Sunday, February 26, 2017

Coming to America - Reflections of an academic

Las Vegas Strip at night - photo Tarah Hodgkinson
by Tarah Hodgkinson

There has been a great deal of media recently regarding the immigration policies of the United States and the now blocked executive order banning citizens from numerous countries. During this madness, I traveled to attend the Western Society of Criminology’s (WSC) annual conference in Las Vegas.

Academic conferences have become a bit of a ritual. Go, give a talk, see some other talks, network with some new colleagues, catch up with old colleagues, and check out the local city. Unlike SafeGrowth trainings or SafeGrowth Summits where we teach how to address local problems affecting local people and create local solutions, most academic conferences are bereft of any action research and rarely, if ever, engage with the local community.

Rather, they present a string of experts in specialized areas, talking about small and trifling data, without any local voice or real change. Claims of “policy implications” often suffice for demonstrable action.

AT THE CONFERENCE

However, the vibe at WSC this year was markedly different than other academic conferences. It was clear that a number of those attending were shaken by recent political choices. Many of the annual award winners used their acceptance speeches to demand a call to action around what has been called, discriminatory, racist and Islamophobic policy decisions.

Alex Piquero, winner of the Western Society of Criminology President’s Award, gave a talk on immigration that undermined the misconception that immigrants commit more crimes.

Flamingo Hotel in  Las Vegas - photo Tarah Hodgkinson

On the street, however, it appears these divisive politics are emboldening a new generation of culture jammers. With their rights under attacks, citizens have taken to the streets, various prime ministers have promised to protect those who seek refuge, universities are making statements, staging protests and waiving application fees to those affected.

What can be done?

At this critical time, it seems that neighbourhood engagement is the key. In SafeGrowth that happens by empowering and training citizens to solve their own neighborhood problems and by rebuilding trust, collective efficacy, and social cohesion. These are the actions that help everyday citizens learn practical skills to destabilize the narratives that seek to divide, rather than unite us.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Greening the netherworld beneath overpasses


video
Via Verde greening project, Mexico City - Via Verde Yahoo Mexico news

by Greg Saville

Traditionally, the sheltered areas beneath highway and freeway overpasses are places of dereliction and decline. They are places where garbage gathers and the homeless seek refuge. Especially in car-centric cities, they are a blight foisted on us like an afterthought by traffic engineers. 

Thankfully, planners and citizen advocates are beginning to transform areas beneath overpasses into a green future. Examples include projects such as Seart Park in Mount Wellington, New Zealand, Underpass Park in Toronto and Seattle’s I-5 Colonnade Mountain Bike Park.

A friend sent the above video of an urban naturalization project - the Via Verde project - recently launched in Mexico City; it modifies support columns beneath an elevated motorway using ivy and thousands of plants. 

Via Verde project - greening dead space below overpasses - screenshot from video

Although it's in Spanish, even non-Spanish speakers can see the video is inspiring! The main goal is ecological, namely cutting the air pollution problem from Mexico City’s notorious traffic congestion. The design structure uses recycled bottles, an automated rainwater irrigation system, and many other environmental innovations.

But there are obvious psychological perks worth mentioning from a SafeGrowth perspective.

The vegetative covering on cement pillars not only improves the color and aesthetics of a bland area, but it is just the kind of greenery that reduces the stress and foul moods from traffic madness. It also insulates against a wall of traffic noise, a major fear generator in urban places.

Green walls to humanize Mexico City roadways - screenshot from video 

Then there are the social contributions, for example, parts of the structure were constructed by women penitentiary inmates who were paid for their work. If plants begin to yellow, local residents use social media to notify the city thereby encouraging citizens to claim an interest in underpass areas, further enhancing the natural surveillance.

To date there have been few examples of an environmentally based CPTED - the so-called 3rd Generation CPTED. That is a theory yet to emerge and the green underpass movement may be a perfect place to start.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Reducing homelessness - Tiny house villages (Part 2)

Impression of tiny houses - photo by Tiny Homes Foundation
by Mateja Mihinjac

Not long ago we blogged about Dignity Village from Portland, the first organised tiny housing homeless community. Similar villages have expanded elsewhere across the US and, together with Housing First strategies, have contributed to a drop in homelessness.

These villages offer more than just housing. They also foster a sense of community within a supportive, respectful and usually self-governing environment that empowers the homeless to rebuild their lives. Social cohesion emerges from respect for shared goals and each other’s well-being. Connectivity helps to integrate the homeless with the local community and outside service providers.

Volunteers and local community are integral to success - photo by Kwamba Productions 

Australia has recently introduced its first homeless village projects. The Tiny Homes Foundation from NSW received an approval for a 2-year pilot project to build 4 self-contained houses and communal areas while the Victoria-based Launch Housing announced it will build 57 tiny homes on a currently unused VicRoads land.

Tiny Homes Foundation is a blueprint for other Australian projects. It has forged strong collaborative relationships with service providers, volunteers, and local communities and it helps homeless people transition to permanent housing, employment, and society.This will ensure that the project remains true to “housing first, not housing only” approach.


LESSONS LEARNED 

Experience from existing projects provide some lessons as a step for solving the homelessness crisis:
  • community-driven groups with mixed expertise are integral to planning, delivering and running the project such as charities, non-profits, and other social groups
  • engage local residents in the process to avoid NIMBYism
  • charities, volunteers, private donations, fundraising, and crowdfunding represent the most common project initiators and supporters 
  • close relationships with local government to secure special zoning arrangements and building code restrictions
  • villages should be integrated into the society with easy access to the city, work, and social services
  • aesthetically pleasing architecture of the structures secures public support
  • media and publicity can be effectively used to draw donations and secure ongoing public support 
The community works together to create homeless shelters – photo by Kwamba Productions

FINAL THOUGHTS 

Homelessness is a human rights issue. It should not exist in the first place or be allowed to progress. Social policies need to reflect this if Australia (indeed countries everywhere), wishes to reach the goal of halving homelessness by 2025. Support for tiny house villages is the first step towards realising that goal.