Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Designing Out Crime? Not!

San Antonio, Texas doesn't sound like a place where urban designers can see how to build successful places for the future. You might not think so, but you'd be wrong.

I just spent time exploring the fabulous San Antonio Riverwalk. It is not what you might expect to find near the Alamo in western Texas. 25 years after planning began it has become a lively and vibrant connector between businesses, restaurants, shops, and apartment/condos in the heart of the city. It runs along a redirected canal-like waterway of the San Antonia river. Lined by Cyprus trees, much of it lies below city streets.

I can't speak about other parts of San Antonio. But this part is a joy to experience. It was very busy with walkers, joggers, and tourists. Riverwalk looks like a jewel in the city. An excellent example of neighborhood planning (formal and informal).

Is it a taste of Amsterdam in Texas? Perhaps! Both are similar in city/region population size. The Riverwalk architecture and arched pedestrian bridges echo feelings of Hollands' romantic canal walkways.

But stepping outside the Riverwalk area, I wonder!

Amsterdam, with 26 murders in 2007, makes it among the safest larger cities anywhere. Despite complaints by locals of drug excesses, the liberalized drug business in Holland ends up with fewer drug users than in the U.S.

San Antonio, in spite of recent declines in violent crime, suffered 122 murders in 2007. For US cities that's middle of the pack and it also has a nasty rep for property crime.

Numbers like these, of course, say nothing about culture, demographics, and access to handguns - all part of the urban crime picture. Numbers also don't tell the whole story. But here they do tell one thing, in case it still needs saying:

Urban design and planning alone cannot do the job to make places safe.

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

Randy Atlas PhD AIA CPP said...

I have been to Amsterdam recently and San Antonio. Amsterdam was a delightful and safe experience and had all of the elements of Streetscape, Defensible Space, and CPTED in place. Both places had a tourist based economy and end destination. While San Antonio is a lovely place to visit, the level of street crime is significant in the downtown area. Private security has had to be extensively used in San Antonio to make up for the lack of law enforcement. Tourist attractions must be made especially safe for its visitors, and funding cutbacks in U.S. cities will make the preying on tourists an attractive target. We recommend that you walk around without your jewelry, and just your drivers license, a credit card, your room key, and maybe a $20 bill. Ladies don't carry purses. And don't keep your valuables in your car trunk while parked at hotels as a burglar breaks the car window pops open the trunk and everything is gone within seconds. Learn to be a defensive tourist! Safe travels.

Greg S said...

Thanks for those comments Randy. Personal security is always good advice no matter where we walk. But I think you are right about the much greater San Antonio risks. At least that's how it felt to me as I walked around. How sad such personal measures are even necessary! Have our downtown areas turned into Gotham City without Batman?