Monday, November 1, 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.

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

Anonymous said...

Vigor. Get it, find it, create it. When malaise intrudes, find or create the vigor that banishes that debility. Look and portray all aspects of vigor, and as my Pa often tells me, "wear the right costume and the part plays itself."

From the plains of the Dakotas...

Gregory Saville said...

"Wear the right costume and the part plays itself.."

That is fantastic. Your Pa was a smart feller.