Sunday, August 31, 2014

A few years after tomorrow


There are these new urban regeneration schemes called malls-without-walls, one example being the Liverpool One development in the UK. They bring to mind Oath of Fealty, a science fiction by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. They raise a thought worth pondering.

The Liverpool One land development is owned by the British Duke of Westminster. It privatizes 35 downtown streets and spans 42 acres all controlled by a private security force and CCTV. Of course big shopping malls are not new but they are usually relegated to the suburbs far from the downtown core. Not this one.

LIVERPOOL ONE

The Liverpool One land development project turns a new corner. Costing up to $2 Billion it is a central city shopping mall on steroids - hotels, plazas, shops, golf course, apartment towers, open air designs all policed by private security.

Decades ago Oath of Fealty prophesized a massive high-tech, city-in-a-city called Todos Santos, constructed following race riots and walled away from the chaos of Los Angeles surrounding it.

A thousand feet tall, single-structured super city, Todos Santos residents lived with constant surveillance in return for safety away from the grime, crime and bedlam that was a future Los Angeles. (Imagine the opening sequence of the film Bladerunner). Residents gladly offer up their Oath of Fealty for the benevolent Todos Santos security blanket.

In 1981 Oath of Fealty prophisized a new kind of city
Liverpool One is nowhere near that. It is a mega mall on steroids, not as sophisticated as the futuristic arcology, Todos Santos. It looks like a well-designed, upscale mall. Its private streets are subject to regular city by-laws.

Thus far.

Yet it is more interconnected than most open air malls and has abundant private security and pervasive CCTV. And like all evolutionary trends it exists in a context.

FEAR

Consider the fear triggered from watching the Ferguson mayhem this week, dozens of riots in cities around the world in recent years and, in spite of declining crime rates, millions who now live in gated communities.

In all these contexts there is one constant. Fear! Who wouldn't want to live in a beautiful, secure place of the future?

Consider the comments about Liverpool One by Roy Coleman, criminology faculty at Liverpool University: "The rules for the newly privatised city centre fabricate an ideal citizen - aspirational in consumption and thinking big with urban pride."

That sounds very Todos Santos. It leads me to ask some elephant-in-the-room questions: If we have the resources and desire to build safe mini-cities within cities where people can freely choose to live, is that a good thing? Or if it is such a bad thing, why are so many of them showing up?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The latest crime trends - up or down?


Just arrived: The January-June crime statistics for 2013 !

Each summer the FBI releases semi-annual results from year before crime statistics. To criminology geeks like me they are like candy. And guess what! For the 73 cities over 250,000 population crime is the same it has been for decades. Down!

But not everywhere!

DECLINING CRIME

Murder, the most reliably reported crime, is still declining. In Philadelphia murders are down -36%, New York -19%, New Orleans -20% and San Antonio -41%.

Why? In the Big Apple maybe broken windows or stop and frisk policing works? Yet both are controversial. Plus cops have been accused of cooking the books. In New Orleans I'd like to think Hollygrove's SafeGrowth program had at least some impact along with the new CeaseFire anti-gang program.

The truth is it's difficult to claim victory from programs in one place when crime falls in other places without those programs. Doing so is willful blindness.


Speaking of willful blindness, there are criminologists who claim auto crime is down due to the spread of more sophisticated security technology. They ignore that crime declined across many categories (in many countries), when security technology was absent (as in domestic violence). When crime categories plummet together, how logical is it that security technology explains auto theft declines but nothing else? 

CLIMBING CRIME

There are much more important things than crime theory-squabbles. Alarmingly, murders are climbing  in a number of cities. In Las Vegas murder was up 56% (from 32 to 50), in Indianapolis 41%, (46-65), Cincinnati 45% (22-32), Baltimore 9% (105 - 115), Memphis 7% (56-60), and Dallas 17% (62-73). Are these statistically significant or normal variations?

Either way it is troubling. In a few of those cities new police programs are already in place. Memphis uses the predictive policing program called Blue Crush. Apparently, at least with murder, it isn't working.

Are the good times over?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Discovering the city at night

Uplighting sidewalk tree canopies with green tint - all photos from Ian Dryden

A few months ago I met award-winning industrial designer Ian Dryden from the city of Melbourne, Australia. He taught me about Melbourne's street lighting program. Given the links between fear and street (in)activity, this is a very big deal.

Most cities get poor grades for night lighting. Melbourne gets an A.

Melbourne has an incredibly active downtown night life. It wasn't always. One long-term resident told me it was once a waste-land with few people daring to walk dark downtown streets. When the city changed direction and chose to attract an evening crowd to socialize in a safe, positive way, designers and planners stepped up.

Decorative lighting above and below bridges
Ian and his colleagues were among them. Melbourne's public lighting program is sophisticated. It creates both a luminous and carbon neutral city, no small feat with current energy costs.

They light parks, tram stops, news stands, benches, and sidewalks. They string interesting blue (and energy efficient) LEDs above intersections. Where most cities inadvertently obstruct street lights with tree canopies, Melbourne embellishes them with tinted uplighting.

New induction lighting for Swanson Street tram stops
This week the 2014 Australian Smart Lighting Summit is in Melbourne and they get to celebrate among lighting peers. They should. Congratulations!

Melbourne park lighting
Blue LEDs over intersection - a canopy of stars



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Police reform? Better start swimmin'


It's impossible to write about small wins cutting crime and ignore police controversies that go viral. This weekend teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri in a struggle with a police officer.

Aside from mainstream media we know little about how events happened. We do know Michael Brown's death is triggering protests, riots, and national attention. It has gone viral. Now the online vigilante group Anonymous is threatening to post the personal information of Ferguson police department members unless politicians create a Mike Brown's Law with strict national standards for police misconduct across the USA.



Some steps have already been taken along these lines. In 1994 the government passed a crime bill that expanded a form of civil enforcement called the Consent Decree. It is allows the federal government to install legal oversight over police when civil rights have been abused.

Since then 20 police departments have been subject to Consent Decrees including Detroit, New Orleans, Los Angeles and the latest in Seattle. In Seattle some officers are pushing back with a counter suit to roll back the proposed use-of-force controls.

THE RUIN AND REDEMPTION OF THE LAPD

Next year author Joe Domanick will publish Blue: The Ruin and Redemption of the LAPD about the Consent Decree in LA and what happened. In his blog Domanick describes police resistance to such changes:

...while police officers and their thinking is far more diverse than 20 years-ago, old, bad habits are nevertheless still being passed down from one cop generation to another.  They die hard. And police of a certain generation don’t like change, particularly liberal reform that they perceive only makes their jobs harder and more complex...

It all makes me think of Dylan's lyrics:

Gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown

Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'