by Mateja Mihinjac
Public transportation hubs provide commuting assets to every city. That’s why it’s crucial that they are well thought-out and become well integrated into the city ecosystem.
A key form of transport hub is the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) - a new Smart Growth form of city planning used in many cities to improve the integration of central stations and connecting services, as well as to promote the connectivity of services to populated parts of cities.
I wrote about TODs in Vancouver and Greg wrote about the central corridor TOD in St Paul, Minnesota. The Slovenian capital city of Ljubljana could benefit greatly from these considerations to improve currently underwhelming public transportation options.
I’ve recently joined the Institute for Spatial Policies’ (IPOP) Jane’s Walk where the participants discussed the proposed redevelopment of the new central station and transportation hub in Ljubljana.
The beginnings of this project date back to 2002. In 2006, the first building plan was approved but followed several revisions and the 2 public-private partnerships were dissolved in the process. The project was also put on hold due to historical archaeological findings dating back to Roman Ljubljana – Emona, and ensuing excavations on the site.
Fast forward 20 years and in April this year, new plans were announced envisioning a mixed-use development with commercial and business facilities, large parking facilities, a hotel, and exclusive apartments.
However, it appears as if the transportation hub is now of secondary importance to this project, which is also alluded to on the project’s website:
“…A modern development that will be a hub of activity. It offers retail and entertainment experiences, state-of-the-art workplaces, a welcoming hotel and long-stay apartments. It offers first-class connectivity together with modern, stylish, urban places to live. It’s the heart of the city where life happens. It’s Ljubljana’s urban forum.”
Unsurprisingly, the proposal was met with several criticisms. In one piece, Katarina Žakelj of the Coalition for Sustainable Transport Politics questioned whether the project is still focused on the central station or whether it is a fiasco in the city centre?
We held similar discussions at the recent Jane’s Walk I attended where I heard concerns about insufficient time given to public consultations, problems with a large number of planned parking surfaces, and a lack of greenery which could worsen the heat island effect.
The site envisions 1700 new parking places for motor vehicles, around 900 of these will be for visitors, and the remaining for business and office facilities. With the municipality’s intention of reducing car traffic and car dependency by 20% before 2027, this plan appears counterintuitive. One US report recognises that while there are numerous benefits of a transportation hub, we need to reduce reliance on cars and instead integrate those provisions with better public transportation services.
RETAIL & BUSINESS FOCUS
At the Jane’s Walk, one of the participants exclaimed “not another shopping mall!” Both the retail and business focus of the development at this prime location appear counter-intuitive.
This new shopping venue might affect the existing retail in the city and independent shops thus leading to vacant storefronts. According to some sources, Slovenia has one of the highest square footage of retail space per capita in the EU.
Additionally, as many have expressed the preference for working from home, future cities should be more focused on the provision of social infrastructure.
One point of contention concerns intermodality. For example, currently, Ljubljana has no unified system under which one could use the same ticket for different modes of transport. The concept called ZMAJ proposes this much-needed change together with the development of Emonika. As well, realizing the UN-Habitat concept of a 15-minute city means that micromobility and other flexible transportation options are also needed.
TODs AND SAFETY
TODs are an integrative and sustainable way to build future cities, but Emonika needs to consider issues such as growing population, environmental, economic and social sustainability, and futureproofing, not just commercial needs. Among the most important needs is the personal safety and security of the site.
To my knowledge, these topics have not yet been explicitly discussed on any of the forums I was able to source. The developers should not neglect the potential CPTED-related topics such as after-hours safety and social activity at micro-locations.
After 20 years of waiting the residents of Ljubljana deserve a transportation hub fit for purpose.
by Mateja Mihinjac
A couple of weeks ago I wrote on self-governing urban open spaces as venues that support creativity, freedom of expression and informal social programming. The two examples from that blog teach us about the importance of government/non-government/civic society partnerships in order to preserve such venues and integrate them into the urban fabric.
Yet not all informal spaces have such fortune.
ROG AUTONOMOUS FACTORY
In 2006 a group of students illegally occupied the Rog factory complex, once a home of a popular Slovenian bicycle factory. The building, owned by the City Council and protected as a monument of national heritage, had been vacant for several years, which led to degradation of the area. In their collective statement about opening Rog to the public in 2006 the occupiers issued the following statement:
"Until the City of Ljubljana finds a solution for the 7000 square meters of unused space in Rog, that very space can – instead of staying merely forsaken and unexploited – host ateliers, music, video or graphic studios, theatre and dance halls, meeting rooms for different associations, playgrounds, social activities etc. We want to open a public space for entirely non-profitable and independent activities, and through this initiative contribute to the quality of art, culture, social health, thought and life in Ljubljana."
After the occupation, the complex operated as an alternative cultural centre and a self-managed social centre for 15 years. It hosted music performances, held a skate park and a football pitch, a medical clinic for asylum seekers, and housed artist ateliers. Despite the negative reputation associated with squatting and occasional undesirable conduct, the centre became an important place for celebrating diversity, inclusivity, and creativity in Ljubljana.
There were several attempts to evict the centre and in January 2021 the City Council delivered its promises, a move that Rog occupants termed “social cleansing of the city”. During the eviction, the authorities had to forcefully remove some of the occupants who fought to protect the centre from its fate. Shortly following the eviction the city started demolishing the site with a promise to rebuild it into a new modern cultural centre that will house 500 creative workers. The former occupants of the centre remain unconvinced of this trade-off and believe that the city has lost an important informal social place.
ALTERNATIVE DEVELOPMENT MODEL
The Rog Autonomous Factory was not intended to be a permanent space. It aimed to fill the cultural void and prevent the degradation of a vacant heritage space. In other cities, authors suggest that the temporary use of space can function as a catalyst for long-term sustainable development. However, for this to be realised, there needs to be a consensus between the users of the space and the municipality.
In their article on regenerating urban spaces, Cotic and Lah proposed an alternative model where informal and formal stakeholders find a consensus about the functioning of space. This alternative model envisions the co-governance of groups representing all the various interests in public spaces.
Could the municipality have approached the issue of the Rog Autonomous Factory more effectively?
A LOST OPPORTUNITY
The municipality showed little interest in discussing the matter with the occupants or making an effort to come to a consensus about the use of the space.
In our SafeGrowth work, we put special emphasis on partnerships and collaboration between formal and informal organisations. For an effective neighbourhood liveability strategy, local governments play a crucial role at the table. But they must come to the table.
In SafeGrowth we employ the search conference method to do this, a process we described in places such as New Orleans. The first application of the search conference in this type of work appears in the book, Crime Problems - Community Solutions, describing a 1988 search conference in Canada.
Such collaborative methods not only benefit the local community, but also provide a platform for building mutual trust, discussing issues, and finding workable solutions. They also lead to better liveability, wellbeing and life satisfaction outcomes for the residents.
The Rog centre is a lost opportunity for the municipality. The municipality might have adopted an alternative development model of urban planning in which everyone involved could identify the best way to preserve the social and cultural heritage of the centre.
Perhaps we can look forward to an alternative future where both sides could win?
by Mateja Mihinjac
During my work travels over the past years, I have found – often by accident – many interesting places with an alternative local subculture. These places always intrigued me to learn more about how they emerged and who manages them to keep them alive and flourishing.
I recently discovered one such place by the pier in Helsingborg, Sweden. Pixlapiren is a meeting place intended for everyone to visit and explore, and for local residents, organisations and groups to create. People have opportunities to meet, initiate and share ideas and form place identities to strengthen local democracy and challenge segregation problems.
They can also obtain a pixel (a development space measuring 10 x 10 metres) to create and display their creative outputs. Other activities occurring at this place include street art festivals, community gardening, skateboarding, beach volley, swimming, water skiing, various festivals and workshops.
Pixlapiren is an example of urban commons, a form of self-governance that was originally established by the local government as part of the urban renewal project with the purpose of exploring new forms of co-development. The space is now self-governed by users, NGOs and non-government actors that manage and steer the resources while the municipality acts as a facilitator. In the process, governance changed from open co-governance to self-governance.
The second example of a self-governing space, the Metelkova City Autonomous Cultural Centre, is in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
“Metelkova” is an autonomous social and cultural centre that since the early 1990s occupies the space of the old military headquarters. It started as informal commons with the tension between squatters occupying the space and the municipality. At one point, it was even declared illegal.
The space remains contentious due to non-compliance with the building codes and urban planning regulations. However, due to its extensive contribution to cultural activity in the city and its attractiveness for tourists, the municipality is now also linked to the site through its institutional actors. It capitalises on recognition of this space as a tourist attraction as well as a national cultural heritage status that was awarded to Metelkova in 2005.
Today, Metelkova is a self-governed and self-managed community that receives European cultural funds. It has become a home to many artists and creatives, a place of art exhibitions, art installations, festivals, concerts, performances and clubs. LGBT associations and NGOs now also hold offices in the space. While independent, connections with many institutions and organisations, and its cultural and tourist prominence have solidified its position in the city.
URBAN OPEN SPACES
The literature on urban open spaces teaches us about the prominence of these spaces as a “vital element of the urban matrix”. From SafeGrowth we also know how important they are for the social sustainability and the cultural character of the neighbourhood.
Pixlapiren and Metelkova add an important social, cultural and tourist character to their respective cities and are based on collective movement and self-governance.
While the journeys of these two places started somewhat differently (the first one was initiated by the city government while the second started as an illegal occupation), the evolution of such spaces in the years ahead teaches us about the importance of government/non-government/civic society partnerships. The success of these spaces also speaks to the importance of the community that manages the space and assumes self-governance.
Urban commons strengthen local democracy and they offer a great opportunity for local governments to involve people in local decision making. That is an excellent way to prevent tensions that might arise from unwanted activity in those spaces. Urban commons like these provide local governments with a way to leverage social sustainability and cultural character into neighbourhoods of the future.
by Mateja Mihinjac
At its core, SafeGrowth builds on the environmental philosophy of Smart Growth urban planning, a concept that aims to restructure the way we plan cities to improve sustainability, livability, and public health.
Over the past century, the urban structure of cities has undergone some dramatic changes. With the emergence of motor vehicles, space originally intended for pedestrians became increasingly smaller and vehicle use increased, adding vast amounts of pollution into the air. It also decreased the amount of walking, which affected public health.
One strategy to transform these trends is the 15-minute city philosophy, where people have easy walking or biking access to services and amenities within 15 minutes of their residence. The concept of 15-minute cities was first laid out in the Congress for New Urbanism Smartcode, twenty years ago. More recently Mayor Anne Hidalgo adopted it as part of her re-election bid in Paris.
Unfortunately, efforts to adopt these alternative modes of transportation have not come without their own challenges, one example being the growing popularity of e-scooters that have dominated the streets of many cities since 2017.
In a very short time, the use of e-scooters has surged and many cities allowed e-scooter start-up companies to set up shop. However, while loved by some, the scooters are hated by others.
One of major drawbacks of e-scooters appears to be their major advantage – the ability to leave scooters anywhere without having to park them. This flexible use has popularised their use but also led to conflict between different traffic groups. While prohibited on main roads or bike lanes, many e-scooter riders choose to ride on sidewalks, prompting concerns for pedestrian territory being under assault.
Further, e-scooters can reach speeds of 25km/h and that has led to an increased number of injuries of both riders and passers-by. Another issue is “scooter pollution” - scooters often block the already limited sidewalk space and thus obstruct mobility for other groups of users. This has led to the introduction of parking fines for scooters in some cities while other cities have completely prohibited parking of scooters in their city core.
The result is a conflict between start-up companies that offer scooters and municipalities that think scooters should be banned from their streets. However, scooter users cannot park where such infrastructure does not yet exist. Clearly, there are unsolved implementation snags.
Are there solutions that could preserve this mode of transportation rather than simply eliminate it? 15-minute cities need alternative transport options so there must be solutions.
Industry leaders themselves acknowledge that it is time to rethink the model and build public-private partnerships that can help develop more effective and sustainable solutions.
If municipalities adopt a 15-minute philosophy, they also need to invest in redesigning urban infrastructure, such as e-scooter parking. The complete streets initiative offers one such approach that envisions wider pedestrian and bike lanes. In this case, the issue is not whether to allow e-scooters, but that sidewalks have become increasingly smaller at the expense of car lanes, which creates additional conflicts.
Others suggest that more emphasis should be on shared lanes for different types of users while increasing heightened awareness for the safety of those users.
Charging docking stations are another possible solution to the “scooters-on-the-loose” problem. Not only could they reduce the issue of loose scooters, but they would also reduce operational expenses and reduce reliance on gig economy workers (such as informal, temporary workers who hunt wayward scooters and charge them for a fee), and scooters damaged during transport.
Docking stations would also increase the availability of scooters to their users and reduce the environmental impact needed to transport scooters for charging.
Innovative technological companies have offered many ideas for these stations, which could leverage existing city utilities and infrastructure (e.g., bus stops) or become situated adjacent to bike parking corrals found in almost every street corner. Sweden has already made progress with the Street Moves project that plans a parklet with a mobility hub placed on every street by 2030.
These novel ideas offer a different way to encourage the shift to a new urban structure. They can help to better integrate e-scooters in multi-modal mobility networks where scooters don’t become a nuisance for municipalities but an alternative mode of transportation integral to the regular transport network.
by Gregory Saville
Amazon is a global, corporate superstar. Arvada is a suburban city 15 miles from downtown Denver, with 120,000 people spread in dozens of residential neighborhoods. The annual Arvada budget is $250 million compared to Amazon’s $1.6 trillion. It's David and Goliath.
So you might wonder how Arvada could resist when Amazon showed up with a plan to build a 112,000 square foot distribution center - a delivery hub - onto a 36-acre undeveloped site. Amazon came with an offer of 2,000 jobs, tax revenues, and a green buffer to shield nearby housing.
Yesterday Arvada council rejected the proposal.
Triggered by a local citizen anti-development campaign, and a petition of 10,000 residents who opposed the plan, City Council voted 5-2 to reject the Amazon proposal. Why? And what does this have to do with neighborhood crime?
Did the residents oppose Amazon’s taxation history (e.g.: media stories that they don’t pay enough)? Nope, that was not a main point of contention. Were there complaints about Amazon’s global environmental record? Nope. In fact, Amazon co-founded the Climate Pledge and Global Optimism program aiming for net-zero carbon in the next 20 years, ordered 100,000 electric delivery vehicles, and spent $100 million into the Right Now Climate fund to focus on solutions to climate warming. Wow! That should impress even the naysayers.
Not so in Arvada.
One environmental group complained that the development would destroy a nearby active wildlife habitat. But it was traffic congestion that carried the day, namely, complaints about hundreds of delivery vehicles and a 1,000 vehicle parking lot.
In a car-dependent suburb, where walking takes second place to driving, vehicle congestion is the thing. It obviously was on the minds of the 5 councillors who voted it down. I’m sure 10,000 opposing petition signatures caught their attention.
HOW IS THIS CRIME RELATED?
The vote, of course, might have gone the other way. Amazon made a strong case and everyone loves to get stuff delivered promptly by Amazon – especially during this pandemic. Add to that two thousand jobs - not an insignificant number!
But traffic jams and growing congestion is a powerful motivator in the face of a weak bus system and a new, but grossly underutilized, commuter rail line to downtown Denver. In American suburbs, cars rule!
The takeaway? When it comes to changing future cities for the better, it is crucial that we understand the politics, dynamics, and economics of land acquisition and usage. All the slick 3-D renderings, public statements, comprehensive plans, zoning regulations, and design guidelines, (such as CPTED design guidelines), do not matter one iota if resident expectations are unfulfilled.
Nor does it matter to complain about racism, gentrification, or the “flat white urbanism” planning bias if new developments flail and falter at the altar of public expectations. (Not that any of those things were part of this story).
A REALISTIC WAY FORWARD
If we want to bring forth a new form of neighborhood safety planning (and in SafeGrowth, we do), we need to dive deeply into the mindset of local residents. We need to avoid NIMBY name-calling and figure how to work alongside residents from the get-go.
In SafeGrowth we use co-planning workshops, Livability Academies, and other types of intense neighborhood engagement. This must happen long before development proposals are written up in some distant office.
I’m unsure if a more exciting and beneficial outcome might have emerged from a more collaborative planning process. I suspect the answer is yes. This week in Arvada, the answer was no! David slew Goliath.
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 Gregory Saville
Today I spoke to some colleagues in Europe about teaching a virtual course in SafeGrowth to students at a Swedish Technical University. It was remarkable in a number of ways. First, although cultural differences between countries make it difficult to apply anything from one place to another, I was amazed at the many similarities between different people in different cultures. It seems we are not all that different.
But it was another dimension to our conversation that struck me as surreal.
We were using Zoom, speaking in real-time, watching each other’s expressions thousands of miles, and many times zones apart. We showed different images on our computer files and used shared digital calendars to plan the workshop. I had never before met one of those colleagues and yet here we were, quite comfortable getting to share ideas and stories.
We dialed into our call as easy as changing chairs in a coffee shop. There was no difficulty or stress in setting up the meeting (aside from me fumbling with the wrong dial-in code). There was no fear of sharing with someone I had never before met in person.
Such is the reality of daily living in, not only a pandemic, but in the second decade of the 21st Century.
You may think that is all so, well, ho-hum. But it is actually quite remarkable!
FLASHBACK TO 1961
It's a hot and muggy summer afternoon in 1961 and journalist Jane Jacobs is banging away on her Underwood typewriter in New York’s Greenwich Village. Her ideas will later turn into one of the most famous urban reform books of her generation “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. Consider the reality of her world at that time, only one lifetime ago.
Overseas commercial jet travel was less than a decade old and a rare event for average citizens. Propeller airplanes were commonly used for overseas travel. Passenger ships were popular for commercial passage to and from Europe (I travelled to Britain on one as a kid 6 years later). Television was a novelty and broadcast in black-and-white. TV signals arrived via cumbersome TV “rabbit ears”.
Suffice to say the internet and computers did not exist for private citizens. Laptop computers would not be invented for decades to come. For entertainment and amusement, kids would go outside and play. Just imagine! Music was unrecognizable compared to what airs today – the Beatles appearance in the U.S. was still 3 years away.
In many neighborhoods, ice trucks transported huge ice blocks for home freezer boxes. Widely distributed electronic refrigerators were just being manufactured. Milk arrived at the front door of many homes in the form of a milkman placing milk bottles on your doorstep. Newspapers were delivered by the paperboy to each doorstep and the main source for immediate news was radio.
During hot and muggy days of a New York summer, apartments like those of Jacobs became sweltering ovens, even with fans and open windows. Air conditioning units were far too large for common use – the rotary compressor was invented only four years earlier.
Crime flourished in many neighborhood pockets and, in the decades that followed, many American cities, in particular, would experience an unimaginable explosion of urban crime. The justice system of 1961 was, frankly, utterly unprepared for the crime storm on the horizon.
Now fast forward 60 years from today to 2080!
What new technologies will shape daily lives? How will we travel and how will we communicate? Will this pandemic, or the next, force us into permanent social distances and some futuristic face covering? Will personal intimacy be relegated to staged meet-ups and software date matching? We have worked with the Swedish Helsingborg City 2022 Smart City initiative and they ask these very questions about our cities of tomorrow.
What will our streets and neighborhoods look like? Will we get climate change under control or will the number and intensity of weather catastrophes erase coastal cities and trigger mass migrations like never before in history? Or will renewable technologies create electric vehicles and flying drones to transport us in highways in the sky? Certainly, those technologies are already in our grasp. Will artificial technologies transform our cities into Smart Cities in which we need no longer worry about car crashes, traffic jams, or traffic? Will cars exist?
The technologies we take for granted today would be fantastical to the Jane Jacobs of 1961. As she pounded away at her typewriter in a humid and stuffy hot New York afternoon, today’s world would be as alien as a Martian from the 1950s science fiction film, War of the Worlds.
If we are to believe Einstein (I place my bets on Albert), then time travel is quite impossible. So, there is no way to know what will unfold by 2080. Some of you reading these words will be alive to see those times and I wonder what you will see.
Today, as I chatted with friends far away, with technologies unimaginable long ago, it occurred that the ideas we develop, the actions we take, and the virtual courses we teach, represent an important drop in the proverbial pond of time. Jacobs wrote well. We learn from her words even today. For the sake of our progeny, may we offer the same kind of wisdom for their future!
by Gregory Saville
The local kids were out again after sunset tonight howling like timberwolves at a full moon, a show of solidarity for stressed healthcare workers. Millions of apartment dwellers in cities around the world bang pots and pans and now these suburban kids, ancy from weeks of quarantine, perform their own nightly ritual. In the words of John Lennon: “Imagine all the people, living for today.”
I have wondered of late how pandemics affect urbanization. Jane Jacobs tells us epidemics are defeated within cities and with new medicines, innovative planning, and science. But, as we’ve blogged over the past month, we are threatened not only with a deadly disease, but with an aftermath of social distancing, social isolation, and a future that is gated for some, exclusive for others. Fear is a powerful motivator for change. How can we make things right?
A NEW NARRATIVE
We should not be running away from urban areas into isolated rural enclaves. Some say we need to re-suburbanize and separate – permanent social distancing. They ignore our basic human nature to connect – to howl at the moon in gratitude for others.
Some claim density spreads disease, a statement that confuses density with crowding. High-quality urban design promotes connectedness and avoids crowding; Low density is not the answer.
Consider Taiwan and Louisiana. Population dense Taiwan, with 23 Million residents has (at time of writing) 380 confirmed COVID infections and 5 deaths. The rural state of Louisiana with 4.6 Million, suffers a horrific 20,014 infected and 801 deaths.
Taiwan no doubt has a better public health system. It probably has better governance. It has the luck of island geography (although the Philippines infection rate suggests otherwise). Perhaps they should have cancelled Mardi Gras in late February? Yet, none of those things are about density.
One thing is certain: A cohesive, well-informed and networked community like Taiwan moved much faster to curtail COVID-19. If you recreate that cohesiveness, education, and networking at the level of the neighborhood, you create a city of networked urban villages. We wrote about a city of networked urban villages in SafeGrowth: Building Neighborhoods of Safety and Livability.
What steps do we take to get there? With so much infrastructure already in place, how do we modify cities to create something healthier, more livable and more pro-social? Remember, there are elections all over the world later this year. What should you demand for your candidates? How about demanding they start working on the following steps:
City politicians – Stop approving low-density commercial “strips” where it is difficult to walk from one shop to another. Sprawl forces residents drive to distant shopping plazas and it separates them. When the pandemic fades, we won’t need more separation! We cannot learn neighbor skills if we cannot find our neighbors. Try clustering developments into common areas where ‘strangers’ can become friends, what architect Ross Chapin calls Pocket Neighborhoods.
And for goodness sake, put pro-social urban design ahead of new expressways and road widening.
Architects – Stop building multi-family developments without involving the users. Conduct design sessions to give everyone a say before construction begins. If you want people to truly care about their neighborhood, let them share their dreams and aspirations. And stop building such ugly townhomes. In SafeGrowth we conduct search conferences to create shared community visions. How about asking residents what best fits their lifestyle? Would they prefer a community woodwork shop or a workspace for crafters? What about a co-working office?
City leaders – Stop fighting Smart Growth development policies because you think fewer property tax dollars accrue. You do not have to reinvent the development wheel to do something different, just attend a Smart Growth conference or read some books on the topic. Try Charles Montgomery’s book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.
Bankers – Stop making it so difficult to lend to Mom-and-Pop stores. They are the blood pulsing through community life. Local stores cannot match the conglomerates for prices, yet they support local families and they better respond to local needs, like sponsoring community barbeques or craft markets in front of their stores. They need your help to reduce costs and remain a vibrant part of neighborhood life!
Mortgage lenders – Change your lending practices and encourage collaborative housing – a form of community-building that helps citizens work together, especially during crises like pandemics. One example is private equity co-housing, a proven form of neighborhood living in which residents create their neighborhoods. Unfortunately, speculation and inflation have shut down too many cohousing projects. Lenders – You can help!
Transportation managers – Stop wasting fossil fuel by sending huge, empty buses from one vacant bus stop to another. People avoid buses because they are inconvenient, unpleasant, and take forever. Any new, healthy configuration for a city should be designed around networked urban villages and they will need radical innovations to bind them together. Uber figured how to use the internet to transform cab service. Why can’t we do this with public transit? How about supplementing regular routes with smaller, comfortable, shuttles-on-demand, ordered online and paid by e-commerce? And smaller shuttles for regular routes too!
Educators and school trustees – Get your students into the community. Get them to learn history, social science, geography, and science by learning how to work with residents on real community problems. The problem-based learning movement does that and it is already in many high schools. They will learn face-to-face social skills they cannot learn on troll-infected social media. Educator and thought-leader Gerard Cleveland is a guru in this movement.
Organizers/social workers – While residents socialize superficially, after decades of computer screens and social media they have lost the deeper skills of managing conflicts and solving problems together. They desperately need shared communication and problem-solving skills. Please, help! For example, look up our friend Evelyn Zellerer who teaches peace circles and restorative justice.
Nihilists, doom-and-gloomers – Stop fearmongering! Yes, we will suffer but this pandemic will end. There might be a paroxysm of political rage, maybe economic turbulence. And as before the pandemic, we still must reverse our environmental damage before we reach criticality. Despite it all, people are not inherently evil and progress is already underway. If you doubt that, read Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.
Inexorably, in fits and starts, we will build a better future.
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 Tarah Hodgkinson
“The town is called Penguin?", my friend said to me as we drove along the highway in Northern Tasmania. "We have to check that out!” And so, I took the exit.
We came upon the town centre of this coastal community to find a large penguin statue. But not only the statue, everything was penguin-themed. Penguin play areas, penguin posts, even penguin trashcans. All of the stores along the main street were littered with penguin artwork. We had to know more.
It turns out that Penguin, Tasmania is aptly named. Penguins gather in the rookeries along their beachfront. While penguins are pretty interesting creatures, especially to those of us from the Northern Hemisphere, it wasn’t the local wildlife that caught my attention.
What was interesting was the way in which penguins had become a part of their community’s culture. So much so that every placemaking attempt featured the cute little southern birds. There are several areas across the state where Penguins can be found, but this town had dedicated their entire community’s identity to these birds.
I worried that the focus on penguins might solely be an attempt to attract tourists. However, it was clear that the penguin theme was fairly organic and community-based. Each of the small seaside stores had committed to the theme in their own way. Some stores had fun penguin-themed names, others had large stuffed penguins in their windows and still, others had painted penguins on their walls. Even more exciting, the town holds a penguin-themed community market that has been running for twenty years.
COHESION AND CULTURE
If there was any doubt that the town was committed to their shared culture, their reaction to developers trying to capitalize on the town’s proximity to penguin rookeries proves otherwise. When I did some digging about the town’s history, I found that they had prevented some major development plans that would have dramatically changed the landscape of the downtown area and potentially affected their community’s cohesion and culture.
Not only had local residents fought hard against the development, but they also started heritage listing their storefronts. By the end, they had heritage listed 26 sites and prevented the development plans.
Tourism can dramatically impact neighbourhoods in desirable places (see the backlash in Barcelona to increasing tourism). Further, while developers often try to capitalize on these opportunities, it is clear that residents who work together to maintain control over their local history not only can protect their local culture but continue to grow and expand that culture for their entire community. In this way, community-based tourism is often an exercise in building local culture and cohesion.
by Mateja Mihinjac
As we enter a new decade, I can’t help but wonder: How might my work and the work of other safety and crime prevention professionals be affected as temperatures continue to rise and weather conditions become even more extreme?
I am fortunate to have lived and worked in various countries, including Australia and Canada. People often associate the first with hot weather and beaches and the latter with cold winters and snow. This is especially true at this time of year when large parts of Australia are experiencing extremely high temperatures and devastating fires while Canada may be bracing for the next polar vortex this winter.
Are these two countries, on the opposite sides of the globe, struggling with contrasting environmental conditions that relate directly to contrasting crime and safety concerns?
There is long-standing research on violence and the thermal environment, or what is sometimes called the seasonality of crime. It reminded me of research I came across a few years ago about the possible association between temperature and crime.
That research found a correlation between warmer weather and various forms of crime and incidents and attributed this to an increase in outdoor activities during warmer days. The researchers of this study in Philadelphia also suggested that extreme temperatures, especially extremely cold, have the opposite effect as people are discouraged to go outdoors.
However, there is Canadian research contradicting that view and suggesting violence can also increase at the opposite end of the thermal scale.
One 1995 study in Canada’s Arctic Nunavut Territory reported that violence rates among the Inuit in the north were far higher in Baffin Island villages (most of which are above the Arctic Circle) than those in the warmer cities over a thousand miles (2,000 kilometers) to the south.
THERMAL EXTREMES AND VIOLENCE
While the Arctic study is explained through cultural and sociological causes, the Philadelphia study falls into a group of opportunity-theories that suggest comfortable weather conditions at any time of the year (warm gentle summers, balmy winters) are associated with the increased number of people outdoors resulting in increased concentration of both targets and potential offenders.
Other studies suggest the rise in alcohol consumption during the hot months of the year contributes more to murders and sexual assault, as well as other crimes such as road rage. This is especially a problem where temperature variations are large. Therefore, in these instances, it appears extremes in high temperatures or mango madness might be behind violent and aggressive behavior.
The homicide data in the State of Queensland, Australia for the past 22 years show a somewhat increased homicide rate during the hottest months of the year: December and January. This association was especially strong for the tropical north where temperatures are most extreme.
A NEW PATTERN EMERGES
However, when the data were examined for the Brisbane City police division for both homicide and all crimes respectively, they found no identifiable monthly patterns. This suggests that while temperature conditions may be part of the crime puzzle, we cannot draw conclusions about crime based on this single variable.
Perhaps thermal effects on violence apply to both high and low-temperature extremes, as the Canadian research suggests? It seems that the opportunity-theory does not always explain why some places are less safe than others, especially in relation to temperature.
This has been our experience during SafeGrowth programming in neighborhoods throughout the world. Even with extreme temperatures, healthy and vibrant neighborhoods with plenty of pro-social opportunities tend to be safer. Could it be that, whatever temperature extremes a community suffers, opportunities for pro-social behavior are a powerful prescription for building healthy communities with fewer crime opportunities?
THOUGHTS FOR THE NEXT DECADE
In 2014, Harvard trained economist and statistician Matthew Ranson made a bold prediction:
"Between 2010 and 2099, climate change will cause an additional 22,000 murders, 180,000 cases of rape, 1.2 million aggravated assaults, 2.3 million simple assaults, 260,000 robberies, 1.3 million burglaries, 2.2 million cases of larceny, and 580,000 cases of vehicle theft in the United States."
Sobering words as we begin a new year!
And yet, as we have seen over the past few years, there are solutions at hand if we choose to adopt them. Collectively we can find effective answers to both halt the progression of global warming and to address community safety challenges that may be associated with the temperature effect.
by Gregory Saville
As the year ends, I’m remembering the air of electricity and innovation emerging at the Helsingborg 22, Smart City Summit in Sweden that I attended in November. It was a remarkable event! It triggered a thought that sticks in my mind…
By 2030 over 60% of the entire world will live in urban centers. Most of the leading industrial countries of the world are already predominantly urban: over 80% urban in the U.S., Canada, Australia, UK, Chile, Sweden, South Korea, Mexico, and Brazil.
It’s similar in India, that historically so-rural subcontinent of villages and farms. A decade ago, I recall listening to India’s Minister for External Affairs describe the rapid urbanization of his country, a billion-person behemoth soon to top China as the most populous country on the planet. Today it has some of the world’s largest cities.
We’ve also seen the eruption of the megalopolis – the megacity once prophesized in Sci-Fi fare. The latest UN statistics now say it’s real:
SMART CITY IN SWEDEN – THE ANTIDOTE?
This brought to mind the H22 Smart City Summit. Unlike the Smart Growth planning program, the Smart City movement is of much more recent vintage. It talks of artificial intelligence, how Internet-of-Things data devices might better manage transport, power, water supply, schools, hospitals, utilities, and even crime. It proposes a new age of connectedness and livability.
Just imagine… no garbage trucks, massive cuts in energy use, increased quality of life, smart LED street lights with sensors to watch street conditions, faster routing for self-driving cars, smart drone shopping that avoids parking lots, automatic air pollution elimination, faster emergency response for medical and fire emergencies, and so forth.
Helsingborg is taking a close look at all this. It is spending time and money to test new Smart City ideas and it plans to take neighborhood quality of life, urban planning, and urban governance to a new level. In 2022 it will show the world in the H22 Exposition.
In November, I joined Ifeoma Ebo from the New York Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, to present our work on SafeGrowth and CPTED in 15 high-crime New York public housing projects. The approach of our talented SafeGrowth team members was decidedly low-tech with plenty of community involvement. Summit participants seemed to see a link in our project to Smart Cities of the future.
Some think Smart Cities are a utopian dream that will destroy democracy.
Maybe that’s true! When we wrote about Smart Cities in our SafeGrowth book last year, the last chapter, A Vision for the Future, described one vision – except that was a dystopian, not utopian, vision.
I’ve also blogged here about another Smart City innovation – computer algorithms that try to predict crime, the so-called predictive policing. Since then, I’ve followed it in two cities that tried, and abandoned, predictive policing - one in California and another in my own home city. It seems we have a very long way to go.
Either way, Smart City concepts deserve careful monitoring and thinking. And given the explosive rate of urban growth around the world, we might have no better choice but to get the Smart City idea right. Helsingborg's H22 Smart City movement gives us a chance to do just that.
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
While discussing safer cities in her pioneering book, Death and Life of Great American Cities , Jane Jacobs said that “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody” and this includes creating them for everybody. That includes children.
I usually do my best to avoid the children’s area of parks. I’m not a big fan of the running, screaming, whining, crying or even laughing. Kids are great; they are just not for me. But usually once a week I walk through Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens and right past a children’s play area. On a normal day I would breeze on by, yet I recently took notice of a very interesting sign.
Created by the City of Brisbane, this sign asks, “How would you like to play?” It is followed up by 20 images of children signing different options for play, from climbing to sliding to digging. Each image provides a description of the type of activity and how to sign it.
Not only was there signage about how to communicate how to play (emphasizing good communication skills), but it was all-abilities friendly. Children who may be hearing impaired, or delayed in speaking, could communicate with other children what they wanted and be understood.
In prior blogs, we have written about the need for all-abilities planning and inclusive neighborhood design.
However, these designs can often emphasize the “disability” side of design with images of wheelchairs or walkers. In this case, all-abilities design is made fun. It is similar to what UK planner Charles Laundry says about making public spaces fun in his landmark book The Creative City and also what we discussed in our previous blogs on design creativity.
What is also impressive here is there is no mention of abilities on the sign. Rather, it is normalized and made part of the overall play experience. Perhaps this is the best way to move forward in all-abilities, inclusive neighborhood design.
by Mateja Mihinjac
The discussion about the quality of life in 21st Century cities often centers around livability. In SafeGrowth we encourage residents to identify livability indicators so they can improve the quality of life in their neighborhood. Livability matters.
Up until 2018, The Economist magazine crowned Melbourne the most livable city in the world for 5 years straight (Vienna taking the title last year). But what is livability?
Livability indices usually focus on statistically measurable data. For example, The Economist’s Intelligence Unit each year ranks the world’s most livable cities by five categories: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.
However, residents and visitors may not relate to their cities in uniform ways as presupposed by these metrics. Instead, they may offer subjective opinions of livability more meaningful to them.
My colleagues from Melbourne, Fiona Gray and Matt Novacevski, similarly remind us that livability indices alone disregard people’s emotional connection to cities, neighborhoods and places. They offer the concept of lovability as a more meaningful measure.
The quality of life for residents transcends the five livability categories listed above. In a recent article, Fiona, Matt and Cristina Garduño Freeman state that practical aspects of the city are not sufficient. Instead, they argue that aesthetic qualities of the city are also important because they trigger an emotional reaction and foster connection to places.
In their Melbourne lovability index project they asked residents to share what they love about their city and why. Answers included: beauty, aesthetics of the city, culture, history, tradition, diversity of activities and opportunities, and having places for people to come together to celebrate.
Some cities, such as Singapore, have already included lovability as an extension of livability focus of their city planning. Clearly, citizens must have a say in assessing the quality of their cities, including involving them in decisions regarding city planning.
A METRIC FOR THE FUTURE
In SafeGrowth we recognize the importance of emotional connection to each other and to our neighborhoods. We distinguish between “actions of the mind” (actions to create social cohesion), and “actions of the heart” (actions that create emotional connection and neighborhood identity).
Lovability, therefore, offers the potential to merge objective and subjective measures of quality of life. A resident-driven and neighborhood-focused description of city living will expand the concept of livability to make it more meaningful and long-lasting.
by Mateja Mihinjac
It’s been nearly 60 years since Jane Jacobs called for integrated mixed-use cities rich in social and economic opportunities with livable and safe neighborhoods. Following almost a century of car-domination, urban design with people at the center is once again gaining traction.
A few years ago we blogged on this idea in the Denver neighborhood of Edgewater and the walkability ideas of urban planner Jeff Speck. In more and more cities, neighborhood development is once again in vogue.
The Australian city of Brisbane is one of many cities revisiting these ideas. Following public input, in 2018 the Brisbane government issued a blueprint with a plan to create “a city of neighborhoods”.
Melbourne too has introduced the idea of 20 Minute Neighbourhoods where “people can access most of their everyday needs within a 20-minute walk, cycle or local public transport trip”.
These ideas resonate with our concept of re-imagined urban villages and the “Hub Concept”, which we presented in our SafeGrowth book last year.
However, despite the need for an integrated and holistic approach to reimagined neighborhoods, it is the physical shape, especially transportation infrastructure, that receives the most attention.
Consider the expansion of pedestrian zones and car bans in city cores. Consider also the worldwide boost in micro-mobility with bike-sharing schemes and the boom in electric scooters.
Yet, as innovative as such ideas are, cities often neglect integrating these physical innovations with social and economic plans to address social relations, local identity, and local economy. And they rarely adopt them in suburbs.
THE MISSING ELEMENTS
This may be part of the reason that cities are not always successful in promoting their people-centered designs. The Melbourne plan, for example, has been criticized for non-holistic thinking and fears the plan may suffer from infrastructure deficits.
Critics challenge Melbourne planners to consider the Vancouver planning model, which is to design a walkable neighborhood that embeds physical amenities closely into social activities and services.
This is the concept for Collingwood Village in Vancouver, a 4,500 person neighborhood that includes market housing, 15% public housing, a community center, schools, daycare, playgrounds, food and play areas, and an adjacent public transit station, all within a 10-minute walk. (Full disclosure: Greg Saville, from our SafeGrowth team, helped the designers of Collingwood Village plan for safety and livability in the early stages of that development.)
Unfortunately, developers and decision makers rarely consider locally-based social amenities and programs to boost community pride and local identity. Further, most of these new neighborhood concepts are concentrated near downtowns where house prices are hyper-inflated, versus car-dependent suburbs that are void of crucial services.
If we truly wish to create cities with an interlinked ecology of neighborhoods, we should start expanding walkable neighborhoods to suburban areas. Jane Jacobs envisioned these ideas over 60 years ago. We now have the knowledge and tools to realize that vision. In SafeGrowth, we believe the 21st Century should become the Century of the Neighborhood. The time has finally come to put those ideas into practice.
by Gregory Saville
It’s difficult to get worked up about crime in a place like Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. Surrounded by lush beaches, palm trees and bathed in tropical sun, most visitors to the Island are unaware of the recent surge in gun crime or fears about drugs. To be clear, Barbados does have among the lowest crime rates of all the nearby Caribbean Islands, isolated somewhat from the political unrest in nearby Venezuela and blessed with competent police services.
Instead, what you notice in the city is the energy and bustle during daytime and the quaint Victorian and Georgian architecture, high ventilated gables and wide verandas along the narrow, serpentine streets. But if you look closely there is something missing: litter and graffiti.
Bridgetown and the surrounding areas seem remarkably free of litter, garbage and graffiti. True, there are some spots, here and there. And graffiti pops up now and then. But overall, the streets (and the beaches, for that matter), are remarkably clean.
This is in stark contrast to other tourist destinations where garbage is a common fact of life. New Orleans, for example, following the Mardi Gras festival, is a mess. Even after clean-up, the city has litter everywhere. And as we know from CPTED 1 theory, the image of a place has an impact on perceptions of safety and security.
It wasn’t always this way in Bridgetown. Graffiti was rampant and litter and illegal dumping were of major concern. Newspaper editorials carped about the problem and tourism experts warned about its impact.
Anti-litter and clean-up campaigns and community-led groups like the Barbados Guardians have effectively cut litter significantly. Anti-graffiti programs in schools have brought a new public discourse to the issue.
There is no doubt many larger environmental problems remain unresolved like over-filled land waste sites, ocean plastic dumps, and others. But, at least with street litter and graffiti, Bridgetown shows it is possible to marshal public opinion and local commitment, with the help of government, and change the lives of everyday people for the better.
That is, of course, the basic message of SafeGrowth. Bridgetown shows how that is possible with graffiti and litter control.
by Mateja Mihinjac
Never did the reality of rapidly changing and technologically advanced cities become more apparent than during my recent visit to Singapore. Coming from a small European town with narrow medieval streets, city squares and few high rises in its city core, arriving in Singapore felt like time travel. Modern architecture, multi-level pathways and an interplay between city design and nature was, in my eyes, a very different and futuristic image of modern cities.
SINGAPORE – A SMART CITY?
This city of 5.5 million inhabitants was designated a 2015 UNESCO Creative City of Design. It puts great emphasis on its innovation and aesthetic design, and is one of the leading smart cities in the world. Singapore is also one of the safest Asian cities that boasts the highest quality of life in the region.
The Singapore Design Masterplan Committee developed a 2025 design masterplan envisioning a technologically advanced and environmentally sustainable innovative city with opportunities for enjoying all the ample activities that the city has to offer.
However, despite referring to people-centered design, much of Singapore’s infrastructure culminated from top-down planning. The 2025 plan describes how they “actively engaged industry and public sector stakeholders through interviews and focus group discussions”, but ultimately it fails to consider a deeper level of community involvement and how citizens will develop a stronger sense of community, pride, and neighborliness from design innovations.
As we know in SafeGrowth, in many cities this top-down process often results in citizens becoming disconnected from the plans and decisions made by city agencies. That, in turn, affects ownership and sustainability over the long term as we attempt to enhance social cohesion in neighborhoods.
Smart City strategist Boyd Cohen emphasizes this people-centered point in a recent article when he claims: “Cities must move from treating citizens as recipients of services, or even customers, to participants in the co-creation of improved quality of life.”
This people-centered message is well established in neighborhood-based planning. In our SafeGrowth book, my chapter describes neighborhood engagement as an essential part of SafeGrowth planning. The message of the chapter is fundamental; citizens need to become co-creators of their cities.
Fortunately, this is the latest trend in Smart Cities – a shift from a technological and corporate/government planning system toward citizen-driven planning where citizens become co-creators of decisions, solutions and design.
Unfortunately, despite institutional collaboration, Singapore still appears to be driven top-down by the city government and it lacks a coherent citizen component. By comparison, cities such as Vienna, Austria, and Medellin, Columbia are examples showing how equity and social inclusion can play a part in future smart cities.
At the core of citizen-driven smart cities are empowered, smart citizens who collaborate in the development of the city. It is an approach called collective intelligence, and it arises from two ingredients: technology that supports the social and everyday activities of average people; and planning that involves citizens establishing the activities they want in the city they call home.
by Mateja Mihinjac
Vacant land is concerning because it attracts vandalism, provides refuge for drug activity and squatting, and attracts other undesirable behavior. In SafeGrowth we often find vacant lots and empty properties are associated with crime and disorder.
Fortunately, there are ways to transform these liabilities into assets. In our work, we encourage communities to activate vacant land in order to prevent a downward spiral of neighborhood disorder emerging from empty properties. This form of activation is also known as meanwhile spaces.
THE PROBLEM - VACANT LAND
Land vacancy is a prevalent issue especially in formerly highly industrialized cities across North America that are dealing with the consequences of economic downturn. Some of these cities suffer from hypervacancy where 25-50% of properties per census tract have been neglected.
We know from 1st Generation CPTED that this is due to poor territoriality or ownership resulting in decreased quality of life. We know from 2nd Generation CPTED that different neighborhoods have different thresholds for tolerating social destabilators (like vacant land), before they tip into social disorder. A timely response to vacancies can halt the slide into disorder.
Some cities have successfully rebuilt former factory buildings into housing. Others, as I've written in prior blogs, transform vacant lots into community gardens and community gathering places. And yet there are many cities that still struggle with vacant land and the consequences of poor upkeep, disorderly conduct, and crime.
Cities across North America and Europe are increasingly activating vacant land – a phenomena sometimes called meanwhile spaces – and temporarily using it to boost the local economy, provide jobs, advocate for social justice, and attract prosocial activities. These include pop-up markets and shops, placemaking, festivals, food trucks, art installations, programs by non-profits and civic collectives, and other activities that benefit the local community.
Meanwhile spaces are a form of tactical urbanism allowing local participation, and they also help developers see what people want in a particular space.
In Paris, one place was transformed into a temporary marketplace with diverse, small enterprises. It gave community groups and startups use of a rent-free space rent free until 2020 when the developer intends to commence with the construction.
Another example, from a prior blog, was SafeGrowth advocate Brad Vassallo's description of the pop-up market-place in Philadelphia, a city suffering over 40,000 vacant lots.
In Christchurch, New Zealand, an entire downtown commercial area, destroyed following a devastating earthquake, was transformed into a beautiful shipping-container shopping district. It was a temporary solution that now has wide acceptance and popular appeal (and may become a permanent feature of the city).
There are many low-cost and low-risk ways that meanwhile spaces can respond to the needs of residents and their neighborhoods. Creative design strategies can adapt quickly to changing conditions, such as layering multiple activities into one space, thereby injecting life and vibrancy into the local community.
Meanwhile spaces strengthen local relationships, build resilience and provide ownership to spaces that could otherwise attract undesirable activity. They may also signify a shift in modern city planning toward temporary and more responsive use of space.
However, what resonates most with me as a criminologist is the importance of a dedicated local community for transforming vacant spaces from liabilities into assets, thus preventing crime and disorder.
by Mateja Mihinjac
In the previous blog I wrote about the issue of food access and underlying problems that stem from inequality. We have learned in our SafeGrowth work that there is a connection between inequality, food access and the conditions that create crime. In this blog I present three pillars that can transform food deserts into food oases and concurrently tackle socio-economic disadvantage and crime.
Physical accessibility is the first pillar. Local infrastructure and zoning should support access to affordable fresh food within half a mile of residential areas. Many disadvantaged neighborhoods are faced with urban obstacles rooted in socio-economic inequality and high levels of crime that fail to achieve this objective.
Importantly, new supermarkets will not in themselves shift deeply ingrained eating habits without providing nutritional education.
In addition to physical access, another challenge is insufficient knowledge about nutrition and the effects of eating habits on health.
Education about health-promoting eating patterns should complement physical food accessibility. The Design for America Healthy Food (Access) Project developed an innovative approach that provides helpful graphic food guidelines for shoppers.
The third pillar focuses on financial aspects. Encouraging providers of fresh and affordable foods to partner with locally owned stores, thereby investing in the local economy, is preferable to relying on large supermarket chains. One strategy to achieve this is Rossi and Brunori's proposals for public and private stakeholder partnerships.
Another report looks at New York public housing and suggests the housing authority should contribute towards food access and economic security by encouraging commercial development on the housing properties. This could be coupled with employing residents to drive both local economy and local governance. Echoing Jane Jacobs, mixed uses promote safety by increasing occupancy and human interaction.
LOCAL FOOD GOVERNANCE
Food access from a local perspective is gaining traction in food justice circles. Knowing that available resources and education strongly influence food purchasing habits, it is unquestionable that food deserts are not a simple solution solved with new supermarkets.
Food accessibility and food education at a scale that responds to local demands is one major step towards food oases and away from barren food deserts. In SafeGrowth we suggest such changes should be driven With and By local residents for a lasting change towards 21st Century neighborhoods.
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.
by Gregory Saville
It was November 22, 2017, and a sidewalk sign just went up outside a Denver coffee shop. It read: “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2011”. The neighborhood exploded in outrage and the latest Internet meme was born. Realizing his massive gaffe, the owner dumped the sign, apologized, and has suffered a PR disaster ever since.
Gentrification is an ugly word these days. In SafeGrowth we spend much time in troubled places facing reinvestment and redevelopment. What can be done about crime prevention efforts and gentrification?
GENTRIFICATION IS NO JOKE
The cycle is well-known. Older neighborhoods suffering blight and crime turn into run-down wastelands. Groups looking for affordable spaces - artists, students or working class folks - move in and begin to fix them up. They build play areas for kids, bocce ball courts for elders and handball courts for kids, or gazebos in parks for weekend barbeques. Residents patronize local Mom & Pop stores. Artists set up studio lofts and paint interesting murals in alleys and eventually open spaces to showcase their art.
Richard Florida once described this process glowingly and called such groups Cultural Creatives who end up bringing a new life to old neighborhoods.
Then the new life evolves into a cultural economy that triggers waves of consumer spending, especially by real estate investors looking to capitalize on the “cool factor”. Reinvestment displaces low-income apartments as rents increase to accompany investment.
Ultimately the Creatives are forced out, and the area becomes the latest wealthy, unaffordable hangout for Hipsters.
It is called gentrification and it is the real estate version of hostile architecture. In his latest book Florida no longer speaks so glowingly of the process and now claims Creative Class migration ends up becoming a winner-take-all game that makes things worse.
A recent study on gentrification by the Federal Reserve Bank says:
"In its early phases, gentrification may not result in displacement, but over time, in the absence of protections, tenants may be forced to move."
The study concludes that gentrification often leads to exclusionary displacement unless careful planning and protections are put in place. Even in places where cities try to protect affordability, some owners install “poor doors” for low-income residents and other doors for the rest (a practice recently outlawed in New York City).
Obviously we must be vigilant. In SafeGrowth our motto “To-For-With-By” proclaims that we work with residents and enact strategies by residents versus to or for them.
In our new SafeGrowth book Mateja Mihinjac describes the SafeGrowth principle called Neighborhood Activation. It shows how we navigate through the gentrification conundrum because, ultimately, all those engaged in crime prevention and urban redevelopment must be careful to do no harm.
GUEST BLOG: SafeGrowth Advocate Anna Brassard recently mentored a high school student about design and safety and encouraged her to submit her project here. Sophia Marchenko is a grade 9 student at Calgary’s Master’s Academy and College. We congratulate Sophia on her exceptional work and welcome her contribution to SafeGrowth.
by Sophia Marchenko
In grade nine this past year, I had the opportunity to participate in the Professional Initiatives Program at my school, Master’s Academy and College. As part of the program, I was matched with a mentor in a field of my interest and was challenged to create my own research project. I was fortunate to be matched with Anna Brassard, an urban planner. The central question of my research project became “What if public art could serve a second purpose?”
I asked: What if public art could also be a bird sanctuary? A way to improve safety? A crime prevention system? An electric vehicle charging station? A way to generate electricity?
I found many examples of public art serving a functional purpose within Calgary and beyond. There were examples in Calgary, such as the public transit bus stops currently being built with art pieces, and artistically designed stormwater filtration systems. I looked into musical swings in Montreal, Quebec, and Chicago’s multimedia Crown Fountain. All of these examples display messages of beauty, culture, environmental stewardship, and community, while serving a practical purpose.
Since my school is located right beside the newly constructed Flander’s Bridge, I’ve seen how reckless drivers can get in that area. There is a plan for a new piece of public art for that area and I wondered whether a piece of public art could contribute artistic elements to the bridge while also helping to slow down traffic and improve safety.
I was put in contact with a transport engineering at the City of Calgary and he described the existing traffic volume is 94,000 vehicles per day at that location, a very large amount of road traffic. There were many schools in the area that have kids crossing Flanders Bridge every day.
FLANDER'S BRIDGE PROPOSAL
I decided that my public art would have speed signs incorporated in an artistic way, showing drivers their current speed and encouraging them to slow down. It would also have artistically-integrated solar panels to generate the needed electricity. I liked the idea of using strips of copper for most of the design and having the whole design illuminated with soft light at night.
By the end of my research project, I realized that I had learned a lot about public art and how an artistic element on a key piece of Calgary’s infrastructure could also contribute to a safer environment for both drivers and pedestrians. It was an eye-opening experience to learn from an urban planner, an architect, students at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Environmental Design, where Anna had years ago taught a SafeGrowth program, as well as planners and engineers from the City of Calgary. Many thanks to my mentor throughout this program, Anna Brassard, for opening my eyes to the field of urban planning.
by Gregory Saville
Where will we emerge in the next few decades and where will crime fit into the future city? Our new book, SafeGrowth - Building Neighborhoods of Safety and Imagination (we announced it in our last blog), has a chapter dedicated to answering this question. Here is an excerpt:
A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
“The Smart City is the latest addition to the urban planning lexicon. Smart cities - also known as digital cities or wired cities - encompass the idea that new information technologies will transform city services by better managing urban affairs.
It is, as yet, unclear how the Smart City will impact safety, inequality or crime neighborhoods. Advocates speak glowingly of the Smart City vision, such as how digital technologies might lead to a new form of e-governance. Already there are signs this is coming to pass. Ubiquitous CCTV security cameras on public streets already require police monitoring and response.
In cities like London, England, there are over a half million CCTV cameras pointed at streets, sidewalks, and parks, and the trend is worldwide. In Calgary, for example, there was an 80 percent increase of CCTV cameras on public streets from 2011 to 2016. Now over 1,100 integrated cameras point at buildings, sidewalks and streets throughout the city, all monitored at the city’s Integrated Security Centre.
NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH IN CYBERSPACE
Another Smart City innovation is neighborhood-networking websites, a social network for neighbors via websites that focus on specific areas. This allows neighbors to share information and plan events, such as block parties. It is a 21st Century version of Neighborhood Watch that fosters neighborliness (or just old-fashioned nosiness). Because network members must live within the designated neighborhood, and identify themselves to others on the website, these websites tend to avoid some of the rancor that plagues other social networking sites.
Neighborhood-based social media do have safety and security advantages; residents can monitor and report nearby break-ins, car thefts, or even organize block parties to get to know each other in real time. It’s easy to imagine how SafeGrowth neighborhoods, where residents work together to tackle local problems, might relish a cyber version of Neighborhood Watch that needs no police management, is accessible 24/7 on tablets and cell phones, and requires no neighborhood meetings that otherwise clutter busy schedules.
Yet both Smart City innovations come with drawbacks. In spite of claims for protection from crime, civil libertarians complain that constant CCTV surveillance on public streets invades our privacy. And evidence is inconsistent whether CCTV in public streets works better than human-based systems, like Jane Jacobs’ eyes-on-the-street. Further, private neighborhood social networking services are not easy to monitor for cyberbullying, in spite of claims to the contrary and there have been complaints about racial profiling. How does one decide what to do?
Will the Smart Cities movement hinder or hamper SafeGrowth neighborhoods? As yet, there is no clear vision of what Smart Cities will become. Perhaps we should worry less about the technology and more about educating the Digital Generation on how to build a SafeGrowth city in the 21st Century?”
For the full story, get our SafeGrowth book from Amazon.