by Greg Saville
Seasonal celebrations are now underway. Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and National Don’t Make Your Bed Day (Yes, there is such a thing! I’m a believer). Each event celebrates a different aspect of life – seasonal, religious, cultural – and, in so doing, each celebrates our human community. Given the mess that is 2020 - inequity protests around the world, the Racial Reckoning riots in the United States, and the scourge of COVID-19 - we desperately need to celebrate something this year!
Human “community” is an elusive animal. It means different things to different people, and consequently, it means nothing that you can put your finger on. Of course, since we’re not testing a theory in a lab experiment, who cares? It’s okay that we have regular celebrations of community; it’s needed now more than ever.
To some, “community” is their immediate family and circle of friends. (I’ve been particularly lucky in this regard.) For others, it is their social circle or their affiliation with sports teams. To yet others, it is those who share political affinities or who occupy the thousands of groups in Meetup.com.
TO EACH, HIS-HER OWN
For my part, I recently became obsessed with a YouTube group that takes virtual rides on famous trains around the world (yes, yes… I know how pathetic and uncool that sounds. COVID cabin fever takes a toll!)
Yet there is another important part of this story worth telling. For those of us in the community-building and crime prevention world, the term “community” is too elusive. We prefer using local geography to describe our neighborhood – those buildings, neighbors, parks, shops, and other places within a 15-minute walk of our home. After all, it is within those neighborhoods where we actually live much of our lives.
Our immediate neighbors, for better or worse, matter a great deal! And it is in those very places where we experience, recover from, or hide from, crime and fear. Mateja Mihinjac and I describe some of these ideas in our Third Generation CPTED article last year.
Neighborhoods matter and neighbors matter. So let’s celebrate our neighbors too during this holiday season. I’ve been fortunate to have some great neighbors over the years. We may not always agree about politics or see eye-to-eye on our philosophy of life, but we agree it is important to be a good neighbor. When neighborliness works well, it costs you little, it means a lot, and it contributes to your quality of life. In an upcoming blog, Mateja will describe how we encourage neighborhood engagement. In the meantime, let's celebrate our neighbors.
To the great neighborhoods and to the great neighbors who care, thanks. You rock!
by Mateja Mihinjac
As winter is fast approaching in the northern hemisphere the trees are losing their colorful blankets of leaves. Coupled with that come cloudy overcast or foggy days with short pockets of sunshine signaling the dreary months ahead when we’d rather stay indoors than be exposed to the monotone grey outside.
However, it turns out there might be ways to break the bland world of winter and introduce some color into our neighborhoods to influence our mood and emotions.
Environmental color psychology research shows color can be used effectively to create emotional responses at conscious and unconscious levels.
In simplified terms, red, orange, and yellow colors create a stimulating cognitive response whereas green and blue have a calming effect on our nervous system. This is an evolutionary adaptation that once helped us survive, but is also is an effective strategy to stimulate desired moods in outdoor spaces.
The commercial, design, and health industry has been using this knowledge with great success to promote revenue and to elicit desired emotional responses by incorporating designs that connect us to nature, what is known as biophilic designs.
None of this is a new idea. Ethnic neighborhoods have been using colors for years to showcase their cultural identity and tradition. For example, "Chinatown's” or “Little Italy's” are often characterized by red color whereas "Greek Town's" are wrapped in blue/white designs and blue light installations. This creates a sense of identity and neighborhood attachment for people of that neighborhood’s heritage.
It turns out color psychology might also play a role in crime prevention.
COLOR PSYCHOLOGY AND CRIME
Understanding the importance of a person-environment interaction was the message of CPTED pioneer, C. Ray Jeffery, who emphasized that we must appreciate how external and internal stimuli affect our brain’s response to the environment.
There is anecdotal evidence from Glasgow, Scotland showing how blue color lights might help with suicide and crime prevention. Reports of lower crime rates and increased community ownership also emerged after the mayor of Tirana, Albania decided to use bold color design on many of the city’s buildings.
More detailed research on the color/crime prevention story is, as yet, scarce and inconclusive, but one fact remains: reports from all over the world indicate that residents respond positively to colorfulness and even crave opportunities to partake in them.
COLORING NEIGHBOURHOOD LIVEABILITY
While bringing color to the neighborhood might be an effective solution to generate interesting places that promote social interaction, such initiatives also offer a great opportunity to work in partnerships with local residents and co-create these colorful places together.
One great example is the Intersection Repair Project that creates colorful neighborhood intersections and combines that with residents who co-design their own streets. A few years later, our SafeGrowth team from Christchurch, New Zealand, successfully used the same approach for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere.
Of course, coloring neighborhoods does not magically solve neighborhood crime. We still need research on the internal workings of how our brain interprets these places – what Jeffery called internal cognition and internal environment. We have only recently seen reignited academic interest in this topic, for example, our recent study on Third Generation CPTED.
In this new approach, we link internal cognition to Maslow’s theory of human motivation. We emphasize that every high functioning neighborhood should offer opportunities for satisfying both individual and collective needs. Satisfying those needs at the neighborhood level is an important factor in neighborhood liveability. Colorful design throughout our daily public life that elicits positive moods may go a long way to satisfy at least some liveability objectives.
by Mateja Mihinjac
This week I came across a recent study suggesting that economic factors are a stronger predictor of prosocial behaviour than “urbanicity” – living in either an urban or non-urban area.
This spiked my interest because we commonly hear that small towns have close-knit communities and always-helpful residents. Yet, at a recent International Colloquium in which our SafeGrowth team presented our findings from rural environments, one of the common threads throughout the whole Colloquium was that small towns and rural communities deal with similar crime and safety challenges to larger cities.
They are not the idyllic communities romanticized about in movies and novels. Perhaps there is more to it than neighbourhood size and population density?
The study, “Neighbourhood wealth, not urbanicity, predicts prosociality towards strangers” looked at prosocial attitudes across 37 different UK neighbourhoods of various sizes. In each neighbourhood, it measured whether:
It turned out that rural or urban characteristics were less important than expected. Rather than urban characteristics (“urbanicity”) – that might contribute to anonymity and diffusion of responsibility thus resulting in reduced willingness to assist others – it was actually economic deprivation that was the strongest predictor of prosocial attitudes and willingness to assist.
While these findings might not translate into different contexts across the world (rural areas in the UK are less deprived than their urban counterparts), they do suggest that it is neighbourhood liveability that results in collective prosocial attitudes, in both rural and urban places.
It seems counterintuitive to expect that people living in deprived neighbourhoods are concerned with anything other than basic survival needs. How can they direct their energy into their neighbourhood when they are competing for available resources needed to survive?
Living in a deprived neighbourhood also means that residents are less likely to share the same expectations about the neighbourhood or to trust and work collectively towards common goals. That is why rural or urban, it is neighbourhood trust, shared expectations, and working together that helps build a socially cohesive and liveable neighbourhood.
As we describe in Third Generation CPTED, it is neighbourhood liveability that best improves the conditions that will advance neighbourhoods from a Basic level to Moderate and Advanced levels. We learned long ago that improving neighbourhood liveability provides residents and community workers an effective goal for targeted community development work.
The most powerful approach for improving liveability and prosocial attitudes is through organized neighbourhood action with the emphasis on building local capacity. This recent study provides yet more research support for our real-life discoveries about what makes places safer.
by Gregory Saville
Many years ago I spoke to Paolo Soleri, the visionary (and apparently flawed) architect who created arcology, the marrying of architecture and ecology into a new type of city.
I met him at Arcosanti, his experimental city lab in the Arizona desert, and asked him where, among his artistic walls, curved roof apses, and dense architecture, did he plan to include greenery, parks and nature trails? He replied that arcologies attempt to build high density in every direction, including vertically, but do so by leaving nature alone as much as possible. However, Soleri assured me, access to nature will be easier in an arcology because no arcology dweller will ever be more than a kilometer from nature, untouched and pure – parks, streams, and forests.
That was an inspiring vision, one that seems far away today. I’m unsure how realistic, or desirable, it is to remove nature from within cities, especially given the many environmental and psychological reasons for walkable green space as Stephen Mouzon reports in his book The Original Green.
As we describe in Third Generation CPTED, nature, parks, trails and greenways have a deep psychological role in creating safe places and they will remain an important asset within large cities – whether it's New York’s Central Park or the massive Stanley Park in Vancouver. This is especially true in a time of COVID when everyone wants to get out from cabin fever.
What about crime along those trails? Park pathways, greenways and nature trails are known in the CPTED business as “movement predictors”, sometimes called architectural desire lines. It is possible to design movement predictors safely or otherwise (unintentionally), depending on where and how designers construct them.
A few years ago, we were asked to help design a Rails to Trails bikeway from a California train station through some very high crime neighborhoods. The project never happened, but it became clear to me that the single most important method for designing safe movement predictors is insuring users of those spaces are part of the design process. That's why it is such a central feature of all SafeGrowth programming.
Collaborative design far surpasses the landscape architect’s penchant to look for published design guidelines, design the trail, show residents the results afterward, and hope for the best.
Our COVID world is creating a powerful impetus for city dwellers all over the world to take to the trails and experience nature. That is a good thing. Let’s ensure those trails are shared and safe.
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.
By Mateja Mihinjac
I had a fairly happy childhood. The suburban village my parents adopted as a family home offered the necessary amenities - two small grocery stores, a bakery, fresh produce store, kindergarten, primary school and a small library. And they were all within a ten-minute walk. We also had a home garden, we could play on the street and I was surrounded by the green fields and nearby hills that became my beloved recreational spots.
Most importantly, this was a safe neighbourhood.
However, as I grew older, my needs and wants also increased. Village life no longer satisfied my yearning for exploration, learning, working and socialising, and the surroundings and facilities felt outdated and bland. It was as if time in the village had stopped.
THEORY OF HUMAN MOTIVATION
I later realized it was me who had outgrown the village. It continues to satisfy basic needs, but it hasn’t evolved. It has failed to adapt to the reality that, more than ever, humans strive for more than simply surviving and addressing our biological needs. We have higher-level psychological needs such as feelings of belonging, self-esteem and social connection. We have needs for personal growth and self-fulfilment. Abraham Maslow outlined this in the Theory of Human Motivation nearly 80 years ago.
Moreover, we crave a meaningful existence by being able to contribute to the experience of others. Maslow explained this highest level satisfaction in his later work using the term self-transcendence.
It should therefore not sound unusual or extraordinary for people to expect that their neighbourhood should offer a high quality of life by providing opportunities for realising those high-level needs.
THIRD GENERATION CPTED
This is the message that Greg Saville and I convey in our recently published article Third Generation CPTED.
The main premise of our new theory is that for the highest quality of life, a 21st Century neighbourhood should offer more than minimum services and necessities. Good transport, proper sanitation, a healthy environment, ample food, adequate shelter, and local safety are critical, but not enough. Recreation opportunities and social activities too are necessary, but they still don't reach the highest level of motivational satisfaction. So residents drive away and abandon their neighbourhood to find something they cannot locate nearby.
Applying the Neighbourhood Liveability Hierarchy we propose that residents should be able to strive for more advanced opportunities to satisfy their highest needs, while all the basic and modest provisions exist in every place. Such an advanced neighbourhood planned in a holistic and strategic way will help it evolve to support the needs of its inhabitants.
In SafeGrowth we offer the hub concept as an epicentre for such developments under the ownership of neighbourhood residents.
The main premise of the concept is participatory democracy and decision-making potential of the residents who would continually assess and address neighbourhood needs thus help it maintain a high quality of life.
Our SafeGrowth advocate and friend Carlos Gutierrez has recently also offered a view of networked community-driven hubs in the violence-stricken nation of Honduras. His story is remarkable because it showcases how community-driven neighbourhood hubs drive local progress and offer opportunities for high-level needs, which concurrently aim to address violence and promote safety.
NEIGHBOURHOODS OF THE FUTURE
As our basic needs are met, we must create places that allow us opportunities to grow towards higher-level needs and uncover innovative and exciting ways to satisfy them. If we can’t find those opportunities in our living environment, we will look elsewhere and alienate ourselves from our neighbourhood and its inhabitants in the process.
Unfortunately, so many amenities are concentrated in large downtown centres, or in huge, disconnected retail box stores surrounded by acres of parking, that they restrict the opportunities for satisfying high-level needs in suburban areas like the village of my youth. The suburbs become places that excel in basic services and residential use, but where opportunities for self-actualization and transcendence are rare.
Our neighbourhoods must respond to the needs of 21st Century lifestyles and they need opportunities for their inhabitants to flourish in local life and participate in meaningful neighbourhood decision-making. Perhaps then, as neighbourhood attachment grows, residents will enjoy their neighbourhood not only because it’s their living environment but also because it helps them fulfil their potential.