Sunday, May 31, 2009

Doin it right, on the wrong side of town...


After reading the Less Law, More Order book mentioned below, a question came to mind. How do we actually do the crime prevention planning the author mentions? Then I thought of that old song by rockers April Wine: Doin it right (on the wrong side of town).

Picture this: A northern / mid-western city of 250,000 residents. A beautiful river winding through town with downtown redevelopment on some streets and downtown crime on others. Sound similar to anywhere-ville? Except for one thing. This city is rapidly moving forward with SafeGrowth like no other city. That city is Saskatoon, Canada.

Spending time in Saskatoon this past week reminds me how old style CPTED can evolve into a much more advanced practice. It is far beyond the one-time crime prevention initiatives, crime prevention commissions, task forces, and well ahead of CPTED planning guidelines in other cities.

Elisabeth Miller, senior city planner, has been working to integrate a SafeGrowth style planning method with their Local Area Planning (LAP). Her powerpoint from last year's ICA conference tells us how they are doing it

see Elisabeth's description of SafeGrowth in Saskatoon
My favorite line from her presentation: Unfortunately more education needed to be done as the “Let’s CPTED that” started to become a perceived solution to a number of problems….particularly for City Councilors that were being questioned by constituents.

While they still use the term CPTED, when you look at their description you see they are much more advanced. Click on their city website and see for yourself. Even there you'll see the link to their LAP method.see the Saskatoon web description

Community safety audits, crime mapping, CPTED surveys, community participation sessions, neighbourhood by neighborhood annual reports. They now do it all. But they are beginning to do it using a coherent neighborhood by neighborhood planning style, with local participation at every level.

Saskatoon is among the first municipalities that truly get that safety cannot be relegated to checklists and police CPTED surveys. It must be a full player in the urban development and planning process.

Like they say in the song:
Go rev up your chevy, put your gas foot down
We’re doin’ it right on the wrong side of town



Thursday, May 28, 2009

Less law, more order


Have just finished reading criminologist Irvin Waller's recent book: Less Law, More Order: The Truth About Reducing Crime.

It completely aligns with SafeGrowth, especially chapter 7. Here is a summary from the publishers website:


Each year 24 million Americans are victims of crime. U.S. taxpayers spend more and more each year on police, prisons and judges--a record $200 billion at last count. They incarcerate more and more persons each year--two million plus. Yet prestigious commissions show not only that this standard way of responding to crime is ineffective but that there is scientific proof that many projects that tackle risk factors that cause crime are effective. Rather than sending more people to jail or hiring more and more police, the author, and the research, shows that addressing problems in the community does more to prevent crime.

Read it.

read Irvin Waller's website


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lighting and crime: Toronto the beautiful


This week I spent time in Toronto, a city with a terrific downtown and dozens of vibrant and healthy neighborhoods. It is also a city with a lighting mish-mash. Bright, glaring halide lights line some streets while yellowish sodium lights line others. There seems no rhyme or reason as far as I can tell.

A decade ago local activists convinced policy folks the bright halide's were the way to go. Their research suggested halide's white color made it easy to see faces at night and reduce pedestrian fear. I’ve never been able to find those studies so I’m unclear how robust they were.

Halides are everywhere on Toronto’s streets. Frankly, in some cases their sharp and glaring impact looks awful. Someone has forgot that, as with all urban designs, one size does not fit all. Some tactics work in one place but not another. Why switch from one lighting form to another without knowing specifically what is actually needed at that place?

The lighting-for-safety debate is decades old. A famous 1981 UK study made the definitive claim that lighting did not decrease crime. Case closed! Or so they thought. Science by definition always challenges assumptions, even well established ones. Lighting studies since then have done precisely that.

In 2004 criminologists Brandon Welsh and David Farrington's in-depth study on CCTV vs lighting concluded: "Improved street lighting is an effective form of surveillance to reduce crime in public space and it has few if any perceived harmful social consequences (unlike CCTV), and may attract less public resistance than CCTV surveillance cameras." Is that the final word? Unlikely. Nor should it be.

Lighting in some places will make places safer. That much is fairly obvious. But when and where? There comes a time when practitioners must act. Smokers may, if they unwisely choose, continue to smoke regardless of the medical research showing it will kill you. Yet we still wisely legislate against media images promoting teenage smoking.

Similarly, perhaps we should start legislating for a proper crime diagnosis in specific places and then installing the proper lighting to fit? We have engineering standards for lighting levels in traffic intersections. We have the Dark Sky folks who want to cut light pollution that drowns out starlight. Why not pressure our local politicians to legislate for a neighborhood by neighborhood diagnosis of proper lighting for safety?

It is not a case of more-light-is-better. Crime is not simple. The lighting-for-safety equation isn't simple. The devil is in the details. Local ordinances and by-laws need to be carefully drafted, not in some generic fashion. But we need to act.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Choice-creation: the master narrative

Photo of community organizer Jim Rough

My SafeGrowth students in Ohio and in Saskatchewan are working this month to come up with SafeGrowth strategies in their respective communities. The student teams are doing some terrific project work they will report back in a month.

I've been chatting with them online lately and it strikes me that as community developers and crime prevention specialists we need much better knowledge about how to get residents working together. Just as we are not experts in lighting engineering - yet in CPTED we recommend better lighting - so too should we make recommendations about intelligent local decision-making and sensible neighborhood governance.

Getting organized, transferring skills and smart prevention strategies are all for naught if we cannot sustain them within the neighborhood. Competent and balanced neighborhood decision-making is the master narrative for safe communities in the future.

Of course it's unlikely we'll be expert in neighborhood governance very soon. Knowledge comes from educating ourselves. For example, within traditional CPTED programs community-organizing tactics are little more than a worn cliche (if they are discussed at all). So we have much to learn.

And too many disenfranchised people are simply too afraid, desperate, or worn out from the rigors of daily life to leap into active projects. But, as the previous posts on this blog show, there has been SafeGrowth success already. Clearly something works.

So where do we start?

I came across this VLOG with community organizer Jim Rough from Washington State. Jim is a famous community trainer and creator of the dynamic facilitation and choice-creation method. He teaches them around the world. He also created the neighborhood decision-making strategy called the Wisdom Council.

The year before last I interviewed Jim on his TV show about these strategies. Here are a few ideas on how we can move forward.
Click here to watch Jim Rough talk about Wisdom Councils


Monday, May 4, 2009

The rise of shantytowns?






My friends in Seattle area recently showed me terrific work they are doing to turn troubled neighborhoods around. Sustainable Ballard and White Avenue come to mind. Last month I visited Tacoma (see my February 4 blog "Tacoma's Moon Shot"). I saw equally impressive things going on there. Then I was shown a weekend food lineup area for homeless under an overpass. Fences control access. It seems clean. But under an overpass?

I thought of the depression. Consider Seattle's shantytown of the 1930s. see Hooverville in the 1930s

It raises the whole issue of the homeless as I've written before (February 22, "Pain and Wasting in Vancouver").

Are shantytowns getting worse in this worsening economy?

There is an excellent New York times article about this very problem called North American Shantytowns. read New York Times article


With all the progress in places like Seattle we should not forget the horrors of the Great Depression.

This must not happen again.

My colleague Severin Sorensen has put out an excellent blog and book on this topic called Economic Misery and Crime Waves. see Sorensen's blog

We must not let this happen again.