Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sustainability and safety - Civic DNA for the 21st Century

Built in the 1960s, Toronto's iconic city hall became an architectural landmark

I walked around Toronto's city hall yesterday. It reminded me of the unnecessary conflict between environmental sustainability and safety. This is particularly curious given the greening of urban streetscapes in recent years.

The emerging dialogue about security, safety, and sustainability is important. Last year the Built Environment journal published a series of articles on the topic. This year there will be presentations at the International CPTED Conference.

Environmental sustainability rarely makes it into CPTED recommendations. Practitioners over-trim trees or over-light walkways like a floodlit night-time game at a stadium.

Removing trees, paving land, and burning excessive energy are not sustainable. They are not the only options for safety. Being blind to this is not only unfortunate. As anyone who reads science knows (or has read any legitimate environmental story in the past decade) climate change is real. Ignoring it is unethical.

It need not be so.

There are plenty of safe options. Urban gardens humanize vacant land, for example in Boston and Philadelphia. Live walls prevent graffiti. All which brings me to Toronto's new city hall. More specifically, the recent opening of the massive green roof and public garden.

Roof garden for the public

Trees, shrubs and landscapes now cover once desolate slabs of cement sameness. Sitting areas offer respite and ample emergency phones provide access to security. The greenery enhances the iconic structure of the building. Why, I wonder, wasn't it done when the structure was built? The advantage of retrospect perhaps?

Best of all I watched people taking respite from the busy streets below. Legitimate "eyes on this street" provides what Oscar Newman called defensible space.

Safety and sustainability can become part of our civic DNA if we learn how to make it part of the CPTED and SafeGrowth message.

Sitting areas, safety phones, and respite from the street

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fighting New Orleans blues - the Hollygrove Story

Work yet to be done in Hollygrove

There are cynics who think nothing changes and nothing works, especially in regards to crime.

They are wrong. Things change and some things work. Case in point - the New Orleans neighborhood of Hollygrove.

A year ago I wrote about Hollygrove where we introduced SafeGrowth. New Orleans balances a famous, and infamous, history. A high crime rate and the Hurricane Katrina tragedy tilt one way while Bourbon Street delights and French Quarter cuisine tilt another.

Then there is Hollygrove - among the poorest and highest crime neighborhoods - a place where a quarter of the population never returned post-Katrina (exacerbating problems of abandoned, boarded-up homes).

I've just returned from Hollygrove. I am very impressed.

Much was already underway in the Hollygrove community by the time SafeGrowth showed up. Then my talented colleagues at Louisiana AARP, along with some terrific residents and service providers, thought they'd try SafeGrowth to improve conditions.

What happened?

Early days were difficult with many setbacks - a recent double homicide being the most notable. Obviously much work remains though wins seem more frequent and long-lasting (sustainable) than last year.

Community activities are on the rise. A new walking club is forming and Night Out Against Crime events are bigger than ever. I talked to residents who told me they now clean their own streets and pay for their own streetlights when they cannot get the city to do so (all the more remarkable considering this is an impoverished neighborhood, not a middle-class suburb!)

A few much needed access fences are now in place. The week I arrived residents were celebrating removal of a blighted and abandoned home. New cultural groups are emerging (the hallmark of 2nd Generation CPTED) such as the Hollygrove "Originals" who raise funds for social events in the neighborhood.

This week AARP Louisiana staff helped organize community planning sessions and safety audits. We walked the streets and surveyed conditions with residents, many whom I met last year (their passion and perseverance still continue to impress me). Also present in the workshops were police, clergy, and service providers.

On the final day planning sessions we targeted a central street and some open-space areas. I was amazed at the inventiveness and practicality of the proposals for moving forward.

It takes decades of neglect to sour communities into poor, crime-infested neighborhoods. That's why rehabilitating them takes time.

It's clear to me that in high crime communities like Hollygrove, there are three legs of neighborhood turnaround:

1. Coordinated and collaborative help from service agencies
2. Coherent, integrated planning process (e.g. SafeGrowth), and
3. The momentum, passion and persistence to carry on.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reforming Police = Bending Granite

Police reform - It's not rocket science

Last blog I talked about confusing messages from police agencies about their operating philosophy. Are they one thing, or are they another? Does it matter?

Yes, it does. First, it is too easy to get sidetracked by all the crime prevention jibberish showing up nowadays. Police agencies need to be properly informed about what works, what doesn't, and what role to play. Last year Gerry Cleveland did a guest blog here about the Guardians versus the Vanguard that spells this out.

Second, SafeGrowth and crime prevention types get help (or not) directly from their local police services. In marginal agencies that help will be limited to patrol or enforcement crackdowns - important in a few cases, but not many.

With exemplary agencies SafeGrowthers will receive a full range of prevention services, crime analysis, sophisticated problem-solving as well as enforcement.

The difference between the marginal agency and the exemplary agency is night and day. And while the choice for prevention practitioners is a simple one, unfortunately they may not have the choice. Sadly, some police agencies are still mired in the muck of obsolete methods, or worse, choose to de-evolve to by-gone philosophies.

What are those philosophies?

The first cops - British bobbies - walked the beat. They knew who was who and what was what. The American version of that in the late 18th and early 19th century was the standard bearer of early peace-keeping. They were, at least by some accounts, part of the community. They are a distant echo of today's community policing, but lacking the technological sophistication and training emerging from the "professional" era.

PROFESSIONAL ERA - THE LAW ENFORCER

For reasons of training, quality and anti-corruption, a whole new kind of policing grew up in the early 20th Century - professional policing that focused on "law enforcement". Cops were taken off the beat and placed into patrol cars. Removed from the lives of everyday people, they were dispatched to trouble spots via radio (today, computer dispatch).

In the 60s professional law enforcement came under attack for being too removed from the everyday citizen. Police were not a part of the community. Out of touch with popular sentiment and ineffective at preventing crime, professional law enforcement got a black eye. It turns out, only a small part of policing deals with enforcing laws. Most of it is about keeping the peace, community safety and solving neighborhood problems.

COPPS PROBLEM SOLVER

That led to the community policing and problem-solving (COPPS) movement. My favorite part of COPPS is problem-oriented policing (POP).

Over the past few decades much fruit was born from POP collaborative police/community strategies. They solved difficult problems like robbery, violence, and burglary. For samples look no farther than the clearinghouse-of-everything-POP at the website of the Center for Problem Oriented Policing. I blogged on last year's award winner about cutting motel crime in California.

This year's batch of POP projects is now working through the adjudication process. As a screening judge on the POP awards panel I can tell you there are some remarkable projects this year.

If you get a chance to attend the POP Conference, do so.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The fortress versus the storefront

Gleaming, white and clean. The medieval fortress reborn

I passed a beautiful architectural feature the other day on a brief trip to Miami: A gleaming police HQ building. Monumental and modern, it was a civic fortress on display. It was similar to many other big city police HQ architectures in recent years.

Down the road I drove past a sports field called the Police Athletic League for kids. What a great opportunity for kids to play ball, hang out, and have fun.

Then a question of some irony dawned on me; Do urban features like these indicate police are in the community or a symbol of it?

At HQ the architectural story was clear; Clean and magnificent, landmarks like this show off something far more than a functional police headquarters. Landmarks like this stand out! More important, they stand apart from the everyday life the rest of us live. We expect that of city halls or war memorials. But why police stations?

The sport field told a different story. Like cultural activities and local storefronts, these are the kinds of everyday things we expect to integrate into our daily lives. They don't stand apart from community. They are a part of community.

Semantics? Perhaps, until you consider history.

Over the last century, police evolved from local cops walking a beat to law enforcement officers in patrol cars - the "professional law enforcement" movement. Over the last 40 years police reformers promoted community oriented problem solvers working to resolve local troubles - the COPPS movement.

It's difficult to know where some agencies are today. Many are a confusing hybrid of all those things.

The police HQ "fortress" is an emblematic symbol of law and order, a obvious product of the professional movement. It seems to me that is in stark opposition to COPPS. Nowhere was this more true than on the patrol car doors with the motto "Professional Law Enforcement". Someone obviously missed the COPPS memo. Or maybe not.

One place showcasing an alternative architectural hybrid is the small town of Milliken, Colorado.

Miliken Police HQ photo by Jim Burack/Debora Cohen

Innovative Milliken Police Chief Jim Burack spent considerable time with residents, experts, and his own agency to craft a sensible balance. It goes to show it is possible to have security and accessibility to the public. Let's keep the fortress in the medieval age where it belongs.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A mystery in history

1930s-era Chicago Area Project park

Clearing out cabinets with old files can be like a mystery adventure. Here's one mystery I came across this week.

In the bustling heyday of 1920s Chicago a revolutionary new theory of crime prevention emerged from the University of Chicago. Tapping into the flowering of biological ecology theory, sociologists Robert Park and Ernest Burgess crafted a social ecology of crime to explain and prevent juvenile delinquency.

Park and Burgess opened a theoretical door that writers like Jane Jacobs walked through a half century later. Whatever came of that early work?

In 1934 Clifford Shaw tested the theory in one of the first ever community crime prevention projects - the Chicago Area Projects (CAP). According to an article in the FBI Bulletin it was Shaw's belief that:
"…the solution to Chicago's gang problem meant reaching out to the gangs and redirecting them into the conventional life of the community. His method, which emphasized a "bottom up," proactive approach, contrasted greatly with traditional, "top down" methods, which stressed punitive or repressive measures to control delinquency."

Pretty impressive stuff. Sounds similar to SafeGrowth. No surprise there. Many modern community development programs owe much to Shaw and the CAP.

What is surprising is the absence of published results. What happened to that project? Volumes of criminology literature exists today due to, in opposition to, or as adjuncts to the ecology of crime theory. Not so for the results of CAP field work.

WHAT HAPPENED?

One of the most famous prevention projects in history has no evaluations? What?

Then I came across another article in my file cabinet.

It turns out CAP WAS successful, especially in Russell Square Park, one of the key sites of gang activity targeted by the program. A RAND report in the 1990s re-evaluated the CAP. Apparently Shaw's early studies from 1932-1937 found delinquency in Russell Square dropped in half, while it did not decline in surrounding neighborhoods. Amazingly, an article in the FBI Bulletin found that, 50 years later, the CAP is still on-going. In fact it has expanded!

If there was ever a landmark story emerging from prevention history, this is it! Why then didn't Shaw publish evaluations?

When I read through the studies in my cabinet I saw that he did. Control groups. Random assignment. The whole bit. He did evaluate it.

Then, after awhile, he didn't.

ECONOMIES OF SCALE

By the 1950s Shaw was telling researchers he didn't think it was even possible to prove statistically CAP worked. Why?

The answer from what I can see is frustration. Shaw got fed up trying to demonstrate with increasing levels of statistical proof that CAP worked, even though the Russell Square research showed just that. After all, his team and the residents themselves saw positive results.

It is an irony of history that the rigors of academic evaluation frustrate on one hand, yet provide the very publications from which future practitioners learn lessons of success and failure. It is why some evaluation is important but too much, not so much.

What Shaw discovered was prevention economies of scale. It is possible to spend more time and money satisfying the rigors of evaluation than actually preventing crime.

I suspect Shaw uncovered what Stanley Leiberson said in the 1990s: "we can be confident that all theories can be shown to be false—simply because it is impossible to specify all possible conditions and, therefore, a literal interpretation of what a theory implies can be taken out of context and lead to a negative result."

In 2005 sociologist Max Travers came to the same conclusion - social science evaluation is not a scientific discipline that produces objective findings.

Evaluation is important. But preventing crime is the point. As long as the former informs the latter in the service of practitioners, we're on track. Otherwise, as Shaw discovered, we've run off the ROTO rails.

What works? Community development, careful direction of municipal services, and involving local residents in safety and livability...that works.

Mystery solved.