Monday, November 24, 2014

Exciting times in Middle Earth



Gollum greets visitors at Wellington, New Zealand airport - photo Mateja Mihinjac
Arriving in Middle Earth you might expect Frodo Baggins on arrival, not surprising if you land at Wellington airport where a monstrous Gollum sculpture reaches for a salmon instead of the One Ring. Tourism promoters here are on a roll.

New Zealand is a lyrical land with people not quite Elven and certainly not Orc, yet totally marvelous. No wonder the Lord of the Rings was filmed in this beautiful country. And there is reason for jubilation beyond tourism, this time from SafeGrowth innovations in Christchurch.

Reopening the trolly line in downtown Christchurch - photo by Nathan
Following the devastating 2011 earthquakes, Christchurch adopted a forward-thinking redevelopment plan. Central to the plan was a belief that “good urban design creates attractive, safe and functional environments” and “careful design…can help make places less susceptible to crime”. How true! My favorite was their commitment to neighborhoods as the best way to organize development - exactly the philosophy of SafeGrowth. 

Then, amid the massive rebuilding efforts, CPTED expertise arose in the form of a Crime Prevention Team led by Sue Ramsay. In harmony with the redevelopment plan, Sue launched SafeGrowth programming. I reported some early work last year in a blog post.

The SafeGrowth work in Christchurch has been exceptional. Two neighborhoods – West Riccarton and Phillipstown - now have multiple projects underway.


Phillipstown community centre - police and citizens together in SafeGrowth teams

SAFEGROWTH IN CHRISTCHURCH

One team created a model asset map. Another, the Paeora Reserve team, found funding to install solar tables and couches to activate a public park. In Phillipstown, SafeGrowth followed a neighborhood policing team who conducted successful problem-oriented policing to cut crime (winning a national award for policing excellence). That cleared the way for SafeGrowth strategies to build cohesion and establish sustainable community development so problems don’t return. Now the team is cracking negative stereotypes of their neighborhood.

In West Riccarton the Harrington Park team concluded; “Most of the recommendations can be owned by the people of the neighbourhood who can then develop their utilisation of the park easily and without major financial input.” 

That's the difference between a resident and a responsible citizen!

West Riccarton team members planning improvements to a local park

This is impressive work! Christchurch seems to have learned an essential lesson – that the hackneyed phrase community development has little meaning without legs. It cannot materialize without a coherent planning method like SafeGrowth. Without that, it is filled with fail.

More importantly, community development cannot really happen without attention to safety and perceptions of safety. The SafeGrowth efforts in Christchurch reveal a city rising from the ashes of a tragic earthquake! These are exciting times in Middle Earth!
 
Community members and police collaborating on walkway safety



Monday, November 17, 2014

Yarn bombing as placemaking - Adventure in Adelaide

Mall's Balls - popular meeting place in Adelaide's Rundle Mall

GUEST BLOG – Mateja Mihinjac is a criminologist at Griffith University, Australia completing her doctoral research on CPTED implementation. She is a member of the International CPTED Association. She recently attended the Asia-Pacific ICA CPTED Forum and kindly submitted this blog.

In mid-October, the ICA hosted a 2014 regional Asia-Pacific CPTED forum themed Better CPTED - Multidisciplinary Design for Safer Places.

The participants came from many different backgrounds thus bringing to the table a rainbow of strategies. Despite the differences we all agreed better and safer places emerge from the special features that make places more attractive and the people who use those places. I found great examples on the streets of Adelaide.

The nicely maintained Victoria Square offers numerous opportunities for social activities, meeting spots and sheltered seating areas. Walking down the pedestrian Rundle Mall I found The Mall’s Balls   - a common meeting point for people in the mall.

Dame Roma Mitchell statue
Looking for examples of people being users and co-creators of such special places I discovered some yarn bombing - dressed-up Rundle Mall Pigs and a statue of Dame Roma Mitchell on the North Terrace. They instantly attracted my attention and reminded me of the yarn bombed road barrier from Melbourne in a blog from a few months ago.

Turns out that the pigs and the statue were not isolated cases and that yarn bombing is popular throughout Adelaide, especially since 2012 when even the statue of Queen Victoria received a makeover. Yarn bombing is now part of Adelaide’s community events and it all started from local people aiming to create better places for and by themselves.

Rundle Mall yarn bombed pigs
Yarn bombing and its “softer” version known as yarn storming (in the UK) manifests community pride and provides a personal touch in public places. It is  widely considered a feminine form of graffiti or artistic vandalism.

Creative approaches such as knitting are one channel for the public to express and partake in public life. What I find neat about this approach is that it empowers those who traditionally wouldn’t participate in public activism and allows them to have a say in their own communities.

Placemaking surely comes in many forms.

Sheltered seating in Victoria Square


Monday, November 10, 2014

Enforcing a higher standard




Nowhere have I seen a better example of the gulf between combat cops and community cops than in these two recruiting videos. A friend recently sent them to me with the comment "Police recruitment videos speak volumes about livability of a place…"

Yes, they do.

Both cities are low crime and only one murder has occurred in either community over the past few years. Both have higher than average income levels with similar demographic mixes.

Newport Beach, California has 85,000 residents and Decatur, Georgia has 20,000, although both are adjacent to large cities (Los Angeles and Atlanta). While Decatur is smaller, the relative police strength is similar with both cities under 200 officers per 100,000 residents.

In social science this is gold! Social conditions are never the same and cross-jurisdictional comparisons are always imperfect. But it would be difficult to find two communities that are more apple-to-apple similar for comparing police services.

Except they don't compare. At all!


Who knows if policing reflects recruitment videos. But culture often shows up in videos like these. After all, each department had to approve them for public release so they obviously think these are the best images that represent what they are all about.

That is a frightening thought!


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Time for a little common ground

Mark Lakeman at Ted Talk last weekend. 
Neighborhood collaboration infers there is a reason to do so and a place to do it.  In SafeGrowth the reason is simple; crime and safety. But why do we need a common place to collaborate and how do we get that? Aren't community halls enough? Don't we have adequate common places for that now?

No we don't!

In  the Ted Talk below my friend, Portland architect Mark Lakeman tells us why. Mark has appeared on this blog before about Safety With a Potluck. Here he is on a roll! It's fascinating how he starts slow and builds tempo to such an obvious conclusion that somehow escapes how we currently build neighborhoods.


I remember sitting next to a colleague last year when Mark presented this idea during a keynote address. My colleague, clearly uncomfortable with the unconventional method in Portland's  Intersection Repair program, whispered: "What about the home owners near the intersection who don't want to participate?"

"Oh," I should have answered, but didn't, "do you mean the one's who prefer isolation and alienation? Or do you mean you don't understand how intersection repair accounts also for their need for privacy?"

Mark answers this when he describes Monopoly as the economic motif for how we plan cities and a game we all grew up with. We don't even question the logic of Monopoly as a way of doing business. Mark does! That's an idea worth spreading.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dancing Traffic Light - a viral meme

Dancing Traffic Lights in Lisbon, Portugal - screenshot from Smart Car video

Every now and then a meme comes along over which it is worth getting stoked. This week the Dancing Traffic Light went viral. It is such a meme.

Lisbon, Portugal is among the oldest cities in Europe known for its magnificent Gothic architecture, world class museums, and cultural festivals. Drug laws are decriminalized and it enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

Yet even a successful city has problems like traffic! Pedestrians risk life crossing congested intersections and dangerous jaywalking results in injury. The Dancing Traffic Light solves that!


Lisbon's Dancing Traffic Light cuts pedestrian intersection jaywalking 80%. It is from a PR campaign by the Smart Car Company to "discover our mind openers – urban experiments for a better future for the city".

It brought to mind the bottle bank or the piano stairway projects from Volkswagen's Fun Theory. It's also similar to the Say Something Nice project in New York.

Is this is what Capitalism 3.0 meant by responsible corporate citizenship?

This week the Dancing Traffic Light went viral - screenshot from Smart Car video

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Modernist message from a master architect

Simon Fraser University at sunset - photo John Christall

Beautiful places and streets attract people. They put eyes on the street, a basic principle of urban safety. I was recently reminded of a master architect of beauty, the award-winning Arthur Erickson, an architect the New York Times called Canada's pre-eminent Modernist architect.

While in Vancouver this week I spent time with Erickson's closest colleagues and friends, an impressive group who just like Erickson were concerned about both social equity and aesthetic beauty.

Modernism has not always had a good rap. Arguably, CPTED would not exist if not for the modernist planning and architecture that Jane Jacobs so bitterly attacked. Inappropriately applied modernism led to the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe social housing in 1960s St. Louis, the project dubbed indefensible and crime-ridden in Oscar Newman's Defensible Space.

Arthur Erickson showed another way; modernism done right! An example of his work appeared here previously regarding Vancouver's Robson Square.

Erickson's Canada Place pavilion in 1967, Montreal's Expo 67
The first Erickson building I ever entered was the Canadian Pavilion at the Expo 67 fair in Montreal in 1967, a kind of inverted pyramid. At the time I had no idea about architectural modernism. It just looked cool.

Later I studied at the Erickson inspired Simon Fraser University atop Burnaby Mountain in Greater Vancouver, a kind of spaceship in the sky. It too was very cool and futuristic - a fact not lost on film directors who have filmed there (BattleStar Gallactica, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Underworld Awakening).

Erickson taught it is the work quality, not the theory, that matters most in constructing beautiful places. The problem arises when modernism is done badly and applied inappropriately. This is the case in  Pruitt-Igoe, Chicago's Cabrini-Green, Toronto's Jane/Finch, and the Chichy suburbs of Paris. Unsurprisingly, crime festers in such places.

Museum of Glass in Tacoma by Arthur Erickson/Nick Milkovich Architects - photo pinetrest 
The takeaway? Build sensitively and in social context. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yet too many new architectural forms do the latter and too few architects do the former.

In Erickson's own words:

"…the reaction to the bareness of ill conceived modernist buildings was to revert in the 80's to a revival of historicism in the guise of "post-modernism"… That Dark Age is thankfully over but cultural insecurity is always there, hidden in the basement of our psyches - ready to spring out whenever brave confidence falters. 

It lingers in the gated communities where make-believe has become an adult panacea. It lingers with the developers who promote kitsch because it sells.  It lingers with the newly rich and the establishment who need to consolidate social standing with class accepted standards. It lingers in every shopping centre, multiplex, restaurant, Vegas casino where illusion is needed to disguise the emptiness within." 

Arthur Erickson,  2000






Saturday, October 4, 2014

Designing Out Crime in Sydney

Unique architecture near the Designing Out Crime research centre in Sydney, Australia

This week I spent time with new friends at the Designing Out Crime (DOC) center at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia (UTS).

Criminology can be plodding and stagnant. This is no doubt surprising to outsiders like journalists who turn to criminologists for answers to the latest crime spree. Too often outsiders are fed stale abstractions with no real-life angle. Not so for the DOC centre in Sydney. In fact, even the architecture in and around the UTS campus, as the photos here show, reflected cutting edge thinking.

Alternative design at the University of Technology Sydney campus
The sad fact is much academic criminology is very far from the cutting edge. Conference themes regurgitate the same tired issues. Researchers complain about a lack of evidence-based this or that (and funding that supports them).

On the flip side I have written about DOCs in London and Sydney. They breathe new life into an old story. Consider  Laneway Chic in Sydney and Magic Carpets in the UK. This was the first time I got up close and personal visiting the Sydney HQ at UTS, meeting the DOC team and hearing their stories.

What fun! What a relief.

DOC proposal for new pedestrian Help Points throughout UTS campus - photo Designing Out Crime centre 
Design Out Crime theory has been around for awhile as an offshoot of CPTED, tinkering with security and target hardening. The DOCs, at least those I'm familiar with in London and Sydney, take a quantum leap forward. They innovate with a collaborative, action-based method. Their website describes how they "evolved towards transdisciplinary crime research…to improve the quality of life for law-abiding users of public spaces (and) adopting a broad approach to crime prevention."

I love this transdisciplinary approach. I first wrote about it in 1991 in my work on the Toronto Subway Security Audit. More complicated than consulting or advising, it is action research incarnate.

The transdisciplinary, action research method, along with DOC's real-life, community-partnering angle, is an important crime prevention breakthrough. Finally...some fresh air!

DOC proposal for Lifeline child assistance at transit hubs - photo Designing Out Crime centre