Saturday, November 28, 2009

An Ode to the Sarahs


...so I ate a python the other week...
- From Sarah's blog



Looking out onto the sunset of an African savannah is a long way from tackling crime in Cincinnati neighborhoods. But behind this photo there is an amazing person that I want to tell you about.

I've often wondered if there was a typical kind of person drawn to the difficult work of community development and crime prevention?

People like this have always impressed me. Unlike professionals who do crime prevention and community development work for a living - police officers, social workers, consultants like me - many of these folks are volunteers. If they are paid at all, they are underpaid and overworked.

Much of what they do goes unnoticed by media. Journalists pick up the "sexy" stories - cops who raid a drug house or child welfare officers rescuing abused youth. Community workers create activities for families, programs for youth, and paint out graffiti and clean-up blighted areas. They are ignored. Yet it is their work that often prevents the nasty things from happening in the first place.

I affectionately call them SafeGrowthers, but they rarely call themselves anything. They are all ages, genders, colors and political stripes. Over the decades that I've had the privilege of working with them I've noticed they often don't see themselves for what they are - extraordinary and exceptional.

One of the best, of whom I'm particularly proud, is Sarah Buffie

Sarah was a student in a Cincinnati CPTED/SafeGrowth course I ran with a colleague five years ago. She worked at a community police partnering center. Sarah had this penetrating mind and can-do attitude. After the course we spoke about community work in other places, maybe even abroad. Sarah took her own advice, joined the Peace Corps, and went to help communities in Namibia, Africa.

For two years Sarah has been sending stories of her amazing journey, and the remarkable work she has been doing in a culture far, far away.

Next January Sarah returns to the U.S. I have a sneaking suspicion leaving Africa will be more difficult than leaving here two years ago. I suspect also the people there will miss her dearly. No doubt they are better from her work and, I'm sure, vise versa.

Sarah is the very best example of what community development workers look like.

I pinched the photo above from her blog. For me it is perfect - it represents the ties that bind us all together.

Thanks Sarah for reminding me of that. And welcome home.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Winnipeg auto theft solutions

Shattered glass marks the spot where a parked ...Image via Wikipedia














I've covered Winnipeg's innovative efforts to tackle crime in earlier blogs.

Here is the latest.

Far too rarely we celebrate crime prevention success stories. I remember reading an article a decade ago in a Canadian criminology journal claiming good news prevention stories make it into papers less than 1% of the time. Given the info-tainment that passes as news, that's no surprise.

For a decade Winnipeg Canada has been the auto theft capital of North America. The headlines said it all: Too many stolen cars; Police chases of stolen cars; Too many victims.

No more.

An award finalist at this year's International Problem Oriented Policing conference was the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy. It's not really SafeGrowth. It's more targeted policing and design out crime. Yet those are great tools in the SafeGrowth toolbox and this project shows the excellent work they have done to tackle crime that can be adopted by a full SafeGrowth community. And it looks like that's exactly where they are headed. Read their latest report on crime prevention planning.

When you've done that, check out their auto theft program.

Even the CBC is getting in on the action and telling some good news on crime.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Enrique Penalosa: Urban Visionary



The December issue of Utne Reader magazine features 50 Visionaries Who Changed the World.

Among the obvious - the Dalai Lama, global AIDS pioneer Wafaa El-Sadr - is Enrique Penalosa. His vision encapsulates some recent blogs: Stolkholm's piano stairways, Indianapolis' community-garden cemeteries and Portland's Dignity Village for the homeless.

Enrique Penalosa is an urban planner and from 1998-2001, Mayor of Bogota, Columbia - a city of 6-10 million (depending who you ask). In 1975 his father was Secretary General of the inaugural UN Habitat conference in Vancouver, a successful UN program that continues today. Bogota is a city many associate with drug cartels and crime. Today it is a different place. It is a place from which we can learn important lessons on urban safety and vitality.

"The essence of the conflict today is really cars and people. That is the essence of the whole discussion. We can have a city that is very friendly to cars, or a city that is very friendly to people. We cannot have both."
-Penalosa

During his tenure Penalosa made radical improvements in Bogota: housing the poor, reclaiming public spaces, planting more than 100,000 trees and transforming a dismal downtown roadway into a dynamic public space for pedestrians.

He cut rush hour traffic 40% by enhancing public transit, restricting private cars in the central city, pollution abatement, creating the world's largest pedestrian street, building hundreds of kilometers of bike paths and greenways and rehabbing 1,200 parks. Bicycling quadrupled to 400,000 people per day. He encouraged bollards to restrict sidewalk parking and introduced the idea of a global Car Free Day. The Project for Public Spaces says Penalosa helped "transform the city's attitude from one of negative hopelessness to one of pride and hope."

Of special note to SafeGrowthers, he managed to get citizens in marginal neighborhoods involved in rebuilding their streets and neighborhoods.

Bogota today

PeƱalosa is now a visiting professor at New York University. He is researching and writing a book on urban development. Of special interest to CPTED/DOCA folks is his contention:

"There is no absolute distinction between public and private spaces, or a smooth scale from one state to the other. Rather there are inversions and paradoxes. Almost all spaces of a city are in fact impure... [they are] hybrids of public and private.

I am convinced of the power of good urban design and architecture. People will use it if it has quality. Every detail in the city should show respect for human dignity and reflect that everything human is sacred. And I do believe that if people have to walk in the street, avoiding parked cars, or next to some horrible surface parking lot, or they are mistreated by poor quality transportation systems, it's very difficult to ask them to be good citizens, to keep the streets clean, or even pay taxes."

If you want to know more about this remarkable pioneer, watch this interview with Enrique Penalosa.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sensation - the gateway to experience


Every now and then it is worth looking at something old from a completely new playbook; something that gives life to the concept of the creative city.

A friend sent the below YouTube about a stairway in Sweden...a movement predictor with a message. Or, more accurately, a song! It brought to mind that adage taught in urban design schools (at least the good ones) - sensation is the gateway to experience.

As the creative city folk would no doubt remind us, public places need humor.

Here's one way to do it.

Click for the Swedish Stairway

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Crime prevention jibberish - The Holy Triumvirate

A renovated Chula Vista motel

When it comes to neighborhood crime risks, how do we take action? Usually we worship the Holy Triumvirate of Safety - police programs, prevention projects, and government policy.

The Holy 3 come in many forms: design out crime, secure-by-design, Intelligence-led policing, restorative justice, 3-strikes laws, broken windows, neighborhood watch, crime-free multi-housing, hotspot policing and, of course, CPTED.

Not that these are wrong. When surgically applied and well-crafted, they make a difference. But they are not surgically applied nor crafted that well (or at all). Usually they are applied to crime problems in the same way a drunk uses a lamp-post - for support, not illumination.

Consider the all-too-common policy to implement CPTED, Design Out Crime, or Secure By Design (or whatever similar nuanced names apply). Far too often policy comprises written checklists or CPTED surveys that practitioners apply when a new development proposal lands in their in-basket. The real goal of such policy is expediency; to sign off each checklist category and get that proposal into the out-basket. Seldom is the goal to engage a multi-disciplinary team, including those from the neighborhood, to review the proposal. Nor is the goal to use a careful diagnosis to determine what might work and what might not.

A CPTED checklist is idiotic. It is the band-aid on the heart attack.

I created SafeGrowth to combat that idiocy. Thankfully, there are other approaches that do the same. Example: this week I watched presentations by police problem-solvers from around the world at the International Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) conference in California.

Unlike SafeGrowth, POP is led by the police. It tends to focus less on long-term sustainability or community growth and more on responding to immediate problems. But, like SafeGrowth, POP illustrates how creative police officers, working in partnership with neighborhood groups, can solve intractable crime problems.

The conference top six finalists in the Herman Goldstein problem-solving awards were fascinating. One project from Chula Vista, California resolved crime riddled motels infested with drug dealers, prostitutes, and a flood of violence. Tellingly, only after a careful analysis did they craft a response with CPTED, property improvements, targeted enforcement, incentives, and improved management strategies. They even created a guidebook from which others can learn.

They started with the worst offenders, gave suggestions for how owners could gradually enhance their properties and let them choose strategies they could afford. They tracked improvements over a few years. Where compliance faltered, they moved in. The better motels became models for the worst.

Notice how these practitioners didn't assume the checklist position in their research stance! They avoided blind adoption of policy or programs. What made the difference here (and all the POP finalists) is the means by which they took action during their research.

The Chula Vista motels submission won top prize this year. Congrats to them. We should pay attention. Check out their guidebook.