Sunday, October 31, 2010

Malaise - the real threat to safety

Our local Halloween parade and scary costumes

Today we celebrate Halloween, that ancient Celtic harvest festival marking summer's end. Today it's signalled by masks and scary costumes hiding the faces of kids looking for goodies.

Last week I ran a SafeGrowth training in Milwaukee with the Community Safety Initiatives folks at LISC. (Students: Assignments will be posted in the Toolkit section below on Wednesday)! During the training I had interesting chats about the difficulty implementing tactics in an environment with poor resources and even poorer political support.

Then I thought of the scariest ghoul of them all when it comes to safer places: malaise.

Malaise is a feeling that things are just not going right. It's the social disease which President Jimmy Carter once called a fundamental threat to democracy.

Malaise is similar to anomie, the social pathology described a century ago by famous sociologist Emile Durkheim. It's the alienation felt by people from by an inability to reach legitimate goals, in this case caused by resources or politics.

I see malaise occasionally in the faces of practitioners who confront significant challenges. Perhaps they've been beaten back by setbacks. They get to a point where they lose faith that their work matters, but still they put on a brave mask. They may think to themselves; there are no treats from prevention work, only political tricks.

That is malaise at its worst!

No doubt this is a real feeling. But is it a real thing? Can someone not suffering malaise accomplish what others cannot? Is it like the spooks on Halloween - more contrived than real? There is no doubt obstacles exist. In fact, there is probably truth to the idea that some regions are more (or less) likely to solve problems creatively, what Richard Florida calls The Creative Class.

Yet, like Halloween, we can choose belief in one thing or we can choose belief in another. There is just as much to be gained from persisting and seeking more creative options. That is the exact opposite of malaise. It is called vigor.

Vigor is the magic I see in successful practitioners. Vigorous practitioners exist in all regions. I've posted many examples over the past year. Here are a few:

1. Seattle's neighborhood governance described by Jim Diers.
2. The Westville neighborhood in New Haven, Connecticut.
3. The Oregon District neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio.
4. The Hollygrove neighborhood story in New Orleans.
5. The San Romanoway apartments in Jane/Finch, Toronto.

Interestingly, Milwaukee has a great example as well. The SOHI District, a main street program in Milwaukee sponsored by the city and the Local Initiative Support Corporation of Milwaukee. Some of the SOHI folks attended the SafeGrowth training a few years ago. Their work has been remarkable. There are websites of SOHI as well as a SOHI YouTube channel of their successes.

There is even a crime review article published in the April, 2009 CPTED Perspective newsletter

Perhaps the very best person to exemplify vigor was a young woman in a Cincinnati SafeGrowth training 6 years ago. Her name was Sarah and I titled that blog An Ode to the Sarah's. For the sake of tackling malaise, and the sake of our neighborhoods, it's worth a look.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Visions of the future - the 2010 ICA conference

Calgary - a dynamic growing city flush with oil wealth. Site of the 2010 ICA Conference

This week I attended the International CPTED Association's international conference in Calgary, Alberta. Typical CPTED conferences, like other prevention conferences, can be pretty droll affairs rehashing tired old ideas. Old wine in new bottles. The worst? My vote goes to academic conferences where obtuse PowerPoint slides fill sessions like hieroglyphics on an Egyptian Third Dynasty tomb - a theory-bound academese intended more for the academically-heeled than for those who actually prevent crime.

Not this time.

As a regular ICA attendee I was struck by the richness and passion in this year's offerings. We heard presenters from Germany, Chile, the Netherlands, Brazil, South Africa, Australia and North America. We heard police officers from Berlin and Toronto, planners from Washington and Saskatoon, scholars from Seattle and criminologists from Florida. We learned about behavioral based design in Ontario, community-led CCTV in Pennsylvania, safer schools in Holland and how to use public art to tackle domestic terrorism.

My own sessions were gifted by incredibly talented practitioners with whom I co-presented. In one, Saskatoon planner Elisabeth Miller and I coaxed conference participants into an interactive dialogue about overcoming obstacles. In another session I co-presented with computer scientist Nick Bereza from ATRiM Group and Michael Huggett from Australia. We presented the CPTED Continuum - a new way to understand CPTED from target hardening to traditional CPTED and situational prevention to neighborhood planning.

There were too many great presenters to mention them all (forgive me for not).

But there was one speaker who had the right stuff. He captured our imagination. Jim Diers is a visionary and powerful speaker. Currently with the University of Washington, he is former director of Seattle's Office of Neighborhoods. He is also author of Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way.

A book worth reading

Jim spoke on participatory democracy and how to strengthen social capital. He is one of those people who finds ways to get people involved creating more livable places.

If you are interested in vital and safe places, and you haven't heard Jim's story you must. If you haven't read Jim's book, you should!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Deep Diving into Creative Prevention

The ASIS Convention Exhibit Floor, Dallas, 2010

Chris Landauer, MIT aerospace scientist, challenges the story of five blind men who touch an elephant in five different places and then describe it in five different ways. It all depends, says Landauer, on our assumption there is an elephant.

There might not be.

Our traditional criminal justice system (CJS) also assumes things, for example we must punish offenders or find guilt in court. Does this kind of thinking limit creative solutions to crime? Maybe there is no elephant?

This week I was in Dallas at the American Society for Industrial Security convention, the largest security trade show of its kind. Security technology isn’t always new, creative, or the best solution. But competitive high tech can be a breeding ground for creative solutions.

Case in point: TecGarde Mobile Solutions, a firm I worked with at the show. They are an innovative, tech start-up and Blackberry alliance partner with the Blackberry folks. I enjoy working with cool outfits like TecGarde. They sport some of the most creative smart-phone devices in the world. Creativity, it seems to me, is the foundation upon which a safer future rests.

Canada-based TecGarde display

It reminds me that truly creative cultures rarely flourish in rigid hierarchies, especially CJS organizations that ooze chain-of-command thinking. Nowhere is this message truer than with Ideo, the industrial design firm featured in the ABC documentary, The Deep Dive. By deep diving, Ideo comes up with fantastically innovative ideas. Deep diving is inherently non-heirarchical. That’s what outfits like TecGarde are all about.


Which brings me back to the elephant. True, creativity can occasionally seep through the CJS chain-of-command. Successful problem-oriented policing projects prove it is possible (check out motel crime in California or homelessness in Colorado). But these are not the rule, they are the exception. It's hard to be creative when trapped in hierarchies. After all, elephant assumptions may not be real.

Where do we find truly innovative strategies? How do successful organizations become creative? I think we need to peek at the technology world more closely, especially how technology firms do creativity.

Postscript: On the final day a number of laptops were stolen from display exhibits. Remember - this was a security tradeshow with CCTV firms operating thousands of security cameras in plain sight at their exhibits. Unsurprisingly, the crooks were apprehended the next day and their loot was recovered quickly.

For these brash, Mensa-challenged crooks it seems the security elephant was real. In this case it sat on them.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Flash mobs and urban chaos

Over the past few years the Flash Mob has been an odd, chaotic marriage of mobile phones, social networking and Twitter-something kids. I blogged on one that went wrongish on Philadelphia's South Street.

Urban creativity need not be nasty and Flash Mobs are usually fun. If left to the creatives with a sense of civility, they can be downright amusing. As long as they remain unstapled by the self-interested, they represent an urban chaos that makes urban life fascinating.

Example: In April members of the Opera Company of Philadelphia Chorus thought it might be fun to treat the Italian Market Terminal with an impromptu performance of La Trviata.

It's pretty funny. And terrifically creative.

Check it out.

Click here for Market Mob Fun