Monday, May 28, 2012

Shooting sprees and neighborhood grants

Seattle sunset (photo: manleyaudit, Creative Commons)

"Too often, when there’s crime, people think ‘more police.’ That isn’t the solution.” (Jim Diers, "Neighborhood Power")

It's interesting to see a story about your new home city in the eyes of someone from your old home city. 

I just received a link from Seattle Police Sgt. Cindy Granard. (Cindy is an exceptional community cop and CPTED expert. Though no longer tasked with CPTED, she has won national awards for cutting crime with local residents and organizations like LISC). The link was to a Toronto Star column about Seattle's Neighborhood Matching Grants program. 

The columnist wrote enviously on Seattle's program that helps residents take ownership of their neighborhoods to enhance livability. Since 1988 it has distributed $49 million in grants to 4,000 neighborhood projects like building community gardens, painting murals, etc.

Toronto, says the columnist, could learn from Seattle. (I think most cities can learn from Seattle's example in this regards.)

Nevertheless, columnists can get it wrong (or, in this case, half right). City comparisons lead to non sequiturs and monkey wrenches. The grass isn't really all that much greener. 

Toronto sunset (photo: paul[dex], Creative Commons)
Monkey wrench #1 - Toronto has long been renown for over 200 distinct and lively neighborhoods, 25 in the city center alone. One reason those neighborhoods work is because Toronto has a safe, well-used street-car and subway system. Seattle, by comparison, doesn't. (Both have trolley's and light rail, though in Seattle the latter is limited to a recent line to the airport.) 

Wrench #2 - crime. Though less than half Toronto's size, Seattle's 2011 murder rate was double Toronto's (3.3 vs 1.7 per 100,000). Worse still; a rash of shootings in which, last night, Seattle suffered its 16th homicide this year (there were 21 in all 2011). Toronto's homicide rate is still falling.

In truth (shooting spree's notwithstanding) Seattle and Toronto are both relatively safe cities. In fact, Toronto had its own "summer of the gun" a few years ago. 

Jim Diers is right! There is no mystery to untangle. Because both cities focus on neighborhoods, they are both exceptional and vibrant. No doubt their exceptional neighborhoods play a big role.

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