GUEST BLOG by Carlos Gutiérrez Vera
At a time when the United States is convulsing with protests and riots regarding excessive police force and Black Lives Matter, our SafeGrowth Advocate from Honduras offers this perspective regarding unrest in other parts of the world. Sometimes a view from the outside sheds a brighter light on the darkness from the inside.
Not long ago I read about serious social uprisings taking place in Ecuador, which is my adopted homeland. There was social chaos, public discontent, and thousands of indigenous people marching to protest against what they considered an injustice unjust economic system. The police and military responded with strong repression.
A few days later a similar outbreak began in Chile, my original native country, an outbreak with serious consequences in for human lives, damage to public assets, and also to for social coexistence.
The violent uprisings in Ecuador and Chile led authorities to re-think the way cities and communities are currently built and promote public policies to encourage and support building smaller community systems.
And now we see similar social unrest and rioting across the United States with similar results.
In response to these events, the International CPTED Association posted a webinar regarding Social Unrest and CPTED.
My view is that SafeGrowth has the strategies and tools that can lead to building non-violent communities for the 21st Century. It represents a powerful long-term strategy to the problem of street violence.
These social divisions have been attributed to social inequalities and injustice. In the United States unrest is currently fueled by racial conflict and police excessive force.
There has been much talk that social outbursts have deep roots in social inequities and injustices. However, this is only part of a larger problem. It's also possible that, as a society, we have lost that ability to build our communities together, to work in mutual cooperation, to love what we build. Destruction and vandalism have a lot to do with emotional disconnection, the sense of non-belonging, and lack of identity.
The construction of our cities has been entrusted to developers to feed a real-estate market dedicated to commercial profits, but seldom to build a sense of “community”. We have lost the sense of living communally. All over the world, cities have been growing chaotically, breaking the order of social and community relations that, in the past, gave them sustenance and habitability on a human scale.
The disintegration of these urban networks has resulted in the breakdown of the social fabric with the consequent deterioration of cohesion. It is no longer just a matter of poverty or inequity, it is also a matter of quality human relationships.
We have known this for a while. Consider Putnam's Bowling Alone, or McKnight’s Community and it's Counterfeits. SafeGrowth, in particular, calls for building non-violent communities with social stability through the restoration of healthy community relations and organizing collaborative neighborhood work.
To get started in this task, there needs to be a balance between the geometry of social relations. That geometry is based on three areas: public, private and social.
The public sector is the government, which can provide public goods and offer an impartial voice to help monitor social justice. The private is businesses, who have an important role, and stake, in public safety. The social involves community associations, non-profits, and others in the neighborhood.
Birner and Ege propose coordination and cooperation between these three areas to promote social stability. But the most important aspect of all this work is social factors that encourage citizen participation. Cities and communities cannot be built, and safety cannot result, without citizen participation. Public and private sectors are not enough.
This has been the focus of the SafeGrowth movement from the beginning and it's featured throughout the book on SafeGrowth.
The SafeGrowth philosophy and practice aims to construct a system of interconnected neighborhoods so that, in collaboration with public and private sectors, they can jointly plan and coordinate actions that strengthen their development.
For example, we presented a blog on our work to build social capital and enhance mutual care by building a network of Neighborhood Hubs in Honduras. This is one of the SafeGrowth building blocks for livability.
Another example is the SafeGrowth Livability Academy, a tool for community organization and problem-solving. Livability Academies lay the foundation for building resilient, self-managed, and non-violent communities.
Our vision is a 21st Century City in which networked neighborhoods work for livability, peace, and equity are organized in ecosystems throughout the city. Livability Academies teach ethical leadership and the Hubs help with local projects on crime reduction, reducing inequity, and collaborating with public, private, and social sectors.
That is the long-term means by which we will prevent social outbursts that harm society so much.