect the New York Times called Canada's pre-eminent Modernist architect.
While in Vancouver this week I spent time with Erickson's closest colleagues and friends, an impressive group who just like Erickson were concerned about both social equity and aesthetic beauty.
Modernism has not always had a good rap. Arguably, CPTED would not exist if not for the modernist planning and architecture that Jane Jacobs so bitterly attacked. Inappropriately applied modernism led to the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe social housing in 1960s St. Louis, the project dubbed indefensible and crime-ridden in Oscar Newman's Defensible Space.
Arthur Erickson showed another way; modernism done right! An example of his work appeared here previously regarding Vancouver's Robson Square.
The first Erickson building I ever entered was the Canadian Pavilion at the Expo 67 fair in Montreal in 1967, a kind of inverted pyramid. At the time I had no idea about architectural modernism. It just looked cool.
Later I studied at the Erickson inspired Simon Fraser University atop Burnaby Mountain in Greater Vancouver, a kind of spaceship in the sky. It too was very cool and futuristic - a fact not lost on film directors who have filmed there (BattleStar Gallactica, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Underworld Awakening).
Erickson taught it is the work quality, not the theory, that matters most in constructing beautiful places. The problem arises when modernism is done badly and applied inappropriately. This is the case in Pruitt-Igoe, Chicago's Cabrini-Green, Toronto's Jane/Finch, and the Chichy suburbs of Paris. Unsurprisingly, crime festers in such places.
The takeaway? Build sensitively and in social context. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yet too many new architectural forms do the latter and too few architects do the former.
In Erickson's own words:
"…the reaction to the bareness of ill conceived modernist buildings was to revert in the 80's to a revival of historicism in the guise of "post-modernism"… That Dark Age is thankfully over but cultural insecurity is always there, hidden in the basement of our psyches - ready to spring out whenever brave confidence falters.
It lingers in the gated communities where make-believe has become an adult panacea. It lingers with the developers who promote kitsch because it sells. It lingers with the newly rich and the establishment who need to consolidate social standing with class accepted standards. It lingers in every shopping centre, multiplex, restaurant, Vegas casino where illusion is needed to disguise the emptiness within."
- Arthur Erickson, 2000
Today I have been reflecting on an old friend.
So many prevention, policing and planning programs today seem like throwaway ideas in a sea of mediocrity. Few last long and even fewer work. Yet everyone has a shtick. Sadly most are just new gizmos and old ideas rehashed. As they say in Canada they are all stick and no puck.
At a time when so many neighborhoods face the social turbulence that is crime and violence, where is the original thinking? Where is the creativity and wisdom?
Long ago, when I began my graduate studies in planning, human ecology and environmental criminology, I met someone who taught and lived that kind of creativity. His wisdom changed my life. He is the friend I mentioned above and last week he died after a long bout with cancer.
PROFESSOR DAVID MORLEY
Professor David Morley was my supervisor at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto. He was the smartest scholar I have known (I have known some greats).
Never shy of conceptual rigor, David was one of those who taught that an ounce of action is worth a ton of theories. His field was action research and action learning which included advanced methods of group collaboration and community participation, the very lifeblood of creativity. Thanks to David those methods are now embedded in SafeGrowth planning theory.
He wrote profusely but for me his two best works were Making Cities Work: The Dynamics of Innovation (1980) and Planning in Turbulence (1986).
Both books are full of ideas on how to activate community groups and how to engage residents to change their own neighborhoods. There are no techno-fixes here - no CCTV, no anti-homeless spikes, and no burglary foggers. There is just hard work in community development. Today, thirty years after David co-wrote those books, we need those methods, and David's wisdom, more than ever.
At a time when I had just decided to leave a career as a street cop, and I might have gone in many different directions to places of uncertain destination, David Morley gently and passionately taught me to think big, think important and, while riding the turbulent currents that carry us in life, never forget there are no spectators. Goodbye David and thank you for your gifts, guidance, and friendship.
Mateja Mihinjac is a criminologist completing doctoral research in CPTED at Griffith University, Australia. She is a member of the International CPTED Association and been involved in criminal justice issues in Europe and Australia for a number of years. Mateja’s guest blog offers an excellent example of placemaking through community gardens.
For an avid market-goer like myself, Northey Street City Farm with a Sunday organic market is a perfect place to stock up on my fruit and veggies for the week. By promoting social interactions at a micro-level, community gardens like Northey improve community integration, strengthen social ties, promote wellbeing and even improve safety.
These by-products of community garden activities cumulate in social capacity building (a basic principle of 2nd Generation CPTED), which advances self-sufficiency and a sense of community ownership. In turn that promotes what Jane Jacobs famously called the healthy ecosystem.
Urban gardens for placemaking have made appearances in this blog, such as those in Portland and Indianapolis. The Northey Street City Farm provides yet another version - the urban farmer's market.
Located in the suburb of Windsor in Brisbane, Australia, Northey gets swamped by both stallholders as providers of sustainably grown local produce and Brisbane residents as its consumers. It is, however, more than just a market.
Northey Farm is also a welcoming community garden that has been open since 1994 as a non-profit community organisation offering economically sustainable produce and community building activities through permaculture.
On a daily basis this place is activated by a number of placemaking activities; tours around the Farm, courses teaching how to start a community garden, how to garden and plant, cultural events, and playgroups for kids. The place also offers a quick meal and a cuppa at the garden’s café or you can maintain your own vegetable garden within the Farm community.
Translating these ideas across the whole city offers the prospect for building a vibrant city with positive interpersonal relations. It will help connect people with their environment while offering opportunities for fun and exploration.
Northey Farm symbolises the ideas stemming from Jane Jacobs’s vision of a modern urban city—to become a safe and liveable ecosystem. Because it is sustainable, it demonstrates how we can create thriving urban ecosystems in the years ahead.
There were interesting comments to my last blog about CPTED, design guidelines and the incomplete equation.
My view is that without social capital, territoriality doesn't work well. Offenders usually want to avoid detection when they steal, burgle or rob which is why natural surveillance helps prevent crime. But that is only true when offenders fear someone will apprehend them (or get the police). In other words, someone must care enough about their neighborhood to do something. That's social capital.
To cultivate social capital we must re-learn how to better build and re-create neighborhoods from the ground up.
Jane Jacobs champions this idea in her famous incantation when she says the public peace is kept by an intricate network of voluntary controls and standards among people themselves. That is why we created 2nd Generation CPTED.
WHAT IS SOCIAL CAPITAL?
Social capital is the idea that within healthy neighborhoods there is a subtle system of what anthropologist Edward Hall called social dos and don'ts. It's the idea that there is wide range of social activities, people, services, businesses and cultural events that encourage local folks to share, sell, play, and relax. Social capital helps them tackle their own neighborhood problems. Service providers (e.g. police) are still available, but the majority of issues are dealt with internally.
There are plenty of neighborhoods where this happens. Westville in New Haven and the San Romanoway Apartments in Toronto are two. Last month I discussed Hollygrove, the New Orleans neighborhood where impressive improvements have been underway for a few years. Last year Louisiana AARP asked me to introduce CPTED in a SafeGrowth format.
SUCCESS IN HOLLYGROVE
This week, AARP posted an article and video about the residents and their work in Hollygrove. The video shows what in 2nd Generation CPTED we call "social stabilizers". My favorites are the "Hollygove Originals" and the walking club.
Click here to watch the AARP video of social capital at work!
CPTED-styled, urban design guidelines are a small step in that direction. But guidelines will not create Hollygrove, Westville or San Romanoway. Design guidelines fall short.
How can we encourage local interest and ownership, community driven initiatives such as community gardens, artists moving into and reusing old areas, and locally improved public spaces? Can urban planning help?
The world of land use planning (distinct from other forms of planning) is usually the world of zoning. Traditional zoning is done through setbacks, floor-space ratios, and restricted/permitted land use categories. It can be very restrictive and changes (variances) to it can be awkward, difficult and politically dangerous. From a CPTED perspective, traditional zoning says little about safety.
Unlike traditional zoning, form-based zoning controls the physical look of a place through design guidelines. For example the shape of building facades, types and sizes of streets, and the scale of architecture prescribes the what the neighborhood will look like. For CPTED guidelines, form-based zoning is ideal. However, this does not lead to social capital.
ZONING FOR PERFORMANCE - THE FUTURE OF CPTED?
Performance zoning is another alternative. Where traditional zoning specifies the types of use, performance zoning specifies only the intensity and results of that land use. It deals not with the type of use, but the performance of that development and how it impacts surrounding areas.
Performance zoning is already working in a few places. Early adopters include transport planners aiming to require roadway builders to adopt designs to cut traffic fatalities.
Performance zoning is more flexible than traditional or form-based zoning. It better accommodates market principles, social activities, and environmental protection.
It's not difficult to see both CPTED guidelines and social capital as performance measures in such a place. There are helpful websites to learn the pros and cons of performance based zoning and the international experience with performance based planning.
Today's zoning denies certain uses or forms when developers submit their plans. Performance zoning evaluates the impacts of land uses directly. Property owners have the obligation, cost risk, and duty to fit the required performance to their land - and the freedom to use their own creativity in an innovative way.
As Jacobs often noted, one of the first ingredients of social capital is local innovation. Richard Florida says the same thing when interviewed on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Perhaps that's how we solve the safety equation in the 21st Century city?
Clearing out cabinets with old files can be like a mystery adventure. Here's one mystery I came across this week.
In the bustling heyday of 1920s Chicago a revolutionary new theory of crime prevention emerged from the University of Chicago. Tapping into the flowering of biological ecology theory, sociologists Robert Park and Ernest Burgess crafted a social ecology of crime to explain and prevent juvenile delinquency.
Park and Burgess opened a theoretical door that writers like Jane Jacobs walked through a half century later. Whatever came of that early work?
In 1934 Clifford Shaw tested the theory in one of the first ever community crime prevention projects - the Chicago Area Projects (CAP). According to an article in the FBI Bulletin it was Shaw's belief that:
"…the solution to Chicago's gang problem meant reaching out to the gangs and redirecting them into the conventional life of the community. His method, which emphasized a "bottom up," proactive approach, contrasted greatly with traditional, "top down" methods, which stressed punitive or repressive measures to control delinquency."
Pretty impressive stuff. Sounds similar to SafeGrowth. No surprise there. Many modern community development programs owe much to Shaw and the CAP.
What is surprising is the absence of published results. What happened to that project? Volumes of criminology literature exists today due to, in opposition to, or as adjuncts to the ecology of crime theory. Not so for the results of CAP field work.
One of the most famous prevention projects in history has no evaluations? What?
Then I came across another article in my file cabinet.
It turns out CAP WAS successful, especially in Russell Square Park, one of the key sites of gang activity targeted by the program. A RAND report in the 1990s re-evaluated the CAP. Apparently Shaw's early studies from 1932-1937 found delinquency in Russell Square dropped in half, while it did not decline in surrounding neighborhoods. Amazingly, an article in the FBI Bulletin found that, 50 years later, the CAP is still on-going. In fact it has expanded!
If there was ever a landmark story emerging from prevention history, this is it! Why then didn't Shaw publish evaluations?
When I read through the studies in my cabinet I saw that he did. Control groups. Random assignment. The whole bit. He did evaluate it.
Then, after awhile, he didn't.
ECONOMIES OF SCALE
By the 1950s Shaw was telling researchers he didn't think it was even possible to prove statistically CAP worked. Why?
The answer from what I can see is frustration. Shaw got fed up trying to demonstrate with increasing levels of statistical proof that CAP worked, even though the Russell Square research showed just that. After all, his team and the residents themselves saw positive results.
It is an irony of history that the rigors of academic evaluation frustrate on one hand, yet provide the very publications from which future practitioners learn lessons of success and failure. It is why some evaluation is important but too much, not so much.
What Shaw discovered was prevention economies of scale. It is possible to spend more time and money satisfying the rigors of evaluation than actually preventing crime.
I suspect Shaw uncovered what Stanley Leiberson said in the 1990s: "we can be confident that all theories can be shown to be false—simply because it is impossible to specify all possible conditions and, therefore, a literal interpretation of what a theory implies can be taken out of context and lead to a negative result."
In 2005 sociologist Max Travers came to the same conclusion - social science evaluation is not a scientific discipline that produces objective findings.
Evaluation is important. But preventing crime is the point. As long as the former informs the latter in the service of practitioners, we're on track. Otherwise, as Shaw discovered, we've run off the ROTO rails.
What works? Community development, careful direction of municipal services, and involving local residents in safety and livability...that works.