Thursday, January 7, 2021

Laneways - dreadful enclosures or neighbourhood assets?

by Mateja Mihinjac

Winter influences how we use our neighbourhood. Because of short daylight hours and cold weather, walking the neighbourhood is often an isolating experience. Current COVID lockdowns all across the world make these changes even more pronounced. All this affects the perception of safety of local residents, especially regarding residential laneways that may become risky movement predictors.


Residential laneways, also called alleys, back lanes or catwalks, are a welcome addition to the neighbourhood when they provide accessibility, shorten travel paths, and enhance walkability. They can serve as positive places for interaction.

Some blame these micro-places for increasing opportunities for crime. Research suggests that laneways can facilitate crime opportunities by contributing to increased levels of noise, property crime, antisocial behaviour and fear.

Yet others argue that laneway research shows improvements in social and environmental sustainability, which lead to better safety and perception of safety outcomes. Positive laneway design has a buffering effect on crime and vulnerable targets due to increased informal social controls stemming from higher levels of social cohesion.

Therefore, the question is not whether laneways have a place in the neighbourhood because they might trigger crime opportunities – laneways have many positive attributes that contribute to walkability and neighbourhood liveability. Rather the question should be how do we better design laneways and make them safe.


Many laneways are separated from neighbouring courtyards with high non-permeable fences that offer few opportunities for natural surveillance and interaction. Such laneways create tunnel-like gauntlets that are unattractive, especially at night. 

In addition to this, many laneways, especially in North America, are positioned along backyard residential garage areas intended predominantly for vehicles and rubbish removal. No wonder these laneways become a “no man’s land” and thus lead to safety concerns described earlier.

One of our project teams from a recent Calgary SafeGrowth training identified that residents were concerned with hiding spots, poor visibility in the dark, graffiti on tall fencing, and similar. Clearly, laneway designers must create open and attractive areas that pay attention to pedestrian use.  


The second issue is that the laneway debate centres exclusively around crime prevention. Little attention is given to larger issues such as the type of the laneway and neighbourhood structure. Conversely, much of urban design literature speaks to the importance of integrating multiple liveability indicators and considering safety as an integral rather than isolated indicator of laneway suitability. As architecture professor Kim Dovey says, “I begin from the view that the urban public realm needs to be at once safe, accessible, vital, creative and democratic.”

Criminologist Paul Cozens believes that when the discussion centres around crime prevention alone, we make laneways hostile to human-scale design. In fact, he claims we can inadvertently “design in crime” while the residents become isolated from one another and from the outside neighbourhood.

When our Calgary team spoke to residents they found that the residents often referred to other quality of life concerns that affected their use of the laneways rather than safety concerns alone. Some of these included poor maintenance, tripping hazards, poor wayfinding, and integration of laneways with the street.

Again, this suggests we must consider laneways more holistically, not strictly with a crime prevention eye, and we must reconcile safety with other liveability indicators.


Despite the potential safety risks, there are many benefits of well-designed and well-functioning residential laneways. If designed well, they can further enhance community capacity-building and create a sense of neighbourhood.

There are some excellent toolkits describing how to accomplish these goals. They include a Turning Laneways into Public Places document and a Reimagine Catwalks Playbook. 

As we say repeatedly in SafeGrowth, what matters most is collaborative design with residents – not designing to or for them. This is how we use laneways, not as dreadful shortcuts and fear-inducing places, but as shortcuts for building the neighbourhood. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?

Movie night - watching movies on our neighbor's garage door

by Greg Saville

Seasonal celebrations are now underway. Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and National Don’t Make Your Bed Day (Yes, there is such a thing! I’m a believer). Each event celebrates a different aspect of life – seasonal, religious, cultural – and, in so doing, each celebrates our human community. Given the mess that is 2020 - inequity protests around the world, the Racial Reckoning riots in the United States, and the scourge of COVID-19 - we desperately need to celebrate something this year!

Human “community” is an elusive animal. It means different things to different people, and consequently, it means nothing that you can put your finger on. Of course, since we’re not testing a theory in a lab experiment, who cares? It’s okay that we have regular celebrations of community; it’s needed now more than ever.

To some, “community” is their immediate family and circle of friends. (I’ve been particularly lucky in this regard.) For others, it is their social circle or their affiliation with sports teams. To yet others, it is those who share political affinities or who occupy the thousands of groups in 


For my part, I recently became obsessed with a YouTube group that takes virtual rides on famous trains around the world (yes, yes… I know how pathetic and uncool that sounds. COVID cabin fever takes a toll!)

Yet there is another important part of this story worth telling. For those of us in the community-building and crime prevention world, the term “community” is too elusive. We prefer using local geography to describe our neighborhood – those buildings, neighbors, parks, shops, and other places within a 15-minute walk of our home. After all, it is within those neighborhoods where we actually live much of our lives. 

Our immediate neighbors, for better or worse, matter a great deal! And it is in those very places where we experience, recover from, or hide from, crime and fear. Mateja Mihinjac and I describe some of these ideas in our Third Generation CPTED article last year.

A pre-Covid, summer afternoon with neighbors

Neighborhoods matter and neighbors matter. So let’s celebrate our neighbors too during this holiday season. I’ve been fortunate to have some great neighbors over the years. We may not always agree about politics or see eye-to-eye on our philosophy of life, but we agree it is important to be a good neighbor. When neighborliness works well, it costs you little, it means a lot, and it contributes to your quality of life. In an upcoming blog, Mateja will describe how we encourage neighborhood engagement. In the meantime, let's celebrate our neighbors. 

To the great neighborhoods and to the great neighbors who care, thanks. You rock! 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Abolish CPTED?

Is CPTED racist? Does it exclude minorities?

by Gregory Saville

As our COVID ravaged cities impose social isolation, working-from-home, and cabin fever, those who live in high-density apartments and housing developments must be confident they are safe from crime and violence. And, more than ever before, residents must feel their home is a sanctuary. Crime prevention through environmental design - CPTED - is an ideal answer for these difficult times, especially 2nd Generation CPTED and SafeGrowth.

Next Thursday, Dec 17, I and some colleagues are running a free educational webinar for property managers, realtors, and housing groups seeking residential safety. The “Virtual Property Management and Safety Summit” is sponsored by real estate safety expert, Tracey “the safety lady” Hawkins.


All this stands in stark contrast to recent calls for the abolition of CPTED from municipal codes and city planning due to the perception that CPTED can exclude minorities from public life. Consider the Vancouver City Planning Commission website or articles by Bryan Lee Jr in Bloomberg City Lab website.

Keeping residents safe at home - What are the alternatives?

According to Lee: 

“While CPTED principles are said to help discourage crime by orienting building windows and entrances to aid in providing “eyes on the street” that monitor activity, in practice this strategy can end up serving the same suppressive purpose as stop-and-frisk policing — to assure that anyone considered suspicious is made to feel uncomfortable.”

The solution, say these latter-day gurus who would protect us from the current Racial Reckoning, is to abolish CPTED, a crime prevention strategy that has brought safety and security to millions of citizens all over the world – as you will discover by reading some of the hundreds of scientific publications regarding CPTED. 


In my view, CPTED is not the problem. For example, while aspirin has been an effective pain remedy for over a thousand years, improper use can result in overdose and stomach problems. The solution is not to abolish aspirin. Same with CPTED. It is vulnerable to improper use by poorly trained practitioners. No doubt some practitioners indiscriminately lock and fence properties without regard to alternative options. CPTED can produce racial exclusion if placed into the wrong, untrained hands. But the solution isn’t abolition. It’s proper training and certification through legitimate accredited courses – the very thing the ICA has offered for years.

In his 1972 landmark book “Defensible Space”, architect Oscar Newman wrote 

"The question to be asked is how does one initially achieve thoughtful building groupings rather than having to resort to barbed-wire fences and locks after the fact?"

One answer appeared on the International CPTED Association’s “Special ICA Webinar: Exclusion versus Inclusion – In CPTED Everyone Has a role”.

On Thursday, Dec. 17, we will provide another during our Safety Summit

Join us.

Thursday, Dec 17 - free summit on property safety

Monday, November 30, 2020

COVID’s impact – connection during the holiday season

"Loneliness and alienation need not characterize urban life"
C. Ray Jeffery - founder of CPTED (1971)

by Tarah Hodgkinson

Around this time last year, I wrote a blog about self-care and new year’s resolutions. I suggested that the best self-care we could engage in, was to take care of others. Through connection and social engagement, we not only are happier and healthier, but we even live longer. 

This year, such a suggestion may seem out of touch with reality. The second wave of COVID-19 is well underway in many North American and European neighbourhoods and many places are, once again, increasing social distancing restrictions and locking down. While the promise of the vaccine is on the horizon, most people are preparing for a quiet holiday season that doesn’t involve much social interaction.

COVID - isolation - homelessness 

These steps are necessary to keep people safe until the vaccine is easily accessible and widely distributed. However, it is hard not to feel a bit distraught at the thought of spending the holidays separated from family and friends. 

While we often think about how this pandemic has affected our personal lives, this time of year encourages us to think outwards. For many, the holidays are a time to volunteer and give back. But, COVID-19 has changed this as well. 

This was made clear to me when I reached out to a local homelessness charity to donate some clothing and other necessities. Although grateful for any support, the charity has been unable to accept any physical donations in months. The pandemic has made it impossible for them to pass along these donations safely and in keeping with the restrictions. 


Furthermore, many of the ways in which these charities have supported their clients in the past, from offering clothing and supplies, to providing crisis housing has changed. All of this work requires additional personal protective equipment and financial support for food and shelter costs. 

Most donation drives and volunteer supports have been reduced or eliminated due to restrictions on what can be accepted and how many people can be in a space. For example, Signal Fire, a well-known homeless charity here in Brisbane, has had to shut down or scale back their barbecues. These barbecues not only provide much-needed food and supplies to their clients, but also a chance for social interaction, support, and connection. 

While the pandemic has affected all of us, this has been more dramatic than ever for society’s “underclass.” Beyond basic necessities, we also need connection and interaction to stay healthy and happy. For our most vulnerable, these opportunities are all but gone. 

As the pandemic persists, those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home, support ourselves and see our friends and family over skype and zoom, may also want to take this opportunity to redirect what we would have spent on big holiday dinners and presents for our extended family and donate that money to a local shelter or charity. These services need financial support to continue their missions and connect with their clients. That connection has never been more important than it is now. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Coloring our neighborhood safe

Color plays an important role in neighborhood life

by Mateja Mihinjac

As winter is fast approaching in the northern hemisphere the trees are losing their colorful blankets of leaves. Coupled with that come cloudy overcast or foggy days with short pockets of sunshine signaling the dreary months ahead when we’d rather stay indoors than be exposed to the monotone grey outside. 

However, it turns out there might be ways to break the bland world of winter and introduce some color into our neighborhoods to influence our mood and emotions.


Environmental color psychology research shows color can be used effectively to create emotional responses at conscious and unconscious levels.

In simplified terms, red, orange, and yellow colors create a stimulating cognitive response whereas green and blue have a calming effect on our nervous system. This is an evolutionary adaptation that once helped us survive, but is also is an effective strategy to stimulate desired moods in outdoor spaces. 

Public restroom in Helsingborg, Sweden 

The commercial, design, and health industry has been using this knowledge with great success to promote revenue and to elicit desired emotional responses by incorporating designs that connect us to nature, what is known as biophilic designs.

None of this is a new idea. Ethnic neighborhoods have been using colors for years to showcase their cultural identity and tradition. For example, "Chinatown's” or “Little Italy's” are often characterized by red color whereas "Greek Town's" are wrapped in blue/white designs and blue light installations. This creates a sense of identity and neighborhood attachment for people of that neighborhood’s heritage.

It turns out color psychology might also play a role in crime prevention.


Understanding the importance of a person-environment interaction was the message of CPTED pioneer, C. Ray Jeffery, who emphasized that we must appreciate how external and internal stimuli affect our brain’s response to the environment.

Color splashed onto the simplest urban feature makes a difference

There is anecdotal evidence from Glasgow, Scotland showing how blue color lights might help with suicide and crime prevention. Reports of lower crime rates and increased community ownership also emerged after the mayor of Tirana, Albania decided to use bold color design on many of the city’s buildings.

More detailed research on the color/crime prevention story is, as yet, scarce and inconclusive, but one fact remains: reports from all over the world indicate that residents respond positively to colorfulness and even crave opportunities to partake in them. 


While bringing color to the neighborhood might be an effective solution to generate interesting places that promote social interaction, such initiatives also offer a great opportunity to work in partnerships with local residents and co-create these colorful places together. 

One great example is the Intersection Repair Project that creates colorful neighborhood intersections and combines that with residents who co-design their own streets. A few years later, our SafeGrowth team from Christchurch, New Zealand, successfully used the same approach for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere.

Color peeking through a foggy morning 

Of course, coloring neighborhoods does not magically solve neighborhood crime. We still need research on the internal workings of how our brain interprets these places – what Jeffery called internal cognition and internal environment. We have only recently seen reignited academic interest in this topic, for example, our recent study on Third Generation CPTED.

In this new approach, we link internal cognition to Maslow’s theory of human motivation. We emphasize that every high functioning neighborhood should offer opportunities for satisfying both individual and collective needs. Satisfying those needs at the neighborhood level is an important factor in neighborhood liveability. Colorful design throughout our daily public life that elicits positive moods may go a long way to satisfy at least some liveability objectives.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Busting the Blue Babble - police myths preventing reform


Doing it right! Residents and police work together in Ottawa
to create crime-solving plans

by Gerard Cleveland and Gregory Saville

NOTE: My colleague Gerard Cleveland and I co-wrote this second part of last week's blog on “Defund the Police”. Gerry is a frequent contributor to the SafeGrowth blog. He is an attorney, a specialist in school violence, and the co-chair of the Police Society for Problem-Based Learning.

Occasionally, SafeGrowth programmers benefit from exceptional problem-solving police officers. Other times they get little help from the police. When that happens, residents ask questions such as: Where are the police? Why are we spending so much on policing services? What is wrong?

Why does a disconnect exist between what works to make communities safe and what currently occurs within policing? In our view, the systemic blockages first emerge within the academy. And since training serves as the entry point to police subculture, we must start reforms at that early stage if we hope to create a different style of police service. 

Fear of crime is a major problem in many cities. Police can work
with residents and other professionals to improve the quality of life
... but this depends on proper police training. 


Over the past twenty-five years, we have taught thousands of police, federal agents, military units, and security personnel from across the globe. We find a disturbing commonality exists among most police training academies from places as diverse as the United States, Canada, Australia, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea or Qatar.

Why disturbing? Because most policing academies today hold four prevalent and dangerous myths. Police leaders and academy directors think these myths are unassailable truths. They are wrong.


Academy instructors have no choice but to lecture to ensure that they get as much information to the recruits as possible. They do not have time to do otherwise. They must follow legally prescribed, State and Federal regulations and therefore lecturing serves as the most expedient method to get all the required information to the recruits. They assure everyone that they would like to do more adult learning and problem-solving in the classroom, but such efforts “take too much time.”


This “no time to train properly” mantra undermines the long-term success of new employees. If the objectives of the academy genuinely state a clear intention to focus on student learning, then agency and academy leaders must abandon their ineffective instructor-focused lessons and institute problem solving and adult learning strategies.

We described antidotes to this absurd “no time” mantra in our book You In Blue and in our work on National programs that we wrote such as Police Training Officer and Police PBL: Blueprint for The 21st Century.

Resident/police collaborative research into night crime
- the hallmark of Police Problem-Based Learning methods


Defensive tactics and weapons training necessarily fill a substantial portion of the academy agenda because of the inherent dangers on the street that officers will face from day 1 of their careers.


Defensive tactics (DT) and firearms instructors have hijacked police training schedules and are responsible for much of the fear that exists both within the force and throughout the community. The DT and firearms instructors may have good intentions, but they are doing serious damage to the profession and to police-community relations.

We must stop allowing tactical or firearms instructors to “call the shots” when it comes to crisis training. These instructors are important and they provide a necessary skill, but their mandate must include broad-spectrum problem-solving options, coupled with a focus on working collaboratively with community crisis providers (such as mental health professionals) prior to, during and after violent escalation. Firearms and DT instructors should be trained extensively on the impacts that shootings, violence and vehicle accidents involving police have on the officers as well as the community.


Discipline and adherence to a para-military code of behavior in the academy builds character, cohesion, respect for agency hierarchy and fosters professional pride among the recruits.


This is blue babble!

The concept that we must break down and then build up a new employee makes little sense when recruiters claim they hire only the best candidates. Boot camp may work for soldiers, but police must work within communities, engage intelligently and problem-solve cooperatively.

Yelling and shouting at new employees and telling them they know nothing achieves little except to waste precious training time and stoke the egos of the instructors doing the yelling. Further, we argue it creates an unhealthy role model in the minds of the recruits as to how they should treat people over whom they have power.


Addressing gang and violence problems requires a trusting partnership
between officers and residents


Police trainers should discourage recruits from questioning orders, engaging in divergent thinking and challenging up the chain of command. Those practices increase dangers to officers because they may not, at critical times, follow orders when required to do so.

Discipline within the ranks serves as a safety mechanism for agencies and instilling that obligation to authority must begin at the academy. 


No one doubts the need for discipline and following orders. These requirements exist in all professions and occupations. Numerous professionals learn to respect authority while engaging with each other to solve problems and employing problem-solving/adult learning methods in their training. Why then do police academies spend so much time on artificial discipline when there are much better techniques to enable self-controlled and socially motivated police officers who think critically?



Public safety agencies need to work as part of the communities they serve, not apart from them. They must do more than spout community problem-solving catchwords in their mission statements and public speeches. Agencies must adopt those methods as their primary style of policing. For decades this has been the central goal of the Problem-Oriented Policing movement and the Police Society for Problem-Based Learning.

Those are the movements that police leaders, political representatives and particularly police trainers need to support.

On many police vehicles it reads “to serve and protect.” The logical question arises, “how can the police serve and protect the public from a distance with officers clad in camo clothing, carrying tactical gear and framing interactions with the public as perilous to the officer’s survival?” The incessant high alert, ‘fear factor’ that has crept into police work – again perpetuated at the academy – has led officers to spend far too little time working directly with residents on local crime and violence concerns.

Partnering together to solve crime and violence. We must transform
police training and how police work with the community

We will not achieve different responses from our police agencies so long as police leaders allocate inordinate amounts of resources to security and suppression equipment as well as tactical training and so little time to community engagement initiatives. We propose that diverting funds to problem-solving training in cooperation with the community will not only garner better crime reduction, but it will enhance police and community cooperation, trust and positive engagement.

If city managers and police leaders fail to act, the noise from the activist groups calling to Defund the Police will grow louder and soon begin to resonate with more and more reasonable, pro-police members of the community. The time for the combat cop has ended. We should reinvent the age when officers and the community work together to make neighborhoods safe for both the police and the public.