Monday, July 31, 2017

Purge the scourge of blank walls

Downtown telecom company bricks in windows and leaves us with a blank wall
by Greg Saville

Walking downtown a few days ago I came across a large telecommunications center that dominated an entire city block with blank walls. It is a sight that appears with increasing regularity in cities everywhere. The telecoms want to keep their innards secure, but they choose to locate downtown.

When meeting someone new we generally say hello, shake hands, and exchange pleasantries. The pleasantries are often meaningless. “Nice to meet you”! Perhaps. Perhaps, not.

But it is polite to greet someone well. It sets a tone for a civil relationship. There are consequences if you present an obnoxious face in public, or worse if you ignore them. It makes you look like a rube. You may think laws keep chaos at bay, but that is a legal conceit. In fact, sociologists, anthropologists, and well-trained criminologists will tell you it is everyday civil behavior - norms - that keep us civil and safe.

Shopping malls are the worst blank wall offenders

HOW TO ADDRESS THE STREET

It is no different for architecture in public places, especially downtown streets. Walking to downtown shops, waiting at bus stops, or simply enjoying a stroll are activities that make places hospitable and civil and mitigate uncivil behavior. We are embraced, or assailed, by how buildings address the street with their architecture. If they ignore the street with blank walls, they assault us. If they address the street in a civil way, they welcome us.

This is called streetscaping. Architects have many tools to do this well; building massing, permeable designs, paying attention to the pedestrian experience. Some call it placemaking. New York blogger Andrew Manshell has a great blog on this topic.

Community owned food co-op gets it right

Streetscaping does not mean addressing the street with blank walls, walls that ignore the street and the people on it. Blank walls on public streets are obnoxious, like the obnoxious rube. They tell us we don’t matter. Blank wall owners might benefit from our public utilities, public streets, and our fire, police and other services, but they could not care less how they address us on our streets. So their massive blank walls make our streets inhospitable... so what!

Sound familiar? That is the behavior of the sociopath. No consequence!

Green walls are in

DESIGN SOCIOPATHY

Blank walls are the architectual version of design sociopathy.

Back in the 1980s, William Whyte wrote about the poisonous effect that large blank walls had on city life. Boring convention centers, government buildings, megastructures, and parking garages with large blank walls on public streets all fell under his wrath. But in City: Rediscovering the Center it was telephone companies that offended most, especially a 55-storey blank wall in New York. Since then it seems the telecoms have not changed.

Sociopathic blank walls kill sidewalks and suck the energy out of urban life.

If there is anything contemporary planners (and CPTED practitioners) must do it is to kill blank walls in downtown architecture. There are many ways that can be done creatively - green walls, murals, tasteful windows placement.

We need to purge the scourge of architecture’s sociopath.

Creative paint schemes are an easy fix to blandness

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Neighbourhood Watch? Perhaps not!


by Tarah Hodgkinson

When you ask people to provide an example of crime prevention, the first program they mention is Neighbourhood Watch (or Block Watch). This is not surprising considering that for 45 years it has been implemented extensively. Police departments offer toolkits for residents and many neighbourhoods sport signs that say “Block Watch Community – All suspicious behaviours will be reported to the police.” 

Neighbourhood Watch originated in Seattle in 1972 when the Law and Justice Planning Office conducted a survey and found that residents were most concerned about burglary. They created a program to:

  • Train residents in target hardening techniques
  • Encourage willing residents to share information about their schedules 
  • Create a network of residents to watch after each other's houses, and
  • Report suspicious behaviour to each other and the local police. 

The program produced massive declines in burglary rates (48-61%). Thus, Neighbourhood Watch was deemed an exemplary project and, backed by the National Crime Prevention Council and most police departments, it took off across North America.


The ubiquitous Neighbourhood Watch sign. Are residents doing anything?

Some positive results continue today. For example, British research shows it cuts burglary in UK neighbourhoods by 16% to 26%.

However, Neighbourhood Watch has been subject to considerable criticism. Research demonstrated that expansions of the program in different cities produce positive results only in middle-class neighbourhoods that already had strong social cohesion. Other studies found that it tended to have negative consequences, including increasing fear of crime.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

So what happened to this exemplary project?

Current versions of Neighbourhood Watch have missed the mark in addressing crime problems and mobilizing residents to address them. Some accounts claim they do not encourage neighbours to organize around crime issues that they care about.

Instead, today’s programs are a shadow of what they once were; they play lip service to a once well-designed program by posting signs and handing out flyers. In most case, residents call their local police service to install signs and give residents information on how to secure their homes or notice suspicious behaviour. Unfortunately, they miss the point regarding what contributed to the success of the original program – people!

THE MISSING INGREDIENT

This is in direct opposition to the action research methodology that underpins SafeGrowth - to address relevant crime issues with local residents, not to or for them. When people and context are removed from the equation, all we are left with is a feel-good program.

We don’t need signs, flyers and more door locks. We need engaged neighbourhoods where police and residents work together on crime issues that matter most and then co-create lasting solutions. That is how we move forward.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Aerotropolis - Future city today?

Creative lighting at the Detroit airport pedestrian tunnel
by Greg Saville

A thought occurred as I pondered our Chicago SafeGrowth training and the upcoming presentations about work in 4 different cities. SafeGrowth teams are tackling crime and disorder at vacant land sites, a small open park along a heavily trafficked roadway, and a historic public square.

These are all cases where transport routes and locations intersect revealing flaws in local places and the social life of urban spaces. Problems like this point to geography.

The study of geography spans medical geography (epidemiology) and climatology to social geography and urban planning. My undergrad studies included all of those, but one of the most interesting was transport geography.

Vancouver International Airport - transport hub with cultural flavor
- photo Flights nation

GEOGRAPHY SHOWS THE WAY

There are no cities without transport geography. Moving people and goods requires organizing our cities and regions in efficient and ecologically sound ways - walkways, trails, roads, bike paths, rail, and airports. Locating neighborhoods, shops and businesses near, or far from, transport routes is the path to urban profit or debt. And poor transport geographies create niches for crime and fear.

Environmental criminology has for years attempted to use the mobility of people as a predictor for crime patterns (with mixed results). CPTED uses movement predictors of people to prevent high-risk paths and crime hotspots. Transport geography is a big deal. That led me to this; Is the modern hub airport a future city?

Detroit's indoor people-mover train

HUB AIRPORTS AS FUTURE CITIES? 

John Kasarda’s Aerotropolis claims the modern airport hub has evolved into a new urban form called Airport Cities. He means the area in and around the airport. Transport Geography journals describe hub-airports as a new kind of city.

I wondered, are airports, not just parts of larger metro areas but distinct cities unto themselves? If so, what lessons do they offer our neighborhood safety efforts?

Airports would not exist but for the populations of nearby urban places. Still, I practically live in airports nowadays and I am struck by the layers of complexity in them. They have all forms of urban design - restaurants, health food markets, resting places, hotels, medical facilities, lounging areas, physical fitness areas and spiritual centers for reflection. They have their own transport systems ranging from small trains, buses, moving sidewalks, and shuttles. In other words - a city!

Moving people in creative ways
True, you cannot own property in airports and you cannot actually live in them. And the only reason to go there is to go somewhere else. Yet, as I look at them, they offer fascinating lessons - good and bad - we might consider in planning safer places.

THEY ARE SAFE

First, once you get inside them, modern hub airports are safe. They have CCTV surveillance, electronic access controls, police, and security screening at the entrances. Shootings are rare. Consider the few recent cases like when a crazed gunman shot up LAX or a Fort Lauderdale shooter attacked passengers at the bag claim. All those occurred outside security.

The fact is once you are inside security, shooting risks plummet to near zero. There might be insane people who assault others or bar fights from drunk travelers, but these are quickly squashed by security and police. In modern hub airports you are much safer than most American cities. Guns simply don’t often make it into airports. Gun control, it turns out, works incredibly well! Airports teach us that.

Mother and child - Palm tree arboretum in Long Beach Airport, California

THEY ARE BIG

They are HUGE! Concourse B in Denver is a half mile (1 km) long. Detroit is a mile (1.6 km). The Dubai International Airport is the world’s second largest at over 18,000,000 sq ft, nine times bigger than York’s Grand Central Station. That’s big! It means airports must figure how to transport people quickly and safely.

Their solutions include moving sidewalks, pod-cars, light rail trains, and people-movers (short distance, mini-wheeled trains cheaper than light rail). And they are fast. I travel through long airports quicker than I can walk across a suburban 8-lane intersection at rush hour. Airports can teach us something about urban mobility.

THEY HAVE ART

Denver International Airport murals
Then there is the art. Airports have been installing murals, paintings, art galleries, music performances, and other displays of local culture. Airports might be for movement, but they realize the importance of de-sterilizing bland places and blank walls with art. Place-making in airports is alive. We should take heed.

In the 1980 sci-fi book Oath of Fealty, the future Los Angeles contains a self-contained mini-city called Todos Santos, a secure arcology built apart from the crime-infested dystopian suburbs of Greater L.A. Todos Santos reads like a modern hub airport.

Oath of Fealty predicted the building of the L.A. subway. Has it also predicted the future of cities based on hub airports? As futurist William Gibson once wrote, the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.

Paleo exhibit attracts interest in Chicago

Thursday, July 6, 2017

CPTED Event of the Year - ICA Conference 2017

Beneath the "Loop" in Chicago - site of recent SafeGrowth training

By Greg Saville

In partnership with our remarkable sponsor, LISC Safety, last month we introduced the SafeGrowth/CPTED program to Chicago. Four teams from different cities, including Chicago, are now well into their field work and project development.

Chicago is in some ways a coming home for CPTED. While the original ideas for CPTED emerged 50 years ago from books by Jane Jacobs and Oscar Newman in New York, it was a century ago in 1920s Chicago where America's first crime research emerged on neighborhood development, juvenile delinquency and crime prevention. And that brings us to the present state of CPTED!

THE 2017 ICA CPTED CONFERENCE

That early work on neighborhoods in Chicago is backdrop to this year’s International CPTED Conference in another great city, Calgary, Canada. CPTED practitioners will meet on Aug 7 and 8 under the theme My Street, My Neighbourhood, My City - CPTED In Action.

This year’s keynote will be delivered by LISC Safety director, Julia Ryan. That is appropriate given not only LISC's introduction of SafeGrowth/CPTED into Chicago, but also because LISC has been doing this kind of work for almost a decade. Julia will describe how LISC uses community development as a key to success.

Julia Ryan, ICA conference keynote, Calgary 2017

Other themes at the conference will include:

  • CPTED implementation, 
  • Building downtown partnerships, 
  • CPTED in Latin America, 
  • Citizen participation, 
  • CPTED in education,
  • Graffiti, 
  • 2nd Generation CPTED, 
  • Geodata and mapping, and 
  • Tiny Home Villages for homeless.

Speakers will travel to Calgary from across the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Honduras, Chile, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa, India, and Burkina Faso.

Nowhere in the world will you see such an international cast of talent and experience. This is a conference you don’t want to miss!