GREGORY SAVILLE · MATEJA MIHINJAC
GREGORY SAVILLE · MATEJA MIHINJAC
by Mateja Mihinjac
In the previous blog, I presented the extent of vacant storefronts. This blog looks at how they impact crime and fear, and proposes some possible measures that could be implemented to tackle the problem.
Vacant storefronts may impact safety and perception of safety in two major ways. First, vacancies signify lack of ownership over the stores, especially if defaced, and can become crime generators or areas that trigger undesirable street behaviours.
This can be especially problematic if the number of vacancies within a defined area reaches its tipping point and becomes blighted, the concept from the Second Generation CPTED.
Second, decreased street usage from vacant storefronts impacts perceptions of safety. Street users are strongly influenced by others around them that they perceive as non-threatening. This is why streets that focus on pedestrians and entice them with active storefronts and street vendors increase street activity and make the users feel safer.
Thus, if parts of the city communicate isolation or activities by undesirable groups, they will cease to be a place the general population visits, or visits only for a limited time.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
There are three main categories of possible responses: urban planning; economic development; rent and regulations.
LAND USE PLANNING
COMMERCE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
RENT AND REGULATIONS
Any initiatives targeted at boosting business and providing incentives for business owners and shoppers are futile if safety concerns are not addressed.
I disagree with the perspective that urban regeneration should start only when crime drops. Waiting for problems to arise only perpetuates the vicious cycle of crime while citizens stay away from downtown areas. When that occurs, shop owners are left with few options except to purchase expensive and obstructive security measures. This is why safety is an integral part of successful and liveable neighborhoods.
Despite claims to the contrary, reclaiming livability from neighborhoods with entrenched crime and blight is much more difficult and costly than preventing it in the first place. Integrating land uses, zoning, economic activity, regulations and rents, in collaboration with local stakeholders, is the key to livable active streets and what we now call Third Generation CPTED.
by Mateja Mihinjac
Local shops and offices that occupy storefronts of downtown and suburban streets inject life into those places. Without them, these areas would not attract local residents or visitors and that would leave downtown areas barren and vulnerable to crime. Vacant storefronts communicate messages to passers-by such as an economic downturn, unsafe conditions, or a lack of care. These were some of the responses shared by the participants in a field study I conducted last year.
THE EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM
While an increase in storefront vacancies appears almost universal across western countries, the extent of the problem varies between countries, cities and even within the neighborhoods:
Some cities, such as Melbourne, have experienced reductions in their downtown vacant rates but have observed more issues with suburban areas. A scan across 11 suburban retail strips uncovered a vacancy rate of 8.4% with the highest at nearly 17%.
Given a commonly cited 5% “acceptable” vacancy rate, it is not surprising that vacant shopping corridors are a growing worry of commercial experts, CPTED practitioners, and criminologists who study such matters.
REASONS BEHIND VACANCIES
Vacancies are not uniformly distributed across cities and suburbs for a number of reasons. Some include:
Other possible reasons for vacancies include rezoning, gentrification and shifting consumer preferences. Ultimately, vacant storefronts not only influence the economy, but they influence safety and social life. In short, when vacancies arise, conditions also arise for street crime and worsening fear.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
In our Third Generation CPTED article last year, we pinpoint the importance of social, economic, and environmental sustainability as protective factors against neighbourhood decline. Active local shops and robust local economies are paramount for a decent quality of life. This is a core principle of our vision of liveable 21st Century cities.
The next blog will explore how vacant storefronts impact crime and possible solutions for addressing them.
TO BENCH OR NOT TO BENCH?Read Now
by Mateja Mihinjac
The public bench has become an indispensable part of city life. It represents a primary seating option for taking a rest, conversing with a friend, having a coffee or a meeting, or simply observing the theatre of the street.
However, occasionally a bench is blamed for drug dealing, panhandling, loitering, vagrancy, or homelessness. This has led to calls for eradicating them or revamping them to reduce their attractiveness for prolonged occupation.
This knee-jerk reaction is not uncommon. We’ve written before about target-hardening approaches, hostile architecture and even vilifying the trees for crime problems and safety issues.
Criminalizing loitering, especially when perceived as acts of lower social class, is a common example that diminishes use of public space.
These simplistic decisions are often underthought, short-lived, and are notorious for dehumanizing particular groups of people.
The question of removing benches extends beyond the presence street furniture. It is also about civility, ethics and inclusion. This sentiment comes from our New Zealand SafeGrowth Advocate, Sue Ramsay, who argues that the public debate around city planning should not only evolve around walkability but also sitability. Consider, for example, the needs of the elderly and less able groups in public space.
BEYOND THE BENCH
In a bid to address undesirable uses cities should encourage positive uses of their downtowns if they don’t wish to surrender them to vilified groups. Installation of benches, in particular, is often part of downtown revitalization programs because they attract diverse users and communicate to them they are welcome to use public space.
Importantly, we should be aware that disorder and undesirable behaviors are a symptom of a social problem greater than design.
Before vilifying the bench, how about clearly understanding what underlies the problem and targeting collaborative programs that help? How about work programs and skills programs for those with nowhere to go but benches? How about revitalizing downtowns through festivals, activities, local shops and cafes that focus on desirable activities?
A public bench is the epitome of public life. It allows one to both socialize and be alone, yet remain connected to the social world around them. It is the symbol of access to communal outdoor spaces.
by Tarah Hodgkinson
Strolling down the streets of New York is always awe-inspiring. The buildings are beautiful and the streets are alive with the bustle of a city that never sleeps. But in the last few visits to New York I have had a hard time looking up at the buildings in Manhattan. Shielding my view, block after block, are scaffolds on building fronts covering sidewalks. These scaffolds cover sidewalks and make it difficult to walk through the already crowded streets.
It turns out I wasn’t the only one concerned as I found numerous articles about the issue. I also found that due to numerous accidents related to falling building facades and bricks from New York’s aging buildings, the city enacted Local Law 11, requiring an engineering brickwork check on building facades every five years.
Since New York is an older metropolis, it makes sense that the city does not want people getting injured from falling debris. But is it possible that everyone is checking their brickwork at the same time? There had to be more to it.
THE IMPACT OF LAW 11
It turns out it costs roughly $25,000 to put up the scaffolding to do the appropriate work on a building façade. However, half of that cost is paid to put that scaffolding up, and the other half is paid when taking it down. Reports indicated that many building owners were simply avoiding the teardown costs and retaining the scaffolding as a permanent protection against liability.
Perhaps this pricing model is part of the reason for all the scaffolding. If you have to pay to have it taken down, why bother?
I would argue there are a few reasons to take it down. It impedes pedestrian traffic and it’s difficult to navigate if you have mobility issues (imagine trying to get around these with a wheelchair). The excessive scaffolding also reduces street visibility, requires extra lighting (and higher energy costs) to enhance visibility at night and takes away from the historic beauty of New York City.
Why not rewrite city policy and instead create an incentive system to take down the scaffolding? What if property owners paid $30,000 to put the scaffolding up, but received $5,000 when it was taken down? I have no idea if this fits into the current payment scheme, but it seems this change would trigger more demand to remove all that unnecessary scaffolding.
While it may not address the sheer number of buildings that require these five-year checks, it would help to restore the Big Apple’s walkability and visibility that is so important for street life and safety.
WHAT'S UP WITH SIDEWALKS?Read Now
by Greg Saville
What’s up with sidewalks? Walkability might be the gateway to a friendlier and safer city, but it requires a high-quality place to walk with interesting destinations. My walks of late uncovered some big-time flops. What are designers thinking when they create sidewalks?
Some sidewalks are inappropriate for people with disabilities. Others have street signs in the middle of the sidewalk forcing walkers onto the street. Yet others are dark at night, in disrepair, too small or are encroached by yard landscaping.
Some municipalities require homeowners to keep sidewalks clean in front of their home and, in winter cities, free of snow. That is reasonable. But cities often expect too much, such as when public sidewalks are worn or damaged and homeowners are required to pay thousands for repairs.
Too often sidewalks are poorly designed and they end with no destination.
In the planning movement called Smart Growth, walkability plays an important role. One attempt to measure walkability is The Walk Score, but it is far from ideal (try it).
My current address has a measly Walk Score of 46, making it car dependent. Yet, nearby are trails, a lake, park, and mountain views. My former address scored a dazzling 84; In one direction there were great restaurants, parks, a library, coffee shops, school, and trails. Yet, in another, you could just as easily get caught between gang shootings. Obviously, Walk Scores say nothing about neighborhood quality.
Recent Smart Growth designs include the SmartCode concept, an attempt to replace restrictive zoning practices of the past. As yet, it’s unclear SmartCode prescriptions are any better at triggering the creative, bottom-up placemaking shown in a few of these photos. But it’s a starting place
Urban planner Jeff Speck equates dense, well-built and walkable cities with economic growth, environmental resilience and a safer, more livable life. In his book Walkable City he provides plenty of evidence to prove it.
This week I visited Edgewater, a small city (population 5,000) enveloped by the urban fabric that is Metro Denver. It is medium income, has diverse ethnic groups and comprises mixed residential with a commercial street of a few blocks. It is close to what Speck describes.
From a city map it is undistinguished from surrounding Denver suburbs, until you look at its crime.
As the map above shows, except for a few crimes, its crime rate is far below surrounding neighborhoods particularly one crime hotspot to the north.
The question is why? Urban design is not the only reason, but as I’ve shown in blogs on permeability in Langley and High Line Park in Manhattan, it can matter a great deal.
PLANNING AND URBAN DESIGN
Planning students learn about early movements to plan cities. One history textbook that some read is Land Use Planning from 1959. A phrase in that book is instructive:
“The unit of design in New Towns is no longer each separate lot, street or building; it is the whole community; a co-ordinated entity…beauty as well as convenience is produced by the rational relations of the individual parts…”
Unfortunately that philosophy did not survive. Instead, land hungry developers gobbled up huge swaths of city edges to build suburban sprawl, regional shopping malls, supersized box stores and pedestrian-hostile commercial strips.
The idea of planned and walkable neighborhoods was lost. But not, apparently, in Edgewater.
Edgewater clearly works - even the quiet afternoon when I visited had walkers for whom I had to wait before taking photos. There are no more cops here than elsewhere, yet people feel safe and comfortable while walking. Why does it work?
Speck says there are four ingredients to walkability: a reason to walk, a safe walk, a comfortable walk and something interesting to see and do. Edgewater seems to capture most of them.
The residential streets are narrow and tree-lined. Most of them are within a 15 minute walk of the mini-downtown. That downtown is neatly streetscaped and has diverse uses such as restaurants, coffee-shops, a local pub, and other amenities that provide locals a reason to come here. The downtown has only 4 blocks and they are short, about 75 feet each.
Shops are also easily walkable - the distance of one store to another, door-to-door, is no more than 15 feet. Street flower pots are planted by local school children, murals cover blank walls and street furniture, like angled benches, provides both interest and comfort.
THE ALTERNATIVE - THE LIZARD KING
Only a few blocks outside of Edgewater, in yet another pedestrian-hostile commercial strip, the automobile remerges as King. You can almost hear it holler: I am the Lizard King, I can do anything. (Apologies to Jim Morrison).
Here intersections are ugly and vast, speeds are high and walkers are treated like invaders. Such places force people to stay inside their car and avoid all social contact except during moments of road rage.
Speck says: "The worst idea we’ve ever had was suburban sprawl…the reorganization and creation of the landscape around the requirement for automobile use." We will probably need autos for a long time to come, but we need walkability even more. Let's get our priorities right.
The carless cityRead Now
It felt strange looking at a faded, black and white wall photo of a downtown street from 1900. No expressways. No cars. Only horses, buggies and Victorian dressed pedestrians. The Model T Ford was eight years away.
I wonder if those pedestrians had the foggiest notion of the transport tsunami that would befall their children a few decades forward?
Expressways and cars changed everything. Horses and buggies vanished. Expressways depleted cities of the middle class and led to deserted high crime downtowns. They triggered sprawl and, along with vanishing streetcar lines, the decline of urban villages. In return cars offered individual freedom to roam and opportunity to escape congestion and crime in congested downtowns.
Last week another mobility tsunami emerged - car free cities! Norway announced that the central area of the capital city Oslo will be car-free in 4 years. The Oslo council plans to permanently ban vehicles from their central city.
It’s hard to argue the plan isn't futuristic. SafeGrowth blogs in the past describe similar visions, a theoretical design called The Venus Project and an urban experiment called Masdar City, currently under construction.
Oslo, however, is the first existing major city with over a half million residents to attempt it for real. It is unclear how 60 kilometers of new bike lanes will help residents navigate Oslo’s -5C, snowy winters. Horse buggies perhaps? Yet their plan to create a carless city heralds a truly visionary future.
Every now and then a meme comes along over which it is worth getting stoked. This week the Dancing Traffic Light went viral. It is such a meme.
Lisbon, Portugal is among the oldest cities in Europe known for its magnificent Gothic architecture, world class museums, and cultural festivals. Drug laws are decriminalized and it enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
Yet even a successful city has problems like traffic! Pedestrians risk life crossing congested intersections and dangerous jaywalking results in injury. The Dancing Traffic Light solves that!
Lisbon's Dancing Traffic Light cuts pedestrian intersection jaywalking 80%. It is from a PR campaign by the Smart Car Company to "discover our mind openers – urban experiments for a better future for the city".
It brought to mind the bottle bank or the piano stairway projects from Volkswagen's Fun Theory. It's also similar to the Say Something Nice project in New York.
Is this is what Capitalism 3.0 meant by responsible corporate citizenship?
Yesterday I walked another small town, this time the village of Langley in Washington State, and found a gem. It reminded me of themes from the book Happy City and what my social planner friend Wendy Sarkissian says about making spaces work well. "We must pay careful – and loving – attention to the fine grain. The divine dwells in the details."
That was true last week in my blog on Brandon where high-density, low income housing so dramatically outshone nearby low-density suburban sprawl. And it was true yesterday in Langley where plants, paintings, murals, and all sorts of personal embellishments adorned laneways, alleys and the walkways between them. More importantly, those adornments were installed and maintained with loving attention by the owners of adjacent shops and residents living nearby.
Wisely, the town council did not regulate away these informal design details in some regulatory panic. That was wise. It is a step towards the fine grained urban design that will succeed where design guidelines will not. And it looks beautiful. (They were busy too! I waited for ages to take pictures without people walking in the alleyways). People say they don't like alleyways and high density until they see how well it can work.
In her 2012 presentation What's Psychology got to do with NIMBY? Wendy reminds us in order to show residents how it works "we must retrieve and embrace our lost sociological and psychological wisdom about what makes good housing and good neighborhoods."
In Langley lanes were decorated with flowers and windows looked down upon those flower-strewn spaces. Beauty and natural surveillance work better when they go hand in hand.
Skillful attention to the fine grain is precisely why the permeability-is-bad crowd miss the point. They believe more people walking and driving through an area increases crime risks because more potential criminals can access crime opportunities anonymously.
We don't need gated communities to be safe. What places inside Brandon and Langley show is that even places with plenty of flow-through can be made safe with the right kind of density, fine grain design, and locals who care.
Five years ago an abandoned, elevated rail line in Manhattan morphed into the future. Once a gritty freight line that died with the economy in 1980, demolition was the extent of government creativity.
Then two locals came along, started a grass-roots, non-profit Friends of the High Line campaign and started working with city hall on a new kind of elevated walking greenspace. Thus was born New York's High Line Park.
Yesterday a few of us from the recent SafeGrowth class walked a mile of this park alongside hundreds of strolling families and couples relaxing on lounge chairs. It's a unique oasis where locals and tourists retreat from the noisy cars and paved sidewalks below. By some counts over a million walk it yearly.
People will comfortably walk 20 blocks up here versus fighting the mayhem that passes for New York traffic. The park meanders past vistas of the river on one side and through newly constructed glass office buildings on the other. At night, when we visited, it was creatively lighted and felt like a sidewalk of the future.
Park police patrol it and I saw a few CCTV, but mostly the large number of people using it made the remarkable landscaping their own space. As for crime the New York Times said it best: "The park might be elevated, but the crime rate is not."
A recent email from a planner friend asked about reconfiguring a roadway: "I am working on rightsizing a suburban arterial. There have been some assaults and break ins. There is some speculation as to whether converting it from 6 lanes wide setbacks to 4 lanes with buildings up to the street will change this dynamic"
It made me think of other 6 lane, car-dominated cities. It also brought to mind some environmental criminology (EC) research supporting cul-de-sacs. The EC crowd is generally critical of New Urbanist designs for grid streets and increased neighborhood permeability.
The New Urbanism version goes like this: If we narrow the streets and avoid wide boulevards to slow car traffic we will encourage a more walkable street. If we use grid designs versus cul de sacs we can better provide walkable locations for people, activate neighborhoods, and make them safer.
The EC version goes like this: Grid layouts increase permeability and let more strangers through and that increases the risk of crime. That's why corner houses have more crime! Cul-de-sacs have less crime than grids for the same reason.
Environmental criminology and burglary
What most EC studies actually show isn't patterns of crime. They show patterns of burglary. In fact the preponderance of EC studies (at least in the early years) were on burglary and theft versus robbery, interpersonal violence, shootings, gangs or drug crime - the crimes people fear most.
Still, EC's burglary-obsession should not detract from the point. Tantalizing answers emerge elsewhere; within the library of Problem Oriented Policing projects.
The POP library lists hundreds of projects on a wide variety of crimes. They describe both physical place-based prevention combined with social prevention. In most cases it was not physical tactics - design-out-crime - that did the trick. It was the holistic ones that did, tactics that carefully considered context first and design impact second.
Interestingly, one EC reviewer says this about context:
"Today, interior spaces within the home are dominant, and are commonly filled with electronic multimedia technologies and entertainment (also providing more opportunities for crime). The interior is now defined as the ‘leisure action space’ for both adults and children. This has led to exterior/public spaces being less used and this withdrawal has led to them being re-labeled and re-defined, often as ‘dangerous’ spaces."
Exterior spaces less used and defined as dangerous? If ever there was ever a context for New Urbanism, there it is!
Good urban design should make exterior spaces less vacant, boring and unfriendly. It should create interesting walkable streets, places to go within walking distance, and a lively outdoors with ample social spaces for diverse people to socialize.
Urban guru Enrico Penalosa, and former mayor of Bogota during its widely-acclaimed redevelopment, finishes the thought: "The most dynamic economies of the twentieth century produced the most miserable cities of all. I'm talking about the U.S. of course - Atlanta, Phoenix, Miami, cities totally dominated by private cars."
Since 1970 the light source of choice in most cities has been sodium vapor, those yellowish streetlights you see glowing everywhere.
Sodiums are an efficient light source but many lighting engineers despise their color. According to one New York lighting designer "There is this negative subliminal response…the connotation is crime." Says another: "Yellow light muddies the colors of surrounding neighborhoods and makes people feel less secure because the colors around them are not true."
In fact there is very little actual research showing any of that. Most research says nothing about light color, only light quantity.
Regardless, it was only a matter time before a new lighting kid showed up on the block. In this case it was the LED - light emitting diode.
For example Seattle, like most North American cities, is converting to more cost efficient LEDs. They might be more efficient but they they produce a harsh, sharp image on everything.
A decade ago I was guest editor of a publication on lighting and CCTV. My thoughts then: If street lighting enhances architecture where pedestrians can appreciate the facades and details of downtown buildings, there may be problems lighting a downtown so bright it detracts from the aesthetics.
Whenever I see downtown LEDs they remind me I was probably right.
The photos in this blog demonstrate downtown sodium lighting. They show how well-placed sodiums provide adequate lighting and highlight the beautiful textures in downtown architecture.
In none of these photos did sodium lighting detract from prevention or turn people off. There are no people in the photos because, at least in the photos I took, I had to wait for them to move aside in order to show the effect. Obviously, sodium lighting did not make them feel less secure. In fact, the opposite.
We know very little about the impact of color on night time behavior, especially crime. And since no one is apparently paying attention to the crime and social impact of LEDs, I hope we don't learn, too late, that brighter isn't always better.
Today banks of fog rolled in one after the other formed by moist fall-time air blowing over cold ocean currents out in the Straight. Echoing through the quiet streets of our neighborhood, a maritime foghorn accompanied our walk through the mist, no doubt replacing the clop clop of horses hooves on cobblestones as Sherlock Holmes raced off to solve yet another murder mystery…
At least that's the image our misty walk conjured in my mind. In all, it was a magical evening for a seaport town.
Obviously none of this is possible unless walking is made easy, fun and safe. And walkability is not only important for activating streets and keeping crime in check, it's a very big deal for quality of life too.
In Walkable City author Jeff Speck describes how some cities kill walkability. In such places fog is just a roadway hazard. Those cities rob their citizens of the interesting or necessary places to walk - a grocery, park, coffee shop, playground, or a corner store.
We've seen plenty of micro examples on how to improve walkability: lifestyle malls, bright paint, better designed laneways, or planting strips along sidewalks. Speck reminds us there are macro lessons too.
To Speck urban density holds the key to a better quality of life. Low density cities breed less healthy people because they walk less and accumulate more health related ailments. For example, he says 14 people die for every 100,000 residents in low density Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's 23 in Orlando. But in high density cities like New York and Portland it is only 3.
Crime doesn't correlate so neatly, yet the walkability links on the right of this blog show street activation makes a difference.
Check out Jeff Speck and the Walkable City on this Ted Talk.
PARKING LOTS CAN'T VOTERead Now
Reflecting on the allure of a pleasant downtown stroll in the fading days of late summer, a thought occurs; the quality of urban design sets the stage for crime or vitality.
Downtowns can draw people in for pleasant strolls or for traversing a no-man's land where drug dealers, hookers, and gang-bangers ply their trade with impunity in dark nooks and crannies.
In one way or another land uses are the key to urban safety and from what I saw this summer, success or failure depends on one particular type of land use - the surface parking lot.
PARKING LOT DESIGN
We obsess on the parking lot as though cars are old enough to want their own room. They are everywhere. By some estimates they comprise up to 30% of downtown land use. It's as though cars have their own vote in the urban household. And if you talk to developers and shop owners, they do.
Yet to anyone amendable to reason and unwilling to sing the praise of the status quo, most parking lots are shameful. They are under-lit (or over-lit), poorly designed and offer poor access controls (or fortress-like walls). They are perfect spots for crime. CPTED consultant John Roberts has written a passionate story about suburban parking lot crime in Target: Wal-Mart.
Similar risks exist in urban parking lots. The obvious design flaw is wayfinding. Wayfinding is an abysmal mess in most parking lots. Wayfinding is one of the easiest problems to solve. A few years ago Saskatoon planner Elisabeth Miller and myself created a design guidebook including 24 design recommendations for surface parking lots.
Here are a few other examples:
A few months ago we completed SafeGrowth training in Rochester. Many of those projects are still underway.
During our training we describe the importance of community art, what planners call place-making, as one step for creating positive neighborhood culture. We highlight Portland's famous Intersection Repair project that I blogged about a few years ago.
One of the exceptional SafeGrowther's in Rochester, Rachel Pickering, just sent me this fascinating link to the BoulveArt project now happening across Rochester.
Painting an intersection is so simple, colorful, and remarkably fun, it's a wonder it doesn't happen everywhere. I'm told it is a daunting process to organize it and sell it to the city. That's not the case in Rochester, who actually host this site.
Good ideas, apparently, can spread.
Navigation, for most humans, isn't by GPS. At least not yet.
For most of us it is just a matter of getting around by looking where we are going. Sometimes maps help. Sometimes we ask for directions (even males do this occasionally)!
Designers call this wayfinding. In CPTED we call it "movement predictors". When it comes to urban safety and what people feel about a street, it matters. A lot.
A year ago I blogged on walkability, Jane's Walks, and the Walk Scoreto measure the walkability of your neighborhood.
This week a CPTED friend sent this NY Times article about City Signs to Help Pedestrians (they aren't just for tourists).
My favorite part is NY TImes writer Michael M Grynbaum's description: "One feature is novel for city maps: concentric circles that represent an approximate walking time."
Woo hoo! Honoring pedestrians over the car. A breakthrough!
Every now and then it is worth looking at something old from a completely new playbook; something that gives life to the concept of the creative city.
A friend sent the below YouTube about a stairway in Sweden...a movement predictor with a message. Or, more accurately, a song! It brought to mind that adage taught in urban design schools (at least the good ones) - sensation is the gateway to experience.
As the creative city folk would no doubt remind us, public places need humor.
Here's one way to do it.
Click for the Swedish Stairway
Louisville has much to offer: lower crime rates, the Kentucky Derby, more Victorian homes in one area than elsewhere in the country, parks designed by Frederick Olmstead, ballet, opera, theatre, and large convention centers. None of those things, per se, typically produces a walkable neighborhood street culture. But they are nice.
Lately I’m thinking more about city streets and jigsaw puzzles. Consider downtown Louisville where I walked this week. There are wide expanses of cement and asphalt. One-way downtown streets, empty during evenings, and long distances between stores make downtown walking in some parts tedious and pointless. No different than what I saw in Houston and San Antonio and most other (but not all) large North American cities. The indigent ask me for coin. A homeless woman pushes over street furniture – perhaps a statement of her boredom with poverty, her frustration with it, or just being drunk! Jane Jacobs would hate this piece of the Louisville puzzle.
I wonder: Shouldn't we expect more from downtown street life?
Later I am shown an entirely different piece. The fabulous Bardstown Road in the Highlands area is filled with art galleries, street cafes, restaurants of all ilk, and a variety of folks safely intermingling from all walks, incomes, and peculiarities. It’s a little Bohemia both fascinating and tasty. This is street life with diversity and energy. Jane Jacobs would love this.
A few days later I find my own underground jewel snaking off a boring and empty street into a back courtyard café. The Derby City Exresso bar is the kind of place where edge politics thrives. The bar reeks of alternative culture and proves cultural depth isn’t obsolete. If it were the 50s, Kerouac and the beats might have submerged here with their jazz poetry. Today’s version offers wall labels that advertise Propaganda Nite, Postmodern Magic, and warn us, This Machines Kills Fascists. Another asks, What now?
Three Louisville pieces emblematic of disjointed neighborhoods in cities everywhere. The latter two pieces seem a naturally evolving antidote to the former. This is the puzzle of our contemporary downtown street life or, in too many cases, lack thereof.
What now indeed?
I discovered there are some exciting things happening here! The Louisville police department has been gradually implementing the most advanced police training method in the country - Problem Based Learning. As I mentioned last blog, PBL supports the COPS strategy. COPS is one precursor to more expansive SafeGrowth strategies and safer neighborhood design.
Also, there is visionary new leadership at the University of Louisville's NCPI – the National Crime Prevention Institute. Because 1st Generation Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design pervades cities throughout the world, we forget that in the early 1970s (shortly after the publication of Newman’s Defensible Space and Jeffery’s CPTED) NCPI was the original birthplace of CPTED training. Reinvigorated learning opportunities at NCPI hold some interesting possibilities for safer neighborhoods.
Perhaps that’s one way we can learn to do neighborhoods right? Updated learning may yet provide the most important piece linking the safer streets puzzle.
SafeGrowth® is a philosophy and theory of neighborhood safety planning for 21st Century.