Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On the shoulders of giants

Pruitt-Igoe, 1972 - Demolition of crime-ridden public housing triggered a rethink

CPTED is 40 this year.

Professor C. Ray Jeffery's book "CPTED" was published in 1971. Oscar Newman's "Defensible Space" in 1972. That's four decades of preventing crime. In an age before prevention was situational, crime was designed out, policing was intelligent or activities routine, CPTED led the way.

Of course Newman and Jeffery stood on the shoulders of giants. A decade earlier there was Jane Jacobs, Elizabeth Wood and Schlomo Angel. By 1971 Jacobs had already invented territoriality and eyes on the street. Wood had already written on the merits of lively diverse neighborhoods (and flower-growing contests to brighten them up).

All this...decades before the broken windows theory reinvented that wheel.

CPTED wasn't the first kid on the prevention block. Police have always done prevention (still do), most of it unevaluated, superficial and generic. None of it place-based or specific.

Scholars made contributions to prevention, especially 1930s sociologists like Robert Shaw at the University of Chicago who created the Chicago Area Project. (Still running, still successful.)

Giants also came from geography. From 1968 geographers began writing books on place-based crime. Led by Harries in the US, Scott in Australia, and Herbert in the UK, the geography of crime later became environmental criminology.

It probably didn't prevent much crime. But it added to our understanding and moved the place-is-important debate squarely into CPTED turf. Which brings us back to CPTED and its birthday. It's worth learning what the pioneers actually said.

Then I came across this rare, and oddly haunting, film of Oscar Newman speaking to the inaugural session of the United Nations Habitat conference in 1976 Vancouver.

Click here to view it.

A ghost from our past talking about our world today.

3 Replies so far - Add your comment

  1. The structural revitalization of geographical areas defined by social groups with specific common characteristics is a vital component of urban renewal. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that it is the human element that drives the anti-social behavior.  

    Socialization vs. individualism must be fully understood and then addressed in the most effective manner – at what age and at what level of intervention by the state will provide the most effective results.  

    A good example is the Stanford experiment where normal well educated and adjusted males were randomly selected to participate in an experiment in the basement of the university.  Half were randomly selected as guards and the others were selected as prisoners.  After one week the experiment had to be shut down as the guards were demonstrating a group mentality utilizing demeaning and oppressive measures in relation to the prisoners.  The prisoners on the other hand were starting to exhibit noticeable signs of stress. 

    Pretty much reminds me of the novel, “Lord of the Flies”.
    Most anti-social behavior has some level of group involvement.  Individualism is lost (self assessment and evaluation of consequences for self and others) to the momentum of the group mentality.  Changes to our environment can reduce or eliminate for a period of time anti-social behavior but the true issue (root cause) resides in most cases with the aforementioned issue.
    Just some good old Canadian thoughts during frigid temperatures.

    - Greg Mills

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I couldn't agree more, Greg.

    It's fascinating to me that the early CPTED pioneers spent considerable time writing about social interactions, cohesion, and root causes. It was their followers in subsequent generations - the geographers, environmental criminologists, and even many prevention practitioners - who ignored the social roots of crime causation and siphoned off the physical opportunity strategies as THE tools of CPTED. Take a look at the curricula of CPTED courses in the province where you work! We've clearly gone off the theoretical rails.

    Also fascinating is the number of teachers and practitioners who apply access control, turf control and surveillance as though that is the end of the story (not all of course, but still too many).

    I cannot see how anyone reading Newman's "Communities of Interest" or Jacobs "Death and Life" can make that mistake. But, there it is.

    When we created 2nd Generation CPTED, and now SafeGrowth, it was my hope we could move the CPTED project forward.

    It remains my dream!

    Thanks for the comments Greg. Stay warm.


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