Sunday, September 30, 2012

CPTED, Brasilia, and Pruitt-Igoe - A lesson worth learning

Brazil's capital city, Brasilia. An icon to modernist architecture (photo by UNESCO)

There is a great article in the latest issue of The Atlantic, Brasilia - A Vision of Concrete. It reminded me of a story years ago from my planning classes on modernism.

At 3pm, March 16, 1972, CPTED was born in the death of architectural modernism. That's the date of the first explosion to demolish the Pruitt-Igoe public housing projects in St. Louis. Built in the finest traditions of modernist theory, Pruitt-Igoe soon decayed into a crime-ridden ghetto and festered for years with low vacancy. Demolition was the final epitath for a concept ill-suited to social housing.

Those explosions began less than a year after C. Ray Jeffery's book CPTED and the same year of Oscar Newman's book, Defensible Space. It was Newman who described the social damage to livability from Pruitt-Igoe’s bleak modernist buildings, acres of no-man's land and blight. It’s a story of how not-to-do planning.

Except not everyone listened.

Almost decade after Pruitt-Igoe started, another modernist architect planned the city of Brasilia, Brazil. Controversial from the beginning, Brasilia stands today an icon to modernist architecture and rational planning.

While the Atlantic article caresses the architecture of Brasilia, it brutalizes it's planning. "The city is quite correctly regarded as a colossally wrong turn in urban planning." And now, in time for Brazil's World Cup in 2014 and the Rio Olympics in 2016, it's due for a make-over.

It's hard to say whether crime in Brasilia arises from the modernist nightmare that infected Pruitt-Igoe, from Brazil's epidemic gang violence, from 9 million unregistered firearms, or something else. It was probably all the above.

But if we've learned anything from Pruitt-Igoe surely we’ve learned SafeGrowth-style organic neighborhood design and collaborative planning is integral to safer streets!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cutting crime in Connecticut - SafeGrowth's latest launch

3-D mural, an optical illusion in New Haven alleyway. Look carefully - no photoshop

The folks at the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) just launched our latest SafeGrowth training, this one in Connecticut. New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman gave the introductory remarks and reminded us how today's world is primarily an urban place. Cities are the thing and we better get them right.

It could have been Jane Jacobs talking!

Before the training I spent time revisiting old haunts in New Haven, including a peek at my old neighborhood in Westville (still vibrant, still thriving).

Then the training. This week four teams of class participants have begun fanning out in three different Connecticut cities to start the hard work of creating safer spaces where there is none. In 6 weeks they will put together their preliminary plans which we assess in November. Exciting times.

New Website

While there I learned my talented friends at LISC's Community Safety Initiative have created an exceptional tool for practitioners - a new SafeGrowth/CPTED website.

After leading SafeGrowth initiatives and training in a dozen cities over the past five years, LISC-CSI has again outdone themselves. Have a look.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Children in the city - winning the public realm

Greentopia film on Rochester's El Camino trail

"...the true community is the children..."

More good news from Rochester.

A few months ago I reported on the cool BoulevArt project in Rochester following our SafeGrowth training this spring. I also described the streetscaping and outdoor art along University Avenue.

Community organizer Rachel Pickering just now sent this latest video updating progress on the El Camino trail project, one of the SafeGrowth projects during the training. The news is serendipitous given my recent work on urban bike trails.

El Camino used intensive programming to win the public realm. My favorite take-away: Discovering the critical role children play in success!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The devil is in the details - Bike trails and crime

Rails to Trails Conservatory "Is It Safe" video on bike trail safety

This past week I worked on a bike trail and crime project. Reflecting on my last blog, some old questions resurfaced: What is it about bike trails that trigger fears? Do bike trails suffer crime? Absolutely! Are they a necessary asset for cities? Absolutely!

How can we build bike and walking trails to promote safety?

I've blogged on trails before; Florida's famous Pinellas Trail, Eugene, Oregon's extensive urban bike trails, and BC's Gabriola Island.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy/National Parks Service commissioned a study on bike trail safety in 1998. Unsurprisingly they offer a typical CPTED buffet: trim vegetation, minimizing hiding spaces, lighting, emergency phones, patrols, access for emergency vehicles, and maintenance.

CPTED prescriptions like that are fine. But prescriptions without the diagnosis are like a buffet without vegetables - tasty but not terribly healthy. And none of it guarantees anything.

Crime can and still does happen on bike trails.

Seattle KOMO News 4 newsclip of bike trail through "the Jungle"

What do we actually know? 

In 1987 one of the first-ever studies on bike trail crime reported a remarkably low crime rate near and on bike trails in Eugene, Oregon. It also shocked detractors by reporting increased property values for adjacent trail properties.

A decade later the same results were reported in a study in Omaha, Nebraska and again in 2000 another Rails to Trails study confirmed those results. What all these studies show is less than 5% of all residents living adjacent to trails reported crime or burglary. In the Rails to Trails study only 3% of 373 trails surveyed reported major crimes.

But, as they say, the devil is in the details. There are ways to design bike trails that simply displace troubles from one place to another. The Seattle news video above suggests exactly this problem in a new bike trail running through "the Jungle".

Beelzebub, it seems, has made an appearance.