Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The World's First CPTED Town - Tumbler Ridge

Tumbler Ridge Town Hall

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a new coal mine in northern British Columbia. How, the planners and developers asked, might one apply Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design to an entire, yet unconstructed, community of 5,000 residents? It had never been done before. At this point the nascent CPTED movement was barely a decade old. To complicate matters, developers decided to apply socially sensitive design ideas from famed planner Christopher Alexander.

The town of Tumbler Ridge is now 30 years old and last month we visited the town for the first time. We spent time with the deputy mayor and town planner, both SafeGrowth graduates, who told me CPTED design seemed to work pretty well. Residents loved living there. Of course, that can be said of countless other towns. So is Tumbler Ridge all that different?

As with all resource towns, the fortune of town life in Tumbler Ridge over the years has ebbed and flowed with the fortune of the economy. Nothing new there. That's pretty much what most towns and cities are going through today! Tumbler Ridge doesn't look all that different from other picturesque mountain towns. At least not on first blush! (Though it does have a nicely designed town center and abundant walkways winding here and there.)

Street layout from the air


Strangely, though Tumbler Ridge can justly claim the mantle 'First CPTED Town in the World', I can find no published crime studies to tell us what happened. The only social scientific study I found is by social geographer Alison Gill who reported "high levels of satisfaction, however the degree to which design features contributed to this were difficult to ascertain. In particular the CPTED concept was not monitored and its appropriateness in the context of Tumbler Ridge seems questionable."

There is nothing new about another social study concluding it's difficult to ascertain cause-and-effect. This may even be a case of the ROTO conundrum. And the not-so-subtle flip side of questioning appropriateness is the inference that applying CPTED was inappropriate - a polemical statement that on one hand is impossible to prove after-the-fact, and on the other hand seems to fly in the face of data showing "high levels of satisfaction".

Nonetheless, the point is important to raise. Gill is correct; the lack of a before-after crime study leaves the question unanswered.

Here's what I know:

Years ago, one of my former CPTED co-instructors participated in the early Tumbler Ridge design charrettes. He told me of the common-sensical CPTED design changes they built; separating noise activity areas from housing where shift workers slept through the day; locating the tavern so drunken patrons could not damage store windows at night; designing walkways to facilitate movement and minimize burglary opportunities, and others.

Years later that same co-instructor assumed command of the Tumbler Ridge RCMP detachment. He told me that over five years he observed first-hand how crime rates in the town were lower than surrounding towns per capita crime rates. He also said he saw first-hand the success of walkways and other designs to reduce crime opportunities.

While in Tumbler Ridge we spoke to deputy mayor Jerrilyn Schembri and planner Ray Proux, both who mentioned high satisfaction with Tumbler Ridge residents. Both Jerilyn and Ray are graduates of SafeGrowth training classes and have been working to apply social and physical prevention strategies.

Murals in Tumbler Ridge


One exciting example Jerrilyn showed us was a soon-to-open museum of paleontology, the first of its kind in the province. Apparently in recent years there have been remarkable finds of dinosaur fossils in never-before explored digs.

If government funders follow through, Tumbler Ridge may well become the latest west coast Jurassic Park (I'm sure my description will mortify our gracious museum host and passionate curator of paleontology, Richard McCrea). This represents a 2nd Generation CPTED strategy in community culture that can put Tumbler Ridge on a whole new kind of map.

For me Tumbler Ridge shows us that urban design matters. We may never know the precise specifics, but socially sensitive design with CPTED in place can positively affect community satisfaction. Tumbler Ridge also shows us that local economics matter a great deal when it comes to disorder and dissatisfaction. Mostly, Tumbler Ridge suggests to us the transformative potential of exciting cultural assets to help propel community interest and pride. And for this, we hardly need more studies.

3 Replies so far - Add your comment

Anonymous said...

I have lived in Tumbler for 10 years and have never locked the doors of my house. I dont even no where the keys are now that i think about it.I keep telling my wife not to leave the keys in her truck over night or at least take them out of the ignition and hide them under the seat cover or in the ashtray. She rarely listens lol. Im here till the end.

Anonymous said...

It was wonderful spending some time with both of you when you were here. We are currently rebranding our town and focusing on Dinosaurs and Waterfalls. I enjoyed showing you our community. Stop in again next time you are in the area. A lot of things are happening right now.
Keep in contact.

GSaville said...

Thanks anonymous for the door locking story. I do the same, which is kind of nuts for a crime prevention specialist. But I share your sense of community in my small town also. Tumbler Ridge is indeed a special place.

Thanks also Jerrilyn. We found your tour exceptional and the new dino-possibilities exciting. Please keep us informed about the Tumber Ridge story. Others can benefit from your example.