Saturday, April 30, 2011

The future


You may have noticed in these blogs my intrigue about the future. I believe thinking about the future is not only entertaining, but it is useful for visioning better forms of social life.

In architecture and planning I've more than once blogged on this:

Organic architecture
The Venus Project
The Rio Olympics
The archology of Arcosante
Project H\

A similar movement exists in policing. It is called the Police Futurists International (PFI)

PFI is an excellent organization in which I briefly participated in the recent past. PFI founder Bill Tafoya, an old friend, has been a pioneer in futures research for awhile. The Police Futures Working group is another leading organization thinking about directions for the future.

Check them out!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The story of dangling shoes


Why do people toss shoes over power and telephone lines?

Urban legend (and one of my own former blogs...oops!) suggests it's to mark illegal drug sale locations or gang activity. Really? I have dangling shoes in my community and yet we have no gang activity and practically no street drug sales.

A terrific new BBC documentary, New York's Hanging Sneakers, aired recently and discovered no clear answer. Drug deal locations are only one of many possible reasons.

A recent article in the Toronto Star followed four cases of dangling shoes and found four different stories - none conclusive.


Cops typically describe dangling shoes and drug sales as urban myth. In the Toronto Star article one Toronto drug cop says, in his experience, the drug explanation is bunk. That's neither scientific nor surprising. Obviously drug dealers would spend only a very short time near their dangling shoe marker and probably depart long before cops figure it out.

To complicate matters, dangling shoes can mean anything from a local fad, a prank, drug activity or the death of a gang member. Snopes.com confirms the multiple explanation theory, a theory that started in 1996 when one writer described 14 different possibilities.

Truth is, it depends. It depends on street culture. It depends on the prevalence of gangs. It depends on bored local youth. Truth is, without a proper CPTED risk assessment, you can only guess. And as we know in prevention, guessing is never a good idea.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright's reminder - Beauty Matters


I recently visited Taliesin West, famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and school of architecture in Phoenix. It showcases his ideas for using local materials, linking outdoors with indoors and what he called organic architecture. Always interested in shaping buildings for the human experience, Wright's designs probably gave life to our modern demand for human scale streetscapes.

When it comes to urban design, scale is everything. It shows up in my blogs on large-scale planning and the freedom of performance-based zoning. It shows up at the opposite end when the Design Against Crime crowd re-think small-scale items like benches and ATM mats.

Nowhere is the importance of scale more obvious than in the lifelong work of famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.


Wright is an icon. Between 1893 and 1957 his work firmly positioned him atop the American architectural scene. He rebelled against staid European traditions of the previous century and sought to create a brand new American architecture.

Except for one thankfully forgotten book (Broadacre City) he rarely overstepped his skills into large scale planning. There are some cranky critics (like me) who think his clumsy planning ideas in Broadacre City are culpable for the incomprehensible spaghetti-style road shapes and acres of monotonous single-family lots in today's suburbs.

That one leap in scale was a rare blemish in a tapestry of design innovation and pure architectural genius. It's kind of like hearing for the first time Mahatma Gandhi was cruel to his wife in his early years. It doesn't jive with the greater picture of a hero even though it may be true.

Scale, truly, is everything.

If you haven't visited Taliesin West - do so! Wright reminds us why we need beauty in our cities.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Forts, Shannon Gilbert, and a serial killer


Sometime during the evening of May 1, 2010, a young woman named Shannon Gilbert, ran away from a house party in a neighborhood of Oak Park, NY. Later that night, she was stalked by someone in a SUV and ran to another home in that same neighborhood screaming "they're after me".

Since then police looking for Shannon have found the bodies of eight young women nearby, apparent victims of the so-called Craig's List serial killer. Shannon has not been found.

Some reports say Shannon was a prostitute hired to work that night. Others say she was bi-polar and a drug addict. Criminologists tell us high risk lifestyles are a factor in murder. All those things might be true. Of all the things that matter most, those things don't.

What matters most is Shannon deserved protection from violence and harm. How do we get that protection?

Shannon may have been "on the job", but she wasn't on the street. The Oak Park house Shannon fled was in a gated community.


Gated communities, or master-planned communities, have a notorious history. A decade ago planners Blakely and Snyder claimed 8 million Americans lived in gated communities (GCs). In Fortress America, they wrote gated residents are "retreating from their neighbors by locking themselves behind security controlled walls, gates and barriers."


Some GCs sell exclusive enclaves of leisure and prestige. Most sell the promise of neighborhood defense and suburban security.

Research suggests GCs offer no more security, possibly less, than well run, crime prevention programs.

Shannon's story suggests this is true.

A millennia ago Feudal Europe forted up in hundreds of walled, medieval castles. Robin Hood (at least in my childhood imagination) saw forts as protection for those with power and oppression for those without. Back then democracy did not exist. It was also an age that offered up the Black Plague.

One hopes we have progressed since then.

One wonders.

May Shannon be found safe.