Tuesday, December 26, 2017

No dress rehearsal - the North Battleford story

Intersection Repair...North Battleford style - photo Herb Sutton 

by Greg Saville

Sometimes it is in smaller cities where seeds of innovation germinate and when that happens it is usually due to a few local champions. Those champions almost always credit others. In my view, they are the unsung heroes of the SafeGrowth and community development story.

I have lauded local champions over the years: Cincinnati's’s Sarah Buffie in 2009, the late Andy Mackie from Port Townsend, Washington in 2012, and Philadelphia’s Amelia Price in 2015. This year I met more but I want to applaud one: Herb Sutton.

Herb is the crime prevention coordinator from North Battleford, a small city of about 20,000 population in central Saskatchewan, Canada. For years North Battleford held the title of the highest crime severity rating of any Canadian community with a population of at least 10,000 people.

Herb Sutton - North Battleford crime prevention coordinator and
newest ICA board member

Elisabeth Miller and I taught SafeGrowth and CPTED to Herb two years ago and then last year ran a training in North Battleford. Herb’s team project for the 2015 SafeGrowth training was building a community garden next to a new homeless shelter to break down some stereotypes and decrease disorder problems.

A summary of that project concluded: "This project …provided opportunities for business owners, employees, and their families to meet [shelter] staff and some of the clients, as well as clean up the area. It was through planned and intentional efforts to build relationships that we were able to reduce the NIMBYism and fear of crime.” 


Since then Herb and his colleagues have moved forward and this month’s issue of Canada’s national magazine, Maclean's featured that work. Maclean's showcased both the success and the challenges of programming in North Battleford. Like much crime prevention in troubled places, progress is slow. Yet to date it is impressive: regular team meetings on CPTED and problem-solving, town hall meetings on safety, a new CPTED review committee, downtown art, block parties, and safety audits.

Community building and intersection painting to build community cohesion
- photo Herb Sutton

It has produced early results. While crime rates in Saskatchewan increased 9%, this past year crime severity in North Battleford declined 8%. But all this is not without setbacks. Chronic underfunding continues and recent spurts in gun violence from gang activity persist. But so too does the work of Herb and his colleagues.

In a way, that demonstrates the seriousness and leadership of a remarkable champion. As Canadian rocker Gordon Downie from The Tragically Hip once lyricized,

With illusions of someday 
Cast in a golden light. 
No dress rehearsal 
This is our life.

That seriousness and persistence is, ultimately, our life. It is the only way forward. Thanks, Herb, for the inspiration.