by Gregory Saville
I recently spent time in downtown Toronto and found some great street designs, including Dundas Square - a walkable/event square surrounded by flashing billboards and shops of all sorts. It is like a kind of mini-Times Square, following the pedestrianization of former New York planner Janette Sadik-Khan.
Between the flower pot decorations, the latest tunes from loudspeakers and an evangelical huckster announcing his wares on one side, and a fashion photographer capturing the stylish gaze of his model on the other, Dundas Square seems chaotic at one glance and at another, deliciously exciting. It might generate plenty of activity, but there is nothing inherently crime-generating about this downtown corner.
Dundas Square is an example of two ideas in SafeGrowth related to community design that have a huge impact on safety – or the opposite – and yet we seldom use them when we aim to build livable and safe places.
SOCIAL STABILIZERS & CRIME DISRUPTERS
One is the concept called social stabilizers. The term was first coined as part of neighborhood livability in the late 1960s. The idea originally referred to people whose presence and activities help reduce disorder in a neighborhood. Today we draw the term from 2nd Generation CPTED to refer to safe congregation areas for pro-social activities and balanced land uses that minimize places that can tip an area into higher disorder or crime.
The other concept is called crime disrupters - a term that is related, but different, from stabilizers. While planners can design social stabilizers into new neighborhood plans, for those who live and work in a community, it might be too late to add new designs. So they can use crime disrupters to alter problem areas.
One example of crime disrupters is pop-up placemaking, sometimes called tactical urbanism. Because it is done by local residents, shop owners or property managers, tactical urbanism cannot only disrupt crime but also stabilize the safety of an area.
I recently received a Bloomberg research report from my architect friend Mark Lakeman about the stabilizing effect of intersection repair programs on traffic accidents and neighborhood safety.
Stabilizing neighborhoods and disrupting crime is as much a part of urban design and community building as any other activity. As we create livable communities, and as crime rates rise in our post-Covid era, we should tap into the urban design and community-building tactics at our disposal.
SafeGrowth® is a philosophy and theory of neighborhood safety planning for 21st Century.