Beneath the behemoth Metrotown mall lies the second largest covered mall in Canada, a vast underground lot with 4,000 spaces. That might seem small compared to the world’s largest at the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton (20,000), the world’s largest covered lot at Seattle’s airport (13,000) or the largest downtown underground lot in Chicago (9000).
Yet Metrotown is big. And it joins thousands like it around the world, some massive. Dubai is planning 40,000. You might assume the existence of widely used design safety standards in such places. You know what they say about assumptions!
Some municipalities do have design snippets (CCTV, lighting, security patrols), and the National Institute of Building Sciences also posts a few. But, realistically, those are a pittance in such massive expanses.
I’ve written about some great designs like lifestyle malls and creative wayfinding. As well, Randall Atlas’s book 21st Century Security and CPTED (2nd edition) has over 40 pages about parking lot security.
Walking through Metrotown I remembered teaching CPTED for the RCMP in the 1990s. We often used the Metrotown parking lot as our lighting test-bed, auditing the entranceways, examining the lighting and marveling at the vast expanses. I was impressed last week that Metrotown owners have instituted significant design upgrades over the past decade. The photos tell the story.
The best feature had been enhanced from early years. It was the glazed atriums on each stairway level. Pedestrians walking down the stairs first entered enclosed safe atrium areas on each floor. These areas had tempered glass and were often next to the security office. This gave a clear view into the parking lot from within the safe areas.
If we are going to do more covered parking in the 21st Century, here's a starting point for minimum standards.
How useful is natural surveillance for crime prevention if people see, but don't care? If crooks know people don't care, or are too afraid to act, why bother with street lighting and eyes on the street?
The video above shows by-standers in New York having fun with a free mega-phone. True, there's no crime in-progress. Still, it does sound like they care. The cynically-inclined might predict mega-phone abuse, or theft. Maybe, but not here. On this day altruism rules.
It wasn't always so.
On another New York day, actually the evening of March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death on the street near her home. Her murder was the random act of a predator.
The New York Times reported 38 people watched out their windows and did nothing. For decades, "we don't want to get involved"became the motto for urban decay and alienation. It laid the foundation for a whole new social psychology - proxemics. Oscar Newman built defensible space out of it. Today we call it CPTED.
Now the by-stander effect is understood. In a twist of irony it turns out the 38 witness theory is probably false. Reinvestigation revealed only 3 people saw small portions of Kitty's murder, some called police immediately and, due to poor lighting, most misunderstood what was happening.
I wonder...with better lighting and territorial control of semi-public space on that street, would Kitty Genovese be alive today to play with street megaphones?
Small towns are safe. Big cities are not. That's the myth.
Like many small communities in the Gulf Islands off the British Columbia coast, Gabriola Island is draped in lush rain-forests and magnificent beach scenery. It has miles of walking trails and hiking paths. Gabriola's 4,000 residents have the lowest crime ratesanywhere. Until now.
With most myths, facts intrude. This week one shattered Gabriola's calm.
A knife attack left a mother dead and her son in hospital. Residents were ordered indoors and to stay off the trails. Today police apprehend a suspect hiding in some bushes near the scene of the crime.
This is Gabriola's second murder in 6 years. Two murders, of course, does not a trend make. Low numbers tell volumes about low crime risks.
Still, small towns do not necessarily produce low crime. Counting the current murder, Gabriola's murder rate is 25 per 100,000 (16 times higher than the rest of the country). What can be done?
I've blogged before about the catch-and-release courts in British Columbia. After sentencing, the murderer in Gabriola's last homicideserved 2 years in prison (he beat his roommate to death with a hatchet).
Courts are clearly not in the safety or prevention business.
Walking outdoors next week may seem different on Gabriola. More frightening than last week. Lockdowns and wandering killers can have that effect.
True, these murders were indoors. Yet fear is insidious and civic places need a public space. How can small towns project confidence onto public spaces like paths and parks? Can we design out this problem? Do we really want cameras on hiking paths?
Is this the price we must pay for vigilance?
I just finished reading the 2004 book, Christian Parenti's The Soft Cage: Surveillance in America from Slavery to the War on Terror. It shows how public surveillance started with a trickle and turned into a torrent. While generally well-written, he lapses into some obtuse theory and heavy-handed politics. Still, the message is worth the torment.
Parenti starts by echoing a common sentiment: "what harm is caused by the proliferation of everyday surveillance?" He ends by concluding: "There are risks in social anonymity, but the risks of an omniscient and omnipotent state and corporate power are far worse."
The story travels the fascinating, historical journey of surveillance: metal slave tags during the antebellum years, the birth of the mug shot, biometrics and face-recognition technology, DNA fingerprinting, invasive Internet cookies and so forth.
I was especially fascinated by the sections on CCTV. TV's NCIS will have us believe Big Brother can see all. Parenti's research suggests there is a reality gap the size of the Grand Canyon when it comes to the effectiveness of existing CCTV technology. Still, it proliferates. Over 30% of American high schools have CCTV. Like a growing number of other cities, Washington DC Police use cameras for surveillance of public streets.
Then there is the UK! I've reported in previous blogs about millions of CCTV in British cities, London's Ring of Steel, and the role of CCTV in the crime triangle.
Parenti claims those millions of cameras scanning for decades haven't caught a single terrorist and are still a threat to civil liberties. Findings like this make Soft Cage a worthy read.
Conceptually, Parenti draws on the unintelligible, circular theories of French historian Michael Foucault.
One painful sample: the fetishism of home security, while clearly being about actual security and target-hardening, is also a cargo cult of individual defense against social disintegration of the sort described by Katz [where] imaginary, or magical, forms of agency are acted out in the face of massive and nebulous threats.
Apparently Parenti has never been victim of a home invasion or burglary.
He also makes some fundamental errors such as misidentifying Oscar Newman as a promoter of target hardening and completely missing the entire crime prevention through environmental design movement. It would seem fiscal cost cutting at Soft Cage publisher Basic Books ran too deep in their editing and fact-checking departments.
The book could also use updating. I'm thinking of Joseph Morales and his presentation Not Quite Amish at last year's ICA CPTED conference. Joseph described how his community organization democratized public CCTV and became an effective crime prevention tool.
Overall, Soft Cage is worth the read. Surveillance has its place. We just have to make sure we choose the right place. Books like this help us choose.