Tuesday, April 30, 2013

CCTV, Boston and T.S. Eliot

Boston lockdown after terror attack last week (photo - Sacramento Bee)

If Boston proves anything it proves we need more CCTV, right? Yet police, CCTV, and the community working together caught the terrorists, not CCTV alone. We presume CCTV will cut crime and make things better. Crime might drop (which is good), but things don’t always get better.

The CPTED 3-D method (I don't teach it) states the design of a place should reinforce its designated use so that "illegitimate" users are kept at bay. Yet Jane Jacobs wrote that, if given the chance, people make spaces work in their own unique ways. That is what makes them safe.

Similar questions were posed a decade ago in Keith Hayward’s "Space, the final frontier: Criminology, the city and the spatial dynamics of exclusion."


Hayward threw down the gauntlet to the Criminology of Place crowd- situational crime prevention, environmental criminology and by association (not mine), CPTED.

Unfortunately Hayward wrote in the gibberish of post-structural "Foucauldian" prose, an academic fad popular among a small group of academics in the UK and Canada. Tragically it delivers little to those preventing crime except unreadable text. That's a shame because Hayward has a brilliant mind with important things to say.

He attacked theories of the then-emerging community of crime analysts and crime mappers. Today crime analysts populate every major police department. They desperately need this message.

Top down crime maps and CCTV can distract attention from what matters most

One part of that message: Spatial patterns - robbery hotspots, burglary densities, crime displacements - miss the point. More accurately, they are such a small part of the point that they distract attention away from the keys to prevention - causes behind criminal behavior.


Hayward's corrective is theoretical: link the individual experience of victims, offenders, and other citizens with the urban, social and cultural facts that create conditions for crime.

I think it is simpler. It’s the corrective Gerry Cleveland and I offered a decade earlier in Second Generation CPTED. Blogs on descriptive symbols and articles on Second Generation CPTED spell this out in detail.

Street life in Tijuana, Mexico - center of a narco-war?
Here are some starting places:

  • Crime analysts should create a picture of crime motives in each neighborhood and link that to groups who might mitigate those motives. Otherwise they should stop calling themselves crime analysts and instead call themselves Imosprs – Incident-Mappers-of-Selected-Police-Records!
  • Traditionalists tell me that community "culture" strategies in CPTED are beside the point. They say cutting the opportunity is the thing. They are wrong! Both are essential…concurrently! 

A friend of mine likes to quote T.S. Eliot: "We had the experience but missed the meaning." Let’s not miss the meaning of Boston.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Boston terror? The reality of street life

Downtown Boston
Last week’s terror bombs in Boston were designed to cause fear. In this extended guest blog, social planner and ethicist Wendy Sarkissian describes recent walks in Boston and New Haven. Wendy discovers fear is not always what it seems. 

As we mourn for those killed and injured in the bombing at the Boston Marathon this week, it’s important to remember that good work is being done in Boston.

Good crime-prevention work.

As a woman, a CPTED practitioner and planner, I feel as though I have eyes in the back of my head. And what a contrast I experienced in the two universities of Harvard in Boston and Yale in New Haven, Connecticut - especially their urban contexts!

In a month teaching at Harvard’s planning program I don't believe I saw police or security guards. They must have been there but I saw no obvious presence. I asked about the security of the projectors in the lobby of Gund Hall where I was teaching and was told that a security guard sits there at night. 

Harvard's Gund Hall school of design
I did not see that person or sense that they were required. I often walked the 15-minute walk alone to Harvard Square at night -- as late as midnight -- and did not feel nervous or at risk. I also noticed the brilliant intervention, at the edge of Harvard Yard by the Science Center -- of a skating rink open til 9 pm Tuesday to Sunday -- with free skating classes and skate rental for $5.

Harvard Skate, surrounded by tables and chairs, is open and free to all members of the Harvard community, their family members and the general public.


The custom-made, 40-by-60-foot Harvard Skate rink in front of the Science Center was built atop the newly paved Science Center plaza, which is undergoing renovations. The installation represents the beginning of the plaza's transformation into a vibrant space that joins campus and community.

It reminded me of the idea of putting a carwash in a parking garage. A brilliant Second-Generation CPTED intervention.

Free hot chocolate at skate rink
In Cambridge and Boston, the buses, the trains and the stations were clean but did not seem to have a great amount of security. I felt safe and comfortable at all times, day and night, weekdays and weekends, travelling to and from the Harvard campus by public transit.

By contrast, a day in New Haven had me powerfully frightened. I took the train from Boston and arrived mid-morning after a gorgeous trip through snow-covered New England countryside. I had not lived in New Haven since the mid-sixties, so it was a nostalgic journey.


I was met - at the train station and throughout the downtown - by a strong odour of grass. As one might expect, there were a lot of unsavoury-looking characters hanging around the train station. They were also hanging around the downtown on a weekday (which I did not expect). They did not seem to be doing anything and, from what I could tell, were not dealing drugs.

New Haven's Union Station
The whole place smelled of grass and I felt uncomfortable. That is funny to say for a person who lives in the drug capital of Australia!

I spent the day walking though residential areas where I had lived in the sixties and then working in the Yale Archives. I emerged from the library as it was getting dark and by 6:30 pm I was seeking a taxi to go to the best pizza parlour in the United States: New Haven’s Frank Pepe's Pizzeria, where I had enjoyed their signature pizzas in the sixties.

I'd come 17,000 miles for my pizza and I wanted lots of time to savour it.

Pepe's Pizzaria, New Haven CT
As I stood waiting for a taxi I found myself hailing vehicles with lights on the top, only to discover that they were either Yale University security vehicles or New Haven police cars. On every corner in the centre of the campus there seemed to be at least one, often two or more police and security personnel on foot or in vehicles. They were everywhere.

That did not make me feel safe. Failing to find a taxi, I thought about walking (it was cold but not unbearably so) to a nearby urban neighbourhood with a few more restaurants, as I was on the edge of the Yale campus. But I thought better of taking a back route, fearing that perhaps all this security and police presence meant that the back streets (with fewer eyes on the street) might be dangerous.

Increased police numbers in New Haven - photo NBC News
What was happening? Why so much security and police? Had there been a violent incident recently? A rape?

As an older woman, I began to wonder. Would I find a taxi? Am I in danger in the middle of the city - in the middle of the campus?

The pizza faded from my mind and fear crept in. At 6 pm on a week night in the centre of the city. What was going on?


These two experiences made me think about the messages that a strong police and security presence sends to a non-native. In New Haven, I knew the geography and could remember where things were. I identified landmarks and felt I had a reasonable cognitive map of the central area. In Cambridge, I had none of those advantages but was able to navigate the streets because the main routes were well-lit and well trafficked.

Even late at night, there is lots of activity in Harvard Square.

Night at Harvard Square

Reflecting on my short visit to New Haven I feel that such an intense security and police presence sends a message that a place is unsafe. It did not make me feel safer; it heightened my sense of vulnerability.

On the other hand, on the Harvard campus, aware of the inherent dangers of campuses generally for pedestrian safety, I was careful. I stayed on the beaten track and I kept my wits about me. I felt safe. Whatever is happening at Yale and in New Haven, it's not working! Not for me. Not for me as a non-native pedestrian.

And at Harvard, whatever they are doing - subtle interventions and careful management - it is working well. 

Frank Pepe’s pizza – when a taxi finally materialized -- defied description. My pizza-loving self will never forget it. But it’s not just about the pizza

My CPTED practitioner self will never forget the brilliant CPTED intervention of Harvard Skate on the plaza outside the Science Center.

A tale of two campuses and two cities. And I can tell you which one I'd like to visit,  alone at night, again.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A legend dies

The Vision of Paulo Soleri - a new documentary film on Paulo Soleri.

Paulo Soleri died this week at 93. To students of the city he is legend.

Former student of Frank Lloyd Wright, featured in films and books, Soleri created "arcology" long before the eco-sensible married the environment with urban development. To Newsweek his laboratory-city-in-the-desert north of Phoenix - Arcosanti - is "the most important urban experiment undertaken in our lifetimes." Over 50,000 urban design and planning students visit it each year.

Twenty years ago I was one of them. I went to find out what he thought of cities and crime.

Soleri told me he worried about a lack of equity in cities and the social corrosion emerging from it,  a sentiment recently featured in Wilkinson and Pickett's bestseller The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better.

Solari thought we need to remove cars from cities and we need more urban density (the basis of an arcology). Nowadays that's echoed everywhere in urban planning, such as MIT scholar/architect Kent Larson (check out his talk on TED.com)

"What about crime?" I asked him.

"There are very dense European cities with very low crime," he replied. "There are ways to do it right."

"What of policing an Arcology?" I asked.

He thought for a minute and smiled. "Well I guess the first thing would be to leave the guns at the door."

Paulo Soleri. Photo Arizona Daily Star

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"Excuse me, I have to go. Somewhere, there is a crime happening."

19th century Stockton, California in better times? Postcard photo California Historial Society.
That quote above is by Robocop from the classic 1987 sci-fi by Paul Verhoven.

I have written about the Pythonic thinking driving UK police privatization and the transformation of police culture from community cop to combat cop. Lately things have accelerated into an economic and social earthquake for policing. Am I the only one noticing? I don't see it in the press. The blabbering heads on Talk TV/Radio are too IQ-starved to notice.

Then I thought of a story:

In a not-too-distant dystopian future Gotham City faces financial ruin. The national economy is in shambles and municipal budgets to pay for skyrocketing costs of overtime, pensions, and medical expenses are gone. Represented by unions clinging to 19th century collective bargaining dogma, cops are being laid off in droves. 

Fears of crime cause thousands to hide behind the walls of gated communities and metal bars on windows. Their homes are prisons where they cower, too afraid to walk downtown at night. The police chief advises people to arm themselves. 

Sound like Robocop? Nope. It's us.


Proof #1: The municipal financial crisis trickling down from the Great Recession. Consider thousands of police layoffs in the US and police privatization in the UK. Consider how this whole mess heads north as the Canadian economy tanks.

Proof #2: Police layoffs in;

East Greenwich, NJ,
Lansing, MI,
Cleveland, OH,
Cincinati, OH.
Miami, FL,
Los Angeles, CA,
San Jose, CA,

Proof #3: Across California the FBI reports over 4,000 officers were laid off from 2008 - 2011.

Proof #4: Increasing numbers of municipalities are in financial ruin such as Detroit, or claiming bankruptcy such as Stockton, CA.

And now the latest aftershock; Due to police layoffs a Sheriff in Milwaukee is advising residents to purchase guns and take safety courses.

Is it just me noticing this or has visionary leadership truly gone AWOL?