Thursday, May 20, 2010

Overcoming complexity - A Philadelphia story

Simple solutions to complex problems

CPTED prevents crime by designing defensible space into places - what 1st Generation CPTED calls territoriality. It is a strategy that doesn't always happen with design. It needs help.

Walkability was my theme this past week. A walkable street helps encourage neighborhood vitality, which in turn helps folks take ownership of their public domain. Walkability is the first step towards territoriality and defensible space.

This week I was reminded of another by one of my Philadelphia students in a SafeGrowth course run by the Community Safety Initiatives folks at LISC; The revitalization of public space by citizens.

Betsy Casanas sent me the following story regarding how to do what 2nd Generation CPTED calls culture-making:

Our project is called "Reclaiming Vital Spaces" We have done so much already in the past couple of weeks. We've built 8 new beds with a few guys in an adjudicated program, We've done a workshop with one of the neighboring schools and created permanent art work for the fence with a 3rd grade class. We've just received 2 benches from a neighboring center who is interested in having their kids participate in the garden.

We have organized a group of neighbors to take over several of the boxes and grow there own food. In the coming weeks we will build a steel sculptural fence because we can't afford to buy a real fence. I think this one will be much more amazing anyways. We did get a small grant that will help us buy a tool shed, tools, benches and picnic tables. 

Semilla Arts organizers for social change

How, one wonders, does such a SafeGrowth-like approach ever start in the first place? Betsy filled me in:

As a reaction to the social conditions in North Philadelphia in 2007 artists Betsy Casanas and Pedro Ospina co-founded “Semilla (seed) Arts Initiative” a grassroots initiative that uses art as a catalyst for social change and artistic collaborations as a means of empowering individuals and communities. Semilla’s goal is to unite the community by actively involving them in the process of physically transforming their own neighborhood, exposing them to solutions and possibilities. 

I'm very impressed by some of the things I've seen in Philly during this SafeGrowth project. I can hardly wait to see what they come up with next month when we return.

Most encouraging of all is Betsy's conclusion:

The vitality of any community can be found in the strengths and stability of its members and their ability to overcome the complexity of today.

Yes! In a nutshell, that's it!

If walkability is the first step to safety, overcoming complexity is the second.

Community vitality is found in the ability of it's members to overcome the complexity of today!

Thank you to Betsy, Pedro, and their dedicated kin for reminding us where to find yet another key to open safe places.

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