Friday, February 17, 2017

Greening the netherworld beneath overpasses


video
Via Verde greening project, Mexico City - Via Verde Yahoo Mexico news

by Greg Saville

Traditionally, the sheltered areas beneath highway and freeway overpasses are places of dereliction and decline. They are places where garbage gathers and the homeless seek refuge. Especially in car-centric cities, they are a blight foisted on us like an afterthought by traffic engineers. 

Thankfully, planners and citizen advocates are beginning to transform areas beneath overpasses into a green future. Examples include projects such as Seart Park in Mount Wellington, New Zealand, Underpass Park in Toronto and Seattle’s I-5 Colonnade Mountain Bike Park.

A friend sent the above video of an urban naturalization project - the Via Verde project - recently launched in Mexico City; it modifies support columns beneath an elevated motorway using ivy and thousands of plants. 

Via Verde project - greening dead space below overpasses - screenshot from video

Although it's in Spanish, even non-Spanish speakers can see the video is inspiring! The main goal is ecological, namely cutting the air pollution problem from Mexico City’s notorious traffic congestion. The design structure uses recycled bottles, an automated rainwater irrigation system, and many other environmental innovations.

But there are obvious psychological perks worth mentioning from a SafeGrowth perspective.

The vegetative covering on cement pillars not only improves the color and aesthetics of a bland area, but it is just the kind of greenery that reduces the stress and foul moods from traffic madness. It also insulates against a wall of traffic noise, a major fear generator in urban places.

Green walls to humanize Mexico City roadways - screenshot from video 

Then there are the social contributions, for example, parts of the structure were constructed by women penitentiary inmates who were paid for their work. If plants begin to yellow, local residents use social media to notify the city thereby encouraging citizens to claim an interest in underpass areas, further enhancing the natural surveillance.

To date there have been few examples of an environmentally based CPTED - the so-called 3rd Generation CPTED. That is a theory yet to emerge and the green underpass movement may be a perfect place to start.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Reducing homelessness - Tiny house villages (Part 2)

Impression of tiny houses - photo by Tiny Homes Foundation
by Mateja Mihinjac

Not long ago we blogged about Dignity Village from Portland, the first organised tiny housing homeless community. Similar villages have expanded elsewhere across the US and, together with Housing First strategies, have contributed to a drop in homelessness.

These villages offer more than just housing. They also foster a sense of community within a supportive, respectful and usually self-governing environment that empowers the homeless to rebuild their lives. Social cohesion emerges from respect for shared goals and each other’s well-being. Connectivity helps to integrate the homeless with the local community and outside service providers.

Volunteers and local community are integral to success - photo by Kwamba Productions 

Australia has recently introduced its first homeless village projects. The Tiny Homes Foundation from NSW received an approval for a 2-year pilot project to build 4 self-contained houses and communal areas while the Victoria-based Launch Housing announced it will build 57 tiny homes on a currently unused VicRoads land.

Tiny Homes Foundation is a blueprint for other Australian projects. It has forged strong collaborative relationships with service providers, volunteers, and local communities and it helps homeless people transition to permanent housing, employment, and society.This will ensure that the project remains true to “housing first, not housing only” approach.


LESSONS LEARNED 

Experience from existing projects provide some lessons as a step for solving the homelessness crisis:
  • community-driven groups with mixed expertise are integral to planning, delivering and running the project such as charities, non-profits, and other social groups
  • engage local residents in the process to avoid NIMBYism
  • charities, volunteers, private donations, fundraising, and crowdfunding represent the most common project initiators and supporters 
  • close relationships with local government to secure special zoning arrangements and building code restrictions
  • villages should be integrated into the society with easy access to the city, work, and social services
  • aesthetically pleasing architecture of the structures secures public support
  • media and publicity can be effectively used to draw donations and secure ongoing public support 
The community works together to create homeless shelters – photo by Kwamba Productions

FINAL THOUGHTS 

Homelessness is a human rights issue. It should not exist in the first place or be allowed to progress. Social policies need to reflect this if Australia (indeed countries everywhere), wishes to reach the goal of halving homelessness by 2025. Support for tiny house villages is the first step towards realising that goal.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Reducing homelessness - An Australian example (Part 1)

The future of homelessness is in our hands - photo courtesy of Tiny Homes Foundation

By Mateja Mihinjac

In 2008 the Australian Government released its first White Paper on homelessness in which it announced a plan to cut homelessness in half and house all rough sleepers (a British term for those sleeping in the street) by 2020. Seeing little progress, the leading Australian charities have jointly committed to reaching this goal by 2025.

However, one of the major reasons behind homelessness is rarely discussed - housing affordability.

SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM

Australia is one of the world’s wealthiest nations and it seems unacceptable that it cannot provide affordable housing to all citizens when a sizable number of homes remain unoccupied. Yet, in 2016 the number of those experiencing homelessness in Australia on any given night was estimated at 105,000.

Exact homeless figures are always difficult to estimate, but this amounts to around 0.45% of the Australian population, a national figure that has remained relatively stable since 2011. For comparison, England’s estimates are around 275,000 (0.5% of population) while the US estimates 564,708 (0.2% of population).

To make matters worse, concentrated homelessness has increased in major city downtown areas in spite of a slight downward trend around the world.

Rising numbers of homeless people are concentrated downtown  

THE PARADOX OF PUBLIC SPACE

The homeless frequently occupy public spaces of city centers which offer them safety and access to resources. Yet, as with other cities around the world like Denver and Miami, some Australian cities employ social cleansing by removing homeless groups or banning homeless camps as bad for tourism even though homelessness is not illegal.

For example, the Melbourne Mayor has recently announced a proposal for a complete ban of rough sleepers in the city. These practices displace the homeless to peripheries of cities, pushing them farther away from much-needed services thereby reducing their prospects of ever resolving homelessness. We can do much better!

Next blog – tiny homes and other solutions.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Til it happens to you - Sexual violence on campus



Bystander intervention videos help provide prevention guidelines 

by Tarah Hodgkinson

There were six educated, relatively privileged, Canadian women sitting at that table. And yet not one of us was free from the experience, or the fear, of victimization, especially on university campuses.

Last year I attended a Take Back the Night event with several women in downtown Vancouver. We took over the streets protesting women’s inequality and violence against women. A few of us gathered for dinner beforehand and began to discuss the issue of victimization and sexual assault. Soon the stories about each individual’s experience, the experience of her friends, her sisters, her cousins, her colleagues and other women came to light.

I realized how many of my female counterparts had been sexually victimized in one way or another and how much of this seemed to happen in and around our undergraduate degrees.

SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM

Recently Mateja blogged here about safety and prevention in elementary schools. We also need to discuss sexual assaults occurring across North American college and university campuses every day. Until recently little attention has been paid to this issue.

CBC News has tried to gather data on campus sexual assaults across Canada. They found that over 700 women had reported in the last few years, but this fails to acknowledge that more than 65% of women do not report sexual assault to officials. This is not surprising considering less than one percent of reported cases result in formal action.

Several schools in Canada also reported no sexual assaults in spite of the fact that research indicates almost 40% of women over the age of 16 have experienced sexual assault.

Comedic videos offer another way to humanize sex assault statistics 

Unlike the U.S., who has passed a federal law that all universities must report ALL crimes on campus, Canadian colleges and universities are not required to publish reported crimes like the number of sexual assaults.

Several universities across Canada have surveyed students and drafted new sexual assault policies in the wake of recent high-profile cases. But far too little is being done on the prevention side. While some universities have developed poster campaigns or coffee cups messages to draw awareness to the issue, few seem to have any active prevention policies.

Universities may claim that it is not their responsibility to address prevention and that the police or other agencies have that responsibility. However, the U.S. Department of Justice found that college-aged women (18-24 years of age) have the highest risk of sexual victimization of any group of women.

PREVENTION

Prevention can involve many things. Many argue that first we need to change rape culture and they are correct. However, these strategies will take time and in that time women are being victimized.

Some steps are already occurring. At Western University in London, Ontario, there is a dedicated CPTED expert who reviews buildings and grounds for potential crime opportunities. In Quebec, Bishop's University requires sexual violence prevention training for all incoming first-year students. The University of Toronto also offers something similar.

Several other universities across the country offer blue-light posts/poles in public areas that allow potential victims to hit a button and speak with security or notify them of their whereabouts. Others offer walk-home services, in which a male and female volunteer will walk a student home late at night.

Campus student patrols - a fixture at many universities

Some action has been taken, but these strategies are merely band-aid solutions. If universities are extensions of our neighborhoods, perhaps we need to create places where this conversation can be expanded further? For example, on university campuses many women’s centers exist, yet there are no centers for men.

Many criticize men’s centers by claiming that all places are men’s places but these centers could be headed by trained feminist men, in partnership with women’s centers, who can encourage nonjudgmental and open conversations about proper consent, among other things.

A non-university example of this kind of culture jamming center called the Dude's Club, already exists in Vancouver. This may be a better way to change the cultural narrative by creating a safe space to learn to act differently in public spaces.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Japanese solution to gun crime

Tokyo from the top of the SkyTree - World's largest city - photo by Yokalica (C) 
                                                         Creative Commons license

by Greg Saville

There is a remarkable story in today’s Guardian newspaper titled “How Japan has almost eradicated gun crime”. It says in 2014 Japan had “just six gun deaths compared to 33,599 in the US.”

Six gun deaths? In the entire country of 130 million people? The US averages 10 gun deaths per 100,000 persons (both felonious and accidental). Canada is less than 2. The UK and Australia under 1. Japan's number is so low it doesn’t register!

Ah, say the naysayers, that may be six gun deaths but you cannot compare the two countries! Raw population size alone accounts for the difference! Right?

Nope. Both countries have large populations: Japan is the 10th most populous country and America the 3rd. At 130 million, Japan is just under half the US population of 325 million.

Ah, say the naysayers, there are lots of other reasons why you can't compare.

Let's consider them...

POVERTY?

Does the US have more poverty?  Nope! The US reports its relative poverty rate at 13.5%. Japan posts its relative poverty rate at 16%.

CULTURAL DIVERSITY? 

America is far more diverse and Japan is far more culturally homogenous. True, that probably leads to shared social attitudes about non-violence in Japan. But it is a fact that most American urban violence is not between different racial groups but rather within them (a truism ignored by fact-free politicians).

HISTORY? 

Perhaps American history, with a civil war and multiple overseas wars, fuels a culture of violence? Nope, Japan isn't that different! Consider Japanese militarism following the Meiji Restoration, the Sino-Japanese wars, the Russian-Japanese War, and of course WW2.

URBANIZATION? 

Perhaps there are more frustrated people who live in dense American cities and that drives them to crime (the US is 81% urban)?  Nope! Japan is 78% urban and the world’s largest city - Tokyo - is one of the densest and most urban in the world. It is also among the safest.

SECURITY TECHNOLOGY? 

The latest in criminology is to explain global crime declines via increases in security technology, DNA fingerprints, predictive policing, CCTV computer algorithms, etc.

Nope, that doesn't work either. DNA fingerprinting works after a crime, not before. It might get a chronic offender off the streets. But given DNAs investigative scarcity around the world, claiming it accounts for crime declines stretches the logic gap to Grand Canyon proportion. Predictive policing has not been around long enough to register on statistical radar screens.

And CCTV? Every time I turn on the nightly news I watch an "exclusive report" of a robbery "caught on tape"? If CCTV is so great cutting crime, why do gun robberies keep showing up on the nightly news? Obviously, research on CCTV effectiveness is spotty.

Security tech isn’t the answer.

GANGS and GUNS

John Hancock Observatory Night View
Chicago had over 700 homicides in 2016
- photo by allen McGregor (C),  Creative Commons license 

Stats are hard to come by, but rough estimates suggest there are 1.4 million gang members in the US and 100,000 Yakuza in Japan. That’s a whopping difference of .4 to .07 percent of each country’s population respectively (almost 6 times as many criminal gang members per capita in the US).

The gang theory makes some sense since Yakuza are not only fewer in number but far more disciplined than their US counterparts. But the obvious explanatory elephant in this room is simple. Guns!

CARNAGE IN FLORIDA, AGAIN

After years of blogging about mass murder, guns and gangs in places like Orlando, Connecticut, Los Angeles, and too many others, I’m not going to harp on gun control or the long-proven crime causation theory behind it. For clear thinkers, it is study-laden and it is obvious. It is also a theory well understood in places like Canada, Australia and especially Japan.

So the American carnage continues. Yesterday there was yet another mass shooting on US soil by a madman triggered by “voices” (said the FBI). This latest mass murder was a lone gunman at the Fort Lauderdale airport and in 80 seconds he shot and killed 5 and injured 11. That is more than all those killed by guns in Japan for an entire year.

Six.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Force for change

Dawn or dusk in 2017? 
We’re told it’s been a terrible year.

Proof: The Force left Princess Leia! The death of the Princess, or rather Carrie Fisher’s passing four days ago, was one of many sad events in 2016 that might easily get lost in the cacophony of civil wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, political unrest, and environmental decline. 

With that backdrop our fictional Leia was a symbol of hope against evil and bedlam - just the kind of dystopian pap we’re fed by the popular media and the pundits who feed on it. The truth (uncomfortable as it is with simplistic drivel) is more nuanced, at least from a crime perspective. In fact, in much of the developed world, this year was unexceptional for crime. 

Except for an explosion of gang violence in Chicago, crime continued its decades-long decline. There was a slight uptick in a few cities this year (Boston had 46 murders this year compared to 40 last year), possibly a symptom of cartel-fuelled opiates and heroin on city streets. Still, most cities reported stable or lower crime rates.

MOST CRIME IS DOWN

New York City had 4% fewer homicides, putting the lie to the idea that crime is rising due to the Ferguson Effect. In fact, New York's 330 murders this year are pale compared to 2,260 in 1990.

NYPD anti-terror officers - the new reality of police departments in 2017
Murders in Montreal declined to 19 this year while (as in the US) a few Canadian cities did have slight crime blips. Yet on whole the 2016 crime story is uneventful. 

So what of the headline bedlam? Maybe it’s the global story that bleeds?

Nope. 

It is true that narco-crime continues to torture too many places, especially Central America. But consider the UN Millenium Development Project. Over the past decade project success is staggering: 
  • People with access to better drinking water - up from 76% to 91%  
  • New HIV infections - down 40%   
  • Mortality rate from malaria - down 58% 
  • People in poverty living on $1.25 a day - down from 50% to 14% 
  • Undernourished people - down from 23% to 13%
Ill-informed politicians tout the mantra of gloom and social doom but they are not the brightest lightsabers in the galaxy. No doubt 2016 has seen tragedy, yet there are great things underway. With condolences to our beloved Princess, the Force of positive change is with us if we choose it. 

Here’s to 2017. Happy New Year! 




Sunday, December 25, 2016

School sexual abuse - Who guards the guardians?

Removing external threats does not remove internal threats
by Mateja Mihinjac

In The Republic, Plato asserted it is absurd “a guardian should need a guardian”. Five Centuries later the Roman poet Juvenal rejected this and claimed guardians do not always behave ethically and should not be trusted. Incidents of child sexual abuse by school personnel, estimated in some studies between 3.7% to 4.1% (almost 1 in 20), suggest that Juvenal may be right.

While increased focus has been placed on external threats such as school shootings, children remain largely defenseless from internal threats of sexual abuse by staff.

I was recently tasked with investigating whether child-safe schools can be designed to prevent child abuse by school staff. This led me to dig deep into the literature, while remaining skeptical the solution to this social problem was physical modification.

Too often internal threats are hidden and remain a secret
The first step required understanding the contextual factors leading to abuse. Some of the findings revealed:

  • Incidents occur in settings that provide isolation, such as during one-on-one interactions often in boarding houses, camps, cars, during after-school and extracurricular activities, or at the perpetrator’s home
  • Abuse is characterised by gradual desensitisation where “grooming” behaviours commence with increased attention until escalating to obscene gestures and inappropriate behaviours.

Exacerbating the problem is inadequate legislation, unsatisfactory institutional policies and procedures, inadequate awareness, institutional blindness, and inability to centre strategies on child welfare. All that leaves children vulnerable to abuse by those who should be protecting them.

PREVENTION

The second step was research into preventive strategies, revealing the problem needs a holistic multi-level approach. These include:

  • Child safety policies and training for everyone (including children, parents, and teachers) that clarify acceptable behaviours
  • An institutional culture with zero tolerance policy for all forms of child abuse
  • Management practices that minimise opportunities for inappropriate encounters
  • Community strategies (media campaigns, bystander interventions)
  • Institutional transparency.

Schools must offer safe environments for study and play

Design Out Crime strategies proved ineffective for addressing the intricate problem of institutional child sexual abuse. Instead, responses should embed child safety at individual, organizational and systemic levels while also giving children a voice in the matters affecting them.

As Juvenal might suggest, trusting guardians is not simple and responsibility for preventing child abuse falls to wider society at all levels including neighborhoods, parents, and schools.