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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What's happening to our police? Part 2

Police technology to the rescue? - photo Michael S. Williamson, Washington Post

The Future of Police report reminds me of something Professor Herman Goldstein warned us about years ago - confusion about the ends over the means!

The future that the public wants - the ends – is less crime and more public safety. They want to get there - the means – by more community-building, more inclusive problem-solving, and better relationship-building.

I might be wrong, but I doubt the means that the public expects from police are the technology-drenched, algorithms suggested in Future of Policing.

"These changes," says the Preface in Future, "are not just about finding new ways to reduce crime; they go deeper, to evaluating the basic mission of the police, and what people want from the police."

GOING DEEPER

Of course saying officers should “go deeper” is not the same as doing it. Nor is it the same as providing the training to teach them how. Unfortunately training programs that teach such things - problem-based learning, emotional intelligence, PTO field training – do not show up in Future (even though the COPS office and PERF promoted development of those programs).

One quote by a LAPD supervisor suggests an escape from this institutional autism:

“…when [officers] spend time in the high-probability areas, they need to be doing problem solving. There is something there that is attracting criminals; we tell officers to look for the magnets. The goal isn’t more arrests, the goal is crime prevention.”

Very true! Except throughout 45 pages of text crime prevention was cited only 9 times and never explained fully.

THE FUTURE?

In Planning in Turbulence an author concludes: “our level of ignorance about social systems is quite astounding, yet our analytical approaches…assume away this ignorance outright through the specification of incomplete models based on incomplete or often inaccurate data.” 

That was 28 years ago regarding urban planning. I wonder...is police science any better or are we facing that exact same paradox?

In SafeGrowth we overcome this by developing neighborhood teams who run their own prevention plans alongside local cops. LISC’s Community Safety Initiative publications describe how we do it.

Another workaround emerges with street cops themselves who peek inside our communities. For example consider success stories in Camden NJ and Virginia Beach.

Camden New Jersey replaced its unionized police department - photo Michael Hicks/Flickr
CAMDEN N.J.

Future of Policing describes the Camden NJ police using forfeiture funds in 2011 to purchase technology and form partnerships with other law enforcement. But a year later real change exploded.

As the New York Times reported, fed up with a flood of crime, tired of strict union rules inflating costs, 30% absenteeism at work and overtime pay for basic duties, the City of Camden shut down their police force and started over.

Without union rules they rehired 150 of the 200 old officers back and hired another 250 new officers. They instituted foot patrols, had volunteers walking the streets, and expanded youth programs. They properly staffed their CCTV and ran more enforcement.

The result? Youth program involvement increased, response times plunged from 1 hour to 4 minutes, crime rates dipped and murders dropped from 21 to 6.

Virginia Beach police Chief Cervera talking to Boy Scout Explorers - photo VBPD
VIRGINIA BEACH

A national leader in both the PTO program and problem-based learning, Virginia Beach went one step further. The news clip "Ask a cop for coffee and some conversation" describes how.

Once a year Chief Jim Cervera has his officers of all ranks walk neighborhoods and knock on thousands of doors to ask what residents think of their police.

Says Cervera: "We want the surveys to prompt real conversations. There is nothing better than two people from different social, racial or ethnic backgrounds having a heart-to-heart discussion about a common goal."

NEIGHBORHOOD GOVERNANCE

No sensible person wants the mantle of anti-tech Luddite. Science is part of the way forward. But as Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow makes clear in Governing Science, it needs careful watching. Those who champion science are not the new Lords of Truth. They are Tech Emissary’s with flashlights to find our way in the dark

Turning crime around will mean a neighborhood planning system with three equal partners: carefully governed science and technology; active neighborhood groups working directly with their local police; and cops and residents co-trained in the kinds of problem-solving methods we know work so well.

We've only dabbled in these things. Now it's time to deep dive. It's called neighborhood governance and it is our future. That also didn’t show up in the report. But it should have!

Friday, September 12, 2014

What's happening to our police? Part 1

Future of policing - diagram by wallpaperstock

Hot of the press: Future Trends in Policing from the COPS Office, PERF, and the Target Corporation. It is a report of a 2012 survey and summary of a one-day session with police leaders on the "Future of Policing."

It reveals what some police executives think might happen in future. Is it a prophesy we really want?

TREND: COMMUNITY POLICING?

The survey reported 94% of respondents said their agency was involved in community policing, 89% in problem-oriented policing (COPS). Good news, right?

I've taught hundreds of police instructors over the past few years. Every time I ask them about COPS few, if any, admit to knowing anything beyond the superficial. Practically none of their agencies are doing anything beyond a small sprinkling of COPS specialists, less than 10% at best.

Last month I asked again, this time whether they knew anything about problem-oriented policing. The class had instructors from the east coast, mid-west, Canada, and the south. Same results: Out of 25 police instructors only 1 knew what POP was and he was from Madison, Wisconsin (the home of the POP Center).

94%?

Do police survey responders inflate whether they are doing COPS when they respond to a national survey on the topic? Saying one thing, doing another?

Policeman watching - photo by wallpaperstock

TREND: SCIENCE TO THE RESCUE

Future Trends had very little discussion of problem-oriented policing. In 45 pages of text it was cited only 3 times.

I did however notice the report was awash in GPS, cybercrime, body cameras, facial recognition software, predictive policing algorithms and intelligence-led policing. My personal favorite was NG 911 - Next-Generation 911.

[NERD ALERT: I love that stuff. Anytime I hear references to Star Trek - The Next Generation, my nerd-o-meter tingles. Beam me up!]

In other words science will come to our rescue? Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, what a wonderful day!

TREND: ONE-IN-FOUR

Survey statement: "In the future agencies will place less emphasis on community policing." 

75% of police agencies in the survey disagreed with that statement. Glass-half-full, right? But 25% offered no opinion or actually agreed that in future cops will do less community policing!

In other words, after 35 years of publications, conferences, training courses, and successes that account for at least some reduced crime, 1-in-4 police survey respondents see less community policing in the years ahead! Sounds more like a glass half-empty!

Considering the Ferguson riots two weeks ago that portends a bleak future.

Next week: Part 2 - The good news

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Stargazing in Tucson

Shopping mall parking lot - LPS lighting with halide lighting in adjacent property 

Stargazing is a remarkable activity and even if you don't know what to look for, an overhead canopy filled with stars is awe-inspiring. The Dark Sky Society (and astronomers everywhere) agree. Me too!

Nowhere does this have more power than Tucson, Arizona where I've been this past week. The city has some of the strictest regulations to keep light pollution down. Like other communities with national astronomy observatories, it promotes those dim, orangish-hue low pressure sodium lights (LPS) for streets and parking lots.

I visited mall parking lots this week in and around Tucson. LPS are everywhere. They are awful!

Shopping plaza parking lot with pedestrians walking across - look carefully
The engineering lighting standard for mall parking lots is 3 footcandles (FC). An on-line survey of 9 communities reports an average 1 FC in most of those communities.

In one lot that I visited I doubt LPS produced 3 FC or even 1 FC! I love stargazing but I would not enjoy walking those lots at night.

Thankfully the economy is changing the story. Tucson is in the midst of the nation-wide LED transformation for more savings and it is switching LPS street lights over to Light Emitting Diode lighting. I hope mall owners in and around Tucson get the message. I would not want to be a victim walking to my car. Nor would I want to be a property owner sued by a victim of violent crime in those spooky, target-rich lots.

Tree tops benefitting from LPS lighting


Sunday, August 31, 2014

A few years after tomorrow

Why shouldn't we choose to live in a beautiful, safe futuristic city? 

There are these new urban regeneration schemes called malls-without-walls, one example being the Liverpool One development in the UK. They bring to mind Oath of Fealty, a science fiction by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. They raise a thought worth pondering.

The Liverpool One land development is owned by the British Duke of Westminster. It privatizes 35 downtown streets and spans 42 acres all controlled by a private security force and CCTV. Of course big shopping malls are not new but they are usually relegated to the suburbs far from the downtown core. Not this one.

LIVERPOOL ONE

The Liverpool One land development project turns a new corner. Costing up to $2 Billion it is a central city shopping mall on steroids - hotels, plazas, shops, golf course, apartment towers, open air designs all policed by private security.

Decades ago Oath of Fealty prophesized a massive high-tech, city-in-a-city called Todos Santos, constructed following race riots and walled away from the chaos of Los Angeles surrounding it.

A thousand feet tall, single-structured super city, Todos Santos residents lived with constant surveillance in return for safety away from the grime, crime and bedlam that was a future Los Angeles. (Imagine the opening sequence of the film Bladerunner). Residents gladly offer up their Oath of Fealty for the benevolent Todos Santos security blanket.

In 1981 Oath of Fealty prophisized a new kind of city
Liverpool One is nowhere near that. It is a mega mall on steroids, not as sophisticated as the futuristic arcology, Todos Santos. It looks like a well-designed, upscale mall. Its private streets are subject to regular city by-laws.

Thus far.

Yet it is more interconnected than most open air malls and has abundant private security and pervasive CCTV. And like all evolutionary trends it exists in a context.

FEAR

Consider the fear triggered from watching the Ferguson mayhem this week, dozens of riots in cities around the world in recent years and, in spite of declining crime rates, millions who now live in gated communities.

In all these contexts there is one constant. Fear! Who wouldn't want to live in a beautiful, secure place of the future?

Liverpool One - beautiful, open mall design attracts shoppers - Photo by HESimm 
Consider the comments about Liverpool One by Roy Coleman, criminology faculty at Liverpool University: "The rules for the newly privatised city centre fabricate an ideal citizen - aspirational in consumption and thinking big with urban pride."

That sounds very Todos Santos. It leads me to ask some elephant-in-the-room questions: If we have the resources and desire to build safe mini-cities within cities where people can freely choose to live, is that a good thing? Or if it is such a bad thing, why are so many of them showing up?