Monday, June 22, 2009

Waking up in the 21st Century: The San Romanoway Story

One version of crime prevention is to hunt around for the latest program and try it out. Like a teen shopping for clothes, popular fashion dictates choice. Cost comes second. Many of the prevention programs we see today result from the most recent academic or policy fashion. They are impervious to cost and, to stretch the metaphor, they are silent on effectiveness.

Too many crime prevention programs are adopted as though one size fits all. They are effective or ineffective depending on where, on what, and how they are applied. Few have actually been tested for effectiveness with any scientific rigor.

It is like medicine that waits for symptoms and then looks for specific treatments. The more sophisticated doctor is more holistic, working in partnership with the patient to build overall health and wellness, rather than waiting for symptoms to arise.

SafeGrowth is such an approach in crime prevention. It is a 21st Century holistic form of collaborative community development. SafeGrowth works directly with residents, transferring skills and knowledge to the place they are most needed, within troubled neighbourhoods. It also applies to existing safe neighbourhoods looking to innoculate their community from disorder and delinquency.

Example: A large cluster of high rise apartment buildings - the San Romanoway project - becomes the subject of a multi-year program to address crime and disorder. Housing 4,000 residents, many of whom are new immigrants and single parents, the project has a history of problems with crime. They are surrounded by gangs, drugs and poverty of the notorious Jane/Finch suburbs in north Toronto. For decades conditions for the 60,000 residents in Jane/Finch worsen and grow into one of Canada's highest crime communities.

From 2000 to 2001 a research team led by Ross McLeod from Intelligarde and myself from AlterNation conducted research and crafted a SafeGrowth neighbourhood redevelopment plan. From 2001 to 2009 the Greenwin Property Management group led by Kevin Green, along with local residents formed the San Romanoway Revitalization Association, led by director Stephnie Payne. They immediately began implementing tailored strategies they selected for themselves. Community gardens, parenting classes, area cleanups, better lighting, improved management practices, social and recreational programs for kids, and others began the process. Fundraising was done locally and government, private corporations, and philanthropic groups all contributed.

Most recently San Romanoway has added new tennis courts and tennis camps from Tennis Canada, and a new cineplex movie theatre donated by the Cineplex Corporation within the apartment project - the first of its kind in Canada. They also have opened a new recording studio in which local kids create their own rap songs for public sale.

Crime at San Romanoway has plummeted, more residents are engaged in community life, and fear has decreased. While conditions in the wider Jane-Finch area are unchanged, San Romanoway shows us how the SafeGrowth model for neighbourhood building represents the future of 21st Century crime prevention.

The full SafeGrowth story will be reported this fall in a special issue of the Built Environment journal: Security versus Safety: A New Look.

the Built Environment journal website