Monday, August 3, 2015

Steel palms and transformation in Philly

One of the more offensive ideas I’ve come across in criminology is the theory that some high crime neighborhoods never change. They remain that way for decades and they are impervious to recovery. Equally offensive - and no less true - is a belief that zero tolerance enforcement in crime hotspots or hardening targets in those high crime neighborhood is the best we can do.

No doubt crime persists in some places. Enforcement and situational prevention too can help. But they are far from the best we can do. Places do change and we can be part of that change. To peddle the inevitability of crime persistence or the impossibility of neighborhood rebirth is to embrace empirically unsound, intellectual funk.  

PHILADELPHIA PROJECTS

That was my thought last week in Philadelphia where we worked with Philadelphia LISC, the Philadelphia Commerce Department, and Police Department to launch more SafeGrowth community development projects.

We’ve been here twice over the past few years, most recently last year where impressive project work is still underway. One of those SafeGrowth projects started four years ago - Rainbow de Colores park - won accolades and was featured in an award-winning video for reducing crime and transforming a drug infested, shooting gallery at a handball court into a safe place alive with neighborhood life.

Last week energetic and dedicated commercial corridor managers, police officers, architects, city officials and residents began SafeGrowth projects in commercial corridors across the city. We did our training on 5th Street North, an area called El Centro de Oro, often associated with high crime and some of the highest drug dealing hotspots in the city.

Safety Audit walkabouts during our SafeGrowth training in Philadelphia
There is much to be done here (and elsewhere). The truth is that positive transformation is no more inevitable than stagnation. Fortunately work is already underway.

5th STREET NORTH

For example on 5th Street positive things are happening: street-scaping, thriving restaurants, an active arts and music scene, and vibrant community groups such as the innovative HACE (the Hispanic Association of Contractors and Enterprises) where we held our training. This corridor is revitalizing. Things are looking up!

You know something special is going on when you hear that local residents and shop owners take it on themselves to clean graffiti from the decorative, steel palm trees lining 5th Street North. To one author those hand-crafted trees are “a beloved symbol of the many Latin American islands represented in the local population.”

Obviously, undeterred by obsolete criminology theories, local pride and cohesion is where neighborhood transformation begins.

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