by Tarah Hodgkinson
Awhile back I took my students to Commercial Drive, a popular commercial corridor in Vancouver, to complete a community safety audit. We visited a few park locations surrounding the main corridor, each of which had a public washroom. This isn’t unusual, but when I encouraged my students to check out the parks they reported that the washrooms were locked... ALL of them! In the middle of the day!
WHAT WAS THIS ABOUT?
On one of the public washrooms there was a notice to call the city to have the doors unlocked. First call: Answering machine. Second call: They said they would arrive in 30 minutes. I couldn’t believe it! Thankfully, I wasn’t pregnant, toting around children, or anything else that might have made washroom access an emergency.
I’m happy to report that when I took another group of students to Commercial Drive this year, the washrooms were open, clean and accessible. That was a far cry from the locked doors we had seen the year prior, a much too common experience in Vancouver and many cities across Canada and the United States. This raises an important issue we often do not talk about regarding neighbourhood safety - access to clean and safe washroom facilities.
I was reminded of this issue when I visited Australia recently and discovered public washrooms everywhere, not only in Brisbane, but in the Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Sydney and anywhere else I went. For someone who drinks a LOT of water, washroom access is an important part of my daily activities. As someone who has been a caregiver for a person living with multiple sclerosis, washroom access is an absolute necessity.
How could my home country, famous for being socially minded, not provide the basic human dignity of clean and accessible public washrooms as in Australia?
Public spaces aren’t created by the people who live there and too often the needs of the public, especially the needs of the disabled, marginalized or disempowered, are ignored in creating these spaces. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the design and management of public washrooms.
In some cities, public washrooms are places of increased target hardening to prevent undesirable behaviour such as drug use and sexual solicitation. For example, many of the public washrooms in Calgary have blue lights that purport to make it impossible to find a vein, a controversial strategy challenged by actual research. Others, like those on Commercial Drive, have found ways of reducing hours of operation and in some cases removing them all together.
Is locking down and removing public washrooms the way to solve illegitimate use? Could we encourage local government to invest in cleaning and checking these places on a more regular basis - such as the self cleaning bathrooms in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver? Could we provide safer alternatives for these users (similar to safe injection sites) instead of punishing the public by locking down places that address basic human needs? If other countries like Australia have figured it out, I think there is hope for Canadian and U.S. cities as well.
By Mateja Mihinjac
Last week I outlined why the problem of vehicular attacks on pedestrians demands thinking beyond target hardening. These incidents cannot be simply eradicated through design, but some of the alternatives below offer possibilities for reducing negative social impacts that accompany hyper-security.
One way to avoid perpetuating fear and altering aesthetics of public spaces is to transform overt, obtrusive security to less visible (or invisible) security. Instead of fortressing our cities and increasing mass surveillance, target hardening practices can be integrated into the environment (e.g. street furniture, layout, paving styles, use of special materials).
Multiple cases of concrete bollards painted by local artists and activists show that citizens care about the appearance of their public spaces and the message they convey to their users. Other less obtrusive strategies include natural barriers such as rain gardens, ponds, bridges and Ha-Ha walls.
Successful experiments have also demonstrated how altering pedestrian movement through playful and non-obtrusive designs such as floor markings and mirrors prompts people to use a designated safe route and foster their connection to both place and their users.
Congruent with the smart city movement, new invisible technical solutions are also possible. Sweden is now testing geo-fencing on a large scale before the country may be the first to implement this approach in a fight against heavy vehicles attacks. In the U.S., architects are designing safer schools.
Another popular option includes altering zoning practices in city centers such as special downtown zones that limit vehicle use to light-weight and slow-speed vehicles or pedestrian-only areas. Such zones have a life of their own. They provide opportunities for people to explore and enjoy them. Concurrently they help reclaim public space through reprogramming a restricted area into a positive land use. They also demand improved pedestrian infrastructure and street networks that support easy and safe movement.
The ideas about walkable and human scale design have culminated in practices such as the Barnes dance intersections. The World Resources Institute also provides a detailed overview of measures that prioritize a safe and human scale transport design.
Security professionals, designers and planners can balance security and socially-appropriate measures by providing safety and support connections as well as interactions between people. Obtrusive security measures divide and create barriers between people. There are better alternatives.
By Mateja Mihinjac
Over the past few years, several western cities have seen an increase in attacks on pedestrians by vehicle ramming into masses of people. For example, New York's vehicle ramming last October that killed 8 people or the 2014 terror attack south of Montreal in which two Canadian soldiers were run down in a parking lot.
In a bid to protect these soft targets, jurisdictions around the world have been installing concrete bollards and other hardened access control mechanisms. These measures intend to slow down or stop a vehicle or absorb an impact in the event of a crash. Some include:
Although these design features are not new, they are instant reactionary solutions to vehicular attacks. As The National puts it: “the use of concrete blocks shows that cities have failed to incorporate effective anti-terrorist features, and are more for public reassurance”. Hyper-security measures neglect appropriateness and social acceptance.
TARGET HARDENED PUBLIC SPACES
It might be too early to tell whether such measures prevent further attacks, but relying on obtrusive and defensive practices alone has already raised doubts about their appropriateness. Those doubts arise from feelings of false reassurance, unsightly bollards, and ugly aesthetics. Further, there are risks of displacement to more vulnerable targets and inadequate experience by designers and security officials while implementing high security, target hardening in public places.
In today’s high-risk society it is clear that something must be done to secure public safety. At the same time, target hardened solutions obsess on security at the expense of the democratic use of public spaces, what one author calls the paradox of democracy and hypersecurity.
Do these practices foster a culture of fear and alienation instead of a sense of security and kinship? We need to consider the impact of target hardened community spaces in the public realm, including freedom of movement and positive social interactions. The question is, What is the right balance?
Next week’s blog will provide some alternative practices for a better balance between security and socially-appropriate measures.
This week I fielded inquiries about target hardening. It reminded me of the story of the mirage in the desert:
When the desert traveler dying from thirst sees the mirage of an oasis he diverts toward what he mistakenly thinks is his salvation. He does so, not because it is real, but because it is all he knows and because he is desperate.
This is what happened when shop-owners in London installed spikes to deter sleeping homeless people. The global backlash became an embarrassing public relations nightmare far worse than homeless people looking for a bed. Clearly, target hardening was a mirage that backfired.
Target hardening remains a mirage because we have very little research about its impact on community-building or on the perception of the public. Target hardening definitely conveys a message. What message does it convey about buildings, benches, urban parks and residential property? Does it drive people away for fear of crime? Is that message helpful for building local pride in our future communities?
Target hardening seeped into CPTED language in spite of its utter absence in the early literature from the CPTED pioneers. As far as I can tell, target hardening as a CPTED strategy showed up about a decade after CPTED was born.
Then in the early 1980s Ronald Clarke adopted target hardening as a component of situational crime prevention and that is where it has resided ever since.
Historically target hardening has been around a very long time. Some instructors like to equate medieval forts as examples of target hardening, but stretching a metaphor to antiquity does a disservice to contemporary democracies where human rights bind modern societies together.
PERSISTING IN THE LEXICON
Still, target hardening persists in the security lexicon because at times it works very well. I use it when other options don’t work such as high risk public housing prior to community-building programs. Regrettably, research on the topic is thin. Most target hardening research obsesses on common property crimes such as burglary, vandalism and thefts and to a lesser extent, robbery.
There is scant research on crimes against persons such as homicides, shootings or gang related violence, and what does exist is spotty. Luckily some research on target hardening still shows up in the property crime literature.
The truth is we know very little about the broader impact of target hardening. And our ignorance portends a rather scary future until we answer the single most important question about it: Is target hardening simply a mirage diverting us from more substantial, sustainable, and community-minded answers?
Forrest Gump was a genius! He solved problems and figured things out with his teeny IQ.
Gump taught us problem solving is really easy. You don't need to think about it, especially if the problem looks simple on the outside but is actually complicated on the inside.
Simple like why homeless, drunk people sleep on park benches because they prefer not to sleep on the ground. Or complicated like how to deal with their addictions, mental health and poverty? Or why we can't do better to help the indigent living on the street?
Target hardeners in the city of Angouleme, France have found a simple answer: Fence the benches!
Sadly, just like like homeless spikes in London last year, public outrage forced Angouleme's Forrest Gumps to remove the bench-fence-defence. Some ungrateful sod complicated matters by pointing out it's not just the homeless who can't use fenced benches, no one can! Forrest was so right - Stupid is, as stupid does!
Shame too. They looked so darned attractive.
Homelessness in England is up and news reports now call it Anti-Social Behavior. In the UK, Design Out Crime has had success reducing ASB, but not always. Some solutions, unfortunately, have been a disaster. Case in point: Anti-sleeping spikes to deter homeless transients.
Bench dividers and seating spikes have long been used by target hardeners as a loitering deterrent. Now some properties in London use spikes to deter the homeless from sleeping on windows and doorway entrances near their stores. Even the Mayor of London hates the idea. Public outrage agrees.
Anti-spiking groups have now taken action and poured cement over spikes. They complain that spiking is unethical when program budgets to house the homeless are cut to the bone.
One online petition to remove anti-homeless spikes reached 120,000 names in a single week.
Not that it needs repeating yet again on this blog, but opportunity reduction by itself is insufficient. Singular strategies that attack crime and place alone - and not the conditions that give rise to them - divert attention from long-term solutions. They lull us into believing the problem is gone when it isn't.
This is an important lesson for target hardeners. Fail to use collaborative solutions and targeted social strategies - or do so without a coherent plan to apply 2nd Generation CPTED - and risk a backlash of unintended consequences.
Less than a mile from this latest controversy are the buildings of the award-winning Design Against Crime Centre at Central St Martin's College. Professor Lorraine Gamman and her talented team have led socially responsive crime prevention design projects for ages.
Why don't the target hardeners just ask experts like Lorraine's group how to work with the homeless and build more inclusive and safe environments?
My favorite Lorraine quote: "Spikes are part of an outdated fortress aesthetic not welcome in communities, where there is recognition that urban design needs to be inclusive."
Thinking about my Design Out Crime colleagues, I came across Matthais Megyeri a brilliant German artist and designer based in London and Stuttgart. He has exhibited his work around the world including New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Among other fascinating projects with Matthias' company Sweet Dream Security, he redesigns security fences and cameras and shows how to change the visual language of public security devices. This is a much needed gift as security creeps into our lives.
I first heard of Matthais last year from Lorraine Gamman at the Design Against Crime Centre in London. She mentioned his work and so I contacted him last year and was impressed by his off-beat and comical art with security devices.
Describing his own work on one blog he says:
"I was never really interested in security products as objects. And I certainly don’t design them because I like them. But I was struck by their visual presence in everyday London life…I decided to use my skills to change the visual language of security products from depressing to seriously humorous."
Check him out.
Today ends an AaaHaa year for scientific discovery. The pinnacle was the Higgs-Boson subatomic particle discovery - the so-called God Particle - at the LHC particle accelerator in Switzerland.
What does it mean? I have no idea. But my science friends tell me the discovery is a very big deal; it confirms the standard model of physics. That will keep future theory on track so our descendants end up with better supercomputers, new kinds of energy, interstellar space flight…whatever. In any event, it does sound cool.
Why does this matter in CPTED - crime prevention through environmental design? It matters because it shows how testing and staying true to a theory keeps practice pointed in the right direction.
The past few weeks I've been studying ballistic glazing and glass-clad polycarbonates for high-rise towers - to the non-engineers that's window target hardening for bombs and guns, the comfort food of security. Target hardening is important for my client. It keeps vulnerable assets safe and that's a good thing.
Despite that we should never confuse target hardening with CPTED. To do so distorts the intention of the theory and we don't have social particle accelerators to get us back on track.
The early CPTED literature has no reference to target hardening. Read Elisabeth Wood, Schlomo Angel, Jane Jacobs, Oscar Newman, and C. Ray Jeffery. It's not there. True, there were some government funders back then who insisted target hardening be included in grant proposals for some early evaluations. That's probably where the theory distortion began.
Today that myth persists. I hear it described as a CPTED strategy for controlling access through mechanical means. I see it in calls for ballistic glass and guns to protect our schools or chain-link fences to protect front lawns. I see it in all kinds of bunker-building designs ascribed to CPTED.
Target hardening is fine for security work and cutting crime opportunities. Also, there are some great websites with excellent advice. However it comes at a social and financial cost. CPTED guru Tom MacKay calls it the target hardening trap.
If CPTED theory has morphed to include target hardening then obviously there has been too much wallowing in shallow thought pools. We need to get past these bunker-building distortions.
TO THE SOURCE
Howbeit we make the following New Year's Resolution: We reaffirm the original community-building intention of CPTED theory by those who created it. We go to the source:
C. Ray Jeffery: "Loneliness and alienation need not characterize our urban life. Cities can also be designed so as to increase human contact of an intimate nature." (CPTED, 1971)
Oscar Newman: "This book is an effort to formulate a new concept for geographic communities which reflect…the bringing together of separate communities to refashion urban environments [and] stabilize threatened neighborhoods." (Communities of Interest, 1980)
Elisabeth Wood: "In the long run there is no substitute for the contributions that the tenants make to the welfare and economical management of a project…design can facilitate the social fabric out of which a tenant organization grows and by means of it can be effective." (Housing Design, 1961)
Happy New Year.