Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The sky-people and two-way streets

There is a group I call the storytellers-in-the-sky. They are researchers who tell stories of predicting and analyzing crime from the vantage point of far above the reality on the street - usually employing Big Data to slice and dice stats and find some mysterious crime patterns that will, presumably, help us resolve crime.

We’re still waiting for that last part. In the meantime there are others who do street research - action research - the hard work that makes a difference block by block. Evaluations of this action research is slower to arise and tedious to collect. But it is promising and shows real results.

Now and then, the sky-people and the street people meet up. Such was the case with some decent research lately uncovering what street research types like SafeGrowth and CPTED practitioners have been saying all along! If done properly, converting one-way streets to two-way streets cuts traffic speeds and crime at the same time.


A recently published online study in the Journal of Planning and Education Research shows how to reverse unsafe conditions on one-way city streets. And even though traffic flow increased on the two-way converted street, traffic accidents went down.

The study, Two-Way Street Conversions discovered road safety improved with two-way streets and simultaneously revealed impressive crime declines in both auto thefts and robberies by over 30 percent.

Two-ways vs one-ways to cut crime
Action-based research like that is exactly what we need to transform neighborhoods. We don’t need more macro, sky stories, for example research trying to figure out if crime is a social epidemic.

The epidemic hypothesis is simple, if duh-inducing: A high crime area infects nearby neighborhoods like a virus which, if untreated, spreads to other neighborhoods.

It’s the obvious implication that gets sky-like: To fix the situation we need to come up with a vaccine to protect unaffected neighborhoods. Presumably we then treat the sick neighborhood with some preventive cure. I’m not sure if that’s exactly how the sky-plot goes but if so, I’m reminded of Sheldon’s line from Big Bang: Bazinga!


Sadly, sky-storytellers see crimes as inanimate objects with no social history. They call them crime generators and crime hotspots, presumably to better measure such things and remain objective like the scientist studying the lab rat. Hotspots and crime generators are real things of course, but they definitely do have a cultural and social history not to be ignored.

More to the point, crime generators are places like fast food restaurants frequented by the indigent and drug addicted looking for cheap food. Crime hotspots are places like taverns frequented by the poor and jobless looking for alcohol-relief.

The message lost on the storytellers-in-the-sky is that the conditions creating such places are the very conditions that trigger both crime motives and opportunities in the first place. That’s the message of action-researchers and it’s as simple as a two-way street.