Friday, March 29, 2013

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Activating parking lots with design - Seattle's U-Village Mall

Paving paradise? Joni Mitchell's classic lyric to "Big Yellow Taxi" ran through my mind yesterday during research for an upcoming webinar on downtown safety next Wednesday, April 4

It happened during a visit to the U-Village Mall - a lifestyle mall in Seattle where I uncovered an example of Penalosa's maxim: "We can have a city that is very friendly to cars or a city that is very friendly to people. We can't have both."

A few years ago I wrote about Enrique Penalosa, the urban visionary from Bogota, Columbia. He's the former Mayor who helped transform a nightmare downtown during his country's narco-war into a vibrant and safe place. He did that by building for people first and cars last.

Wayfinding through parking lots need not be a gauntlet of horror

The U-Village Mall shows how we can do that in a parking lot. This re-imagined mall sacrifices sprawling lot design that maximizes quantity for a pedestrian friendly design to maximize quality. Playground areas for kids, water features, sidewalks and gardens - the works.

The U-Village Mall ignores large lots in favor of smaller clusters of 100 cars. This reduces the number of parking spaces (to the chagrin of some), but it creates a livable urban village feel (to the joy of everyone else).

Activating public spaces is a key for safety. My prior blogs on parking lot design show design errors of size and shape. Parking lots at the U-Village show how to mix people and cars. I suspect Penalosa would approve.

The webinar is next Wednesday, 3-4pm EST (12-1 PST) sponsored by the International Downtown Association. Their website lists details - IDA Trending Topics #5

U-Village Mall encourages sitting, dogs, and flowers 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Crime in the snow - CPTED & winter cities

Snow and CPTED. Examining LED streetlights and staying warm (photo by Jason Tudor)

CPTED pioneers never imagined how crime works in a winter city. Local practitioners figure that out themselves. Case in point: Our SafeGrowth training last week in Saskatoon, Canada, about 250 miles north of the US border.

Saskatoon now leads the municipal pack for CPTED implementation. I've blogged before about Saskatoon, especially regarding bus terminals. Like many forward thinking communities it has online design guidelines and CPTED policy. Like other places Saskatoon reviews new developments for CPTED.

Unlike other places Saskatoon is the first-ever city to incorporate 1st Generation CPTED, 2nd Generation CPTED, and SafeGrowth into their design guidelines. Many CPTED practitioners still don't know the difference between the concepts (explained in the guidelines). Saskatoon does this by embedding SafeGrowth into Local Area Plans in dozens of neighborhoods across the city, each with their own plans and steps for moving forward.

Saskatoon students audit underground parking lots 
We've now trained over a hundred city staff, police and community members. Last week city planner Elisabeth Miller and myself continued the training with outdoor safety audits and CPTED reviews of parking lots. Newman, Jacobs, Jeffery, Angel, and Gardiner wrote nothing about CPTED and streetlights in snowbanks at -20 Celsius. We'll see how the project teams from class figure it out.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The street as classroom

  Evening CPTED audits - the city at night - photo by snowycactus
A few weeks ago a colleague of mine teaching at Harvard University asked if I would do a webinar with some planning and design students embarking on their first night-time CPTED field project. I talked with Benjamin Scheerbarth, Elise Baudon and Susan Nguyen about the myth and reality of CPTED and the difference between fear and risk; what residents' perceive versus what they actually experience. That's exactly what their research uncovered.

On one hand their observations suggested the area had "strong environmental design to prevent crime". Police on the audit confirmed "an overall safe downtown atmosphere with scattered incidents of [disorder]". On the other hand community members described fears of unsafe pockets and a sketchy area. Crime data suggested problems with theft and assault.

What to think? Who to believe? (I love conundrums like this for students!)


To the practitioner this is unsurprising. Crime geographers have been saying for some time that risk and fear are very different animals. One has a dangerous bite; the other frightens with a snarl. Yet it's impressive the students uncovered this so quickly.

To their credit the students dove deeper and discovered how events cluster around certain places and times (like bars at closing) and how to target solutions. Their recommendations spanned basic 1st Generation CPTED (better lighting, signage and cameras) and 2nd Generation CPTED  (diversified land uses, evening farmers markets, night-time community walks).

For a first time CPTED project, that's not bad. Not bad at all!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

DNA to the rescue?

New discoveries recently announced in DNA forensics 

No one reasonably armored against dogma wants to be philistine about progress. Still, how many times must we read that the latest science project will solve our crime problem?

I just read the latest study showing how DNA technology lowers crime up to 10 percent! Last month computerized predictive algorithms claimed the mantle of progress. In the 1990s it was Compstat.

Now scientists are about to announce 90-minute returns on DNA sampling versus up to 90 days that it takes now. It's a forensic revolution. DNA advances have done some remarkable things. They have sped convictions and exonerated the innocent. That's all good stuff.

Two thoughts come to mind: civil rights and, well, crime.

Civil rights and DNA? Last year the British Parliament backtracked from post 9/11 regulations that expanded police reach and they passed the Protection of Freedom Act. It limits public CCTV, biometrics and it regulates DNA databases.

The double helix structure of DNA - model by Instructables
Why regulate databases? According to one blogger: "It's very rare that someone is arrested and has NOTHING to do with crime and will not come our way again."

According to another: "Not true and this thinking is why the public does not respect the Police. False accusations are made all the time and people are investigated and released without charge."

True enough. The Virginia DNA Project uncovered a wrongful arrest/conviction rate for rapes of 8 - 15 percent prior to DNA testing.

That's both why we should regulate and why DNA is important.

Legalities aside, I have another question. Does DNA really work to cut crime? It's certainly not a community-building strategy that tackles neighborhood maladies and family-based dysfunction. Will it really allow police to arrest more chronic offenders so we can do community-building?