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.
by Gregory Saville
With 267 murders last year, Detroit has a city population of 700,000 and murder rate 8 times the national average. It suffers a decimated tax base and in 2013, the largest city bankruptcy in US history. Naturally, you might associate it with crime, racial inequity, and blight. But would you associate it with urban innovation and rebirth?
With a renaissance of late, a lively downtown Detroit looks far different than a decade ago. And while that transformation is triggered by large, corporate reinvestment, it is the inner and outer suburbs where much of the blight and crime originates. How, I wondered this past week on project work in Detroit, does a neighborhood reinvent itself?
Then I met Pastor Barry Randolf at his Episcopal Church in the Lower Eastside neighborhood of Islandview. Not only has Islandview begun transformation, but Pastor Barry and his team have grand visions for the years ahead. Our task was to teach the SafeGrowth program in the neighborhood and work with our new friends at the Restorative City initiative.
New initiatives have fertile ground in a place like Islandview thanks, in no small measure, to Pastor Barry. He leads his church with programs like a community garden, a tea manufacturer, T-shirt design company, landscaping company, an employment program, a bike repair shop, mentorship programs, media production workshop, audio/video production, and others.
SPEARHEADING LOCAL LEADERSHIP
Not only does the church provide opportunities for jobs and work, but it also spearheads a community development corporation to build and purchase affordable housing (213 units in the neighborhood thus far). Pastor Barry told me that he and his team locate small numbers of market-rate housing across from well-designed, affordable housing to help stabilize and diversify the neighborhood. They then hire local residents to work with builders and learn the skills of construction.
Pastor Barry’s work is widely featured in local media and we were thrilled to offer our SafeGrowth tools to Islandview’s considerable toolkit. For me, the Islandview story illustrates the value of local organization and the power of competent neighborhood planning. As we say in our SafeGrowth Vision Statement, the successful 21st Century city will be based on a linked network of self-governing and self-learning neighborhoods.
When it comes to designing out crime beyond superficial security strategies, urban development and community-building like this digs at the roots of crime. With apologies to E. F. Schumacher, small truly is beautiful. Thanks, Pastor Barry, for the reminder.
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.
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."
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.
Tonight the CBC broadcast a news documentary about the increasing political power of the suburbs.
In every planning or human geography grad program there is a course on urban studies. In that course there is usually a debate about the urban/suburban divide, a divide that runs deep in popular culture. It cuts deep into the environmental wastage from long suburban drives to work in rush hour. It surfaces in a dwindling downtown tax base from out-migration.
Best-selling author Richard Florida recently wrote "the challenge is to remake the suburbs, to turn them into more vibrant, livable, people-friendly communities and, in so doing, to make them engines of innovation and productivity."
For many years growing suburban populations and a dwindling urban tax base resulted in downtown deterioration and high crime rates.
The picture is no longer so clear.
Suburbs not only represent a place of increasing political power, they have also seen increasing crime rates. In places like New York downtown crime rates have declined while Memphis recorded a suburban crime blip after the demolition of a downtown public housing project.
There is now some light at the end of the tunnel.
Toronto's Jane/Finch suburb has long been a hotspot for crime. Last year I published an empirical study on one SafeGrowth project I helped launch there - the San Romanoway apartments.
It was one of the first times the crime trend was halted in a small suburban pocket. There is now a fabulous documentary film about San Romanoway's chief community organizer Stephnie Payne called "The Fix" explaining how it works.
Perhaps this is one future for our suburbs?