Saturday, October 6, 2018

Big Apple Rot - New York's Street Scaffolds

Sidewalk scaffolding at night in New York
by Tarah Hodgkinson 

Strolling down the streets of New York is always awe-inspiring. The buildings are beautiful and the streets are alive with the bustle of a city that never sleeps. But in the last few visits to New York I have had a hard time looking up at the buildings in Manhattan. Shielding my view, block after block, are scaffolds on building fronts covering sidewalks. These scaffolds cover sidewalks and make it difficult to walk through the already crowded streets.

It turns out I wasn’t the only one concerned as I found numerous articles about the issue. I also found that due to numerous accidents related to falling building facades and bricks from New York’s aging buildings, the city enacted Local Law 11, requiring an engineering brickwork check on building facades every five years.

Over 7,700 building scaffolds cover New York City sidewalks

Since New York is an older metropolis, it makes sense that the city does not want people getting injured from falling debris. But is it possible that everyone is checking their brickwork at the same time? There had to be more to it.


One NYC Buildings Dept map shows over 7,700 scaffold sheds

THE IMPACT OF LAW 11

It turns out it costs roughly $25,000 to put up the scaffolding to do the appropriate work on a building fa├žade. However, half of that cost is paid to put that scaffolding up, and the other half is paid when taking it down. Reports indicated that many building owners were simply avoiding the teardown costs and retaining the scaffolding as a permanent protection against liability.

Perhaps this pricing model is part of the reason for all the scaffolding. If you have to pay to have it taken down, why bother?

I would argue there are a few reasons to take it down. It impedes pedestrian traffic and it’s difficult to navigate if you have mobility issues (imagine trying to get around these with a wheelchair). The excessive scaffolding also reduces street visibility, requires extra lighting (and higher energy costs) to enhance visibility at night and takes away from the historic beauty of New York City.

There must be a better way to protect pedestrians

Why not rewrite city policy and instead create an incentive system to take down the scaffolding? What if property owners paid $30,000 to put the scaffolding up, but received $5,000 when it was taken down? I have no idea if this fits into the current payment scheme, but it seems this change would trigger more demand to remove all that unnecessary scaffolding.

While it may not address the sheer number of buildings that require these five-year checks, it would help to restore the Big Apple’s walkability and visibility that is so important for street life and safety.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Small is beautiful - Pastor Barry and Islandview


GoogleEarth view of the Episcopal Church and Detroit's Islandview neighborhood

by Gregory Saville

With 267 murders last year, Detroit has a city population of 700,000 and murder rate 8 times the national average. It suffers a decimated tax base and in 2013, the largest city bankruptcy in US history. Naturally, you might associate it with crime, racial inequity, and blight. But would you associate it with urban innovation and rebirth?

With a renaissance of late, a lively downtown Detroit looks far different than a decade ago. And while that transformation is triggered by large, corporate reinvestment, it is the inner and outer suburbs where much of the blight and crime originates. How, I wondered this past week on project work in Detroit, does a neighborhood reinvent itself?

Neighborhood hubs can emerge from local churches
PASTOR BARRY

Then I met Pastor Barry Randolf at his Episcopal Church in the Lower Eastside neighborhood of Islandview. Not only has Islandview begun transformation, but Pastor Barry and his team have grand visions for the years ahead. Our task was to teach the SafeGrowth program in the neighborhood and work with our new friends at the Restorative City initiative.

New initiatives have fertile ground in a place like Islandview thanks, in no small measure, to Pastor Barry. He leads his church with programs like a community garden, a tea manufacturer, T-shirt design company, landscaping company, an employment program, a bike repair shop, mentorship programs, media production workshop, audio/video production, and others.

Community gardening on church property

SPEARHEADING LOCAL LEADERSHIP

Not only does the church provide opportunities for jobs and work, but it also spearheads a community development corporation to build and purchase affordable housing (213 units in the neighborhood thus far). Pastor Barry told me that he and his team locate small numbers of market-rate housing across from well-designed, affordable housing to help stabilize and diversify the neighborhood. They then hire local residents to work with builders and learn the skills of construction. 

With baseball cap and passion, Pastor Barry shows us housing under renovation
sponsored by the church housing corporation

Pastor Barry’s work is widely featured in local media and we were thrilled to offer our SafeGrowth tools to Islandview’s considerable toolkit. For me, the Islandview story illustrates the value of local organization and the power of competent neighborhood planning. As we say in our SafeGrowth Vision Statement, the successful 21st Century city will be based on a linked network of self-governing and self-learning neighborhoods

A few units of nearby affordable housing.
Small diverse pockets of housing can stabilize neighborhoods.
When it comes to designing out crime beyond superficial security strategies, urban development and community-building like this digs at the roots of crime. With apologies to E. F. Schumacher, small truly is beautiful. Thanks, Pastor Barry, for the reminder.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Gentrification vs the cultural creatives

Doing it right - Denver artists spruce up a local storefront

by Gregory Saville

It was November 22, 2017, and a sidewalk sign just went up outside a Denver coffee shop. It read:  “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2011”. The neighborhood exploded in outrage and the latest Internet meme was born. Realizing his massive gaffe, the owner dumped the sign, apologized, and has suffered a PR disaster ever since.

Gentrification is an ugly word these days. In SafeGrowth we spend much time in troubled places facing reinvestment and redevelopment. What can be done about crime prevention efforts and gentrification?

GENTRIFICATION IS NO JOKE

The cycle is well-known. Older neighborhoods suffering blight and crime turn into run-down wastelands. Groups looking for affordable spaces - artists, students or working class folks - move in and begin to fix them up. They build play areas for kids, bocce ball courts for elders and handball courts for kids, or gazebos in parks for weekend barbeques. Residents patronize local Mom & Pop stores. Artists set up studio lofts and paint interesting murals in alleys and eventually open spaces to showcase their art.

Movie night on the neighborhood basketball court

Richard Florida once described this process glowingly and called such groups Cultural Creatives who end up bringing a new life to old neighborhoods.

Then the new life evolves into a cultural economy that triggers waves of consumer spending, especially by real estate investors looking to capitalize on the “cool factor”. Reinvestment displaces low-income apartments as rents increase to accompany investment.

Ultimately the Creatives are forced out, and the area becomes the latest wealthy, unaffordable hangout for Hipsters.

It is called gentrification and it is the real estate version of hostile architecture. In his latest book Florida no longer speaks so glowingly of the process and now claims Creative Class migration ends up becoming a winner-take-all game that makes things worse.

EXCLUSIONARY DISPLACEMENT

A recent study on gentrification by the Federal Reserve Bank says:
"In its early phases, gentrification may not result in displacement, but over time, in the absence of protections, tenants may be forced to move." 
Pop-up neighborhood bookstore in New York City

The study concludes that gentrification often leads to exclusionary displacement unless careful planning and protections are put in place. Even in places where cities try to protect affordability, some owners install “poor doors” for low-income residents and other doors for the rest (a practice recently outlawed in New York City).

Obviously we must be vigilant. In SafeGrowth our motto “To-For-With-By” proclaims that we work with residents and enact strategies by residents versus to or for them.

In our new SafeGrowth book Mateja Mihinjac describes the SafeGrowth principle called Neighborhood Activation. It shows how we navigate through the gentrification conundrum because, ultimately, all those engaged in crime prevention and urban redevelopment must be careful to do no harm.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Security and beauty - A new kind of fencing

Decorative fencing in British Columbia
by Tarah Hodgkinson

On a recent walk in Burnaby, British Columbia, what was normally an uninteresting and car-dominated street, offered a surprise. As I turned a corner, I was delighted to see a major change since my last visit. The city had built a vertical park! A beautiful walking space including bike lanes, areas to sit, green spaces and artistic architecture.

What was most interesting was the way in which they city had treated the neighboring houses. Along this vertical park, the city had installed decorative visibility fences. Essentially these fences are neither wooden fences with no visibility nor chain-link fences with visibility but a hideous look.

Presenting the street with a more attractive, look
These fences are particularly interesting because they address an important issue for corner homes and homes on edges of land-use changes, in this case, residential to commercial. Homes in these locations are often at increased risk of burglary and vandalism.

Tall wooden fences can simply block the external view of an intruder once they are over the fence, making it easier for these individuals to commit a crime. Additionally, residents cannot see if a threat exists on the other side of the fence. Chain link fencing, however, often gives the impression of “fortress” mentality and can increase feelings of fear, making the neighborhood appear hardened. Chain link fences are also quite easy to climb.

Vibrant colors make a difference
These decorative visibility fences provided visibility to both residents and surrounding eyes. At the same time, they create a beautiful linear space for folks to walk through. They are also difficult to climb.

This vertical park and the accompanying decorative visibility fences are a great example of finding beautiful ways to address privacy and safety in neighborhoods on the edges of commercial use.

Friday, August 24, 2018

What if public art could serve a second purpose?

Public art framing a street artist in Brisbane
GUEST BLOG: SafeGrowth Advocate Anna Brassard recently mentored a high school student about design and safety and encouraged her to submit her project here. Sophia Marchenko is a grade 9 student at Calgary’s Master’s Academy and College. We congratulate Sophia on her exceptional work and welcome her contribution to SafeGrowth. 


by Sophia Marchenko

In grade nine this past year, I had the opportunity to participate in the Professional Initiatives Program at my school, Master’s Academy and College. As part of the program, I was matched with a mentor in a field of my interest and was challenged to create my own research project. I was fortunate to be matched with Anna Brassard, an urban planner. The central question of my research project became “What if public art could serve a second purpose?”

I asked: What if public art could also be a bird sanctuary? A way to improve safety? A crime prevention system? An electric vehicle charging station? A way to generate electricity?

Public art and street furniture in Christchurch, New Zealand container village

I found many examples of public art serving a functional purpose within Calgary and beyond. There were examples in Calgary, such as the public transit bus stops currently being built with art pieces, and artistically designed stormwater filtration systems. I looked into musical swings in Montreal, Quebec, and Chicago’s multimedia Crown Fountain. All of these examples display messages of beauty, culture, environmental stewardship, and community, while serving a practical purpose.

Since my school is located right beside the newly constructed Flander’s Bridge, I’ve seen how reckless drivers can get in that area. There is a plan for a new piece of public art for that area and I wondered whether a piece of public art could contribute artistic elements to the bridge while also helping to slow down traffic and improve safety.

I was put in contact with a transport engineering at the City of Calgary and he described the existing traffic volume is 94,000 vehicles per day at that location, a very large amount of road traffic. There were many schools in the area that have kids crossing Flanders Bridge every day.

Flander's Bridge in Calgary, site of potential public art project - photo City of Calgary


FLANDER'S BRIDGE PROPOSAL 

I decided that my public art would have speed signs incorporated in an artistic way, showing drivers their current speed and encouraging them to slow down. It would also have artistically-integrated solar panels to generate the needed electricity. I liked the idea of using strips of copper for most of the design and having the whole design illuminated with soft light at night.

By the end of my research project, I realized that I had learned a lot about public art and how an artistic element on a key piece of Calgary’s infrastructure could also contribute to a safer environment for both drivers and pedestrians. It was an eye-opening experience to learn from an urban planner, an architect, students at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Environmental Design, where Anna had years ago taught a SafeGrowth program, as well as planners and engineers from the City of Calgary. Many thanks to my mentor throughout this program, Anna Brassard, for opening my eyes to the field of urban planning.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Philadelphia Pop-ups - Placemaking for abandoned lots

Plans for a POP-up market in Philadelphia - diagram by Brad Vassallo

GUEST BLOG: Brad Vassallo is a SafeGrowth Advocate having taught POP-up placemaking and community development as part of a SafeGrowth team. He has worked in community development in Philadelphia for the past few years and offers here a case study from that city.


****

Philadelphia is a city of 40,000 vacant lots. Like many post-industrial cities, it fell victim to a mass exodus of middle-class residents in the mid-20th century. Unfortunately, the 40-plus-year drought in tax revenues has taken its toll, with neighborhoods in North and West Philadelphia ailing from high crime rates and rampant vacancy. These conditions have had a torturous effect on neighborhood quality of life.

As a former student at Temple University in community development, I witnessed first-hand the effects of this multi-generational disinvestment. Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha (APM) is a neighborhood nonprofit serving residents of all color and creed, with a mission of helping families. This is no easy task in a neighborhood commonly referred to as "the Badlands" due to its high frequency of violent crime.

TACKLING THE BADLANDS

As part of my degree, I found myself working with APM during the beginning of a new creative placemaking grant. The goal of the Pop Up Market Place (PUMP), was to reactivate a vacant lot at the corner of 6th Street and Susquehanna Avenue. The 11,000-square-foot lot was slated to become a youth housing facility with ground-floor retail, but the development cycle often takes five or more years. Our task was to reimagine the space as a gateway for a downtrodden stretch of Germantown Avenue. The project involved several layers:

Using 3-D modeling during design charrettes - photo Brad Vassallo

  • Engage the local community in a conversation about the future of Germantown Avenue using the PUMP site as a centerpiece. Similar to the SafeGrowth model, we operated on a To-For-With-By model; each level represents a greater level of civic participation, with the pinnacle being those projects that are done with or by the community. We assembled a diverse steering committee and arrived at three focus areas: Crime and Safety, Jobs, and Youth Engagement.
  • Using feedback from the Steering Committee, we offered regular programming on the site to draw foot traffic and build awareness. Our events included an end-of-school summer block party, neighborhood potluck, and movie nights. Children flocked to the site for water balloon fights and piragua on a hot summer day. Neighborhoods like this have endured a great deal of trauma. By holding a small community event on the project site, we began to strip away some of the negative association people had with that location. 

Mapping survey and data collection areas

  • We led entrepreneurship training to build capacity. In a neighborhood like ours, educational attainment is low, making traditional employment difficult for most residents. Starting a small business is a more attractive option for first-generation immigrant families. By offering free training we were able to tap into our neighborhood's entrepreneurial spirit and offer an alternative income stream.
  • The final step was to identify a few promising candidates from our training with whom we could launch a business incubator on the site. Brick-and-mortar businesses have significant overhead expenses. By repurposing a few recycled shipping containers for micro-retail, we could lower the barrier to entry for these new business owners and provide a safe haven for residents to shop locally and explore.


Activating spaces at night - photo Brad Vassallo

Despite problems moving this version of the project forward, we learned how to revive vacant land and encourage business activities. We also learned that this unique design style was easy to mobilize, it could move from parcel to parcel, and it provided a beta-test for local businesses as an alternative form of entrepreneurialism.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Cure Violence - cutting inner city shootings - Part 2

Safety audit walkabout in Syracuse's high crime neighborhoods
by Mateja Mihinjac

In last week’s blog about Syracuse we introduced the Cure Violence program. We initially introduced Cure Violence seven years ago in our review of the film The Interrupters. Since then the program has expanded considerably.

Cure Violence is a public health approach to violence prevention, targeting at-risk youth to prevent shootings. Its founder, Gary Slutkin, sees violence as a contagious disease problem where violent behavior spreads from person to person as an epidemic with individuals adopting behaviors they observe in their social circles. Cure violence focuses on prevention through interrupting violent behavior and change through treatment and education.

The program shares the same vision as SafeGrowth - building capacity in neighborhoods to interrupt violence within neighborhoods themselves. However, whereas SafeGrowth focuses on a proactive way to plan long-term neighborhood development, the Cure Violence program responds to violence that has already erupted, or is about to erupt.

REPLACING PRISONS WITH PLAYGROUNDS

Slutkin envisions neighborhoods where prisons would be replaced with playgrounds and parks. This vision - reported in the Syracuse projects we discussed in our last blog - helps neighborhoods struggling with high levels of violence. That includes the Near Westside neighborhood in Syracuse.

Cure Violence relies on trained “violence interrupters”, individuals who, due to a similar history of criminality or gang membership, have credibility among the targeted groups.

The model is based on 3 components:

  1. Interrupt transmission – violence interrupters detect and mediate conflicts to reduce likelihood of violent outbursts or retaliation
  2. Identify and treat highest risk to prevent future spread – interrupters assess and refer individuals at high risk of engaging in violence to appropriate social services 
  3. Change group norms – engage and organize community leaders, residents, local organizations and service providers and use outreach and education to denormalize violence.

Near Westside children envisioning a different kind of neighborhood
during SafeGrowth workshop

RESEARCH ON SUCCESS

Evaluation studies support the effectiveness of this approach. In Chicago, for example, the 2009 study reported a 41-73% reduction in shootings across intervention neighborhoods and a 56% decrease in killings in Baltimore.

In NYC, the most recent evaluation reported 27-50% reduction in gun injuries in two NYC communities and 63% reduction in shootings in one community while attitudes supporting violence have decreased and confidence in police increased.

Previous research also reported an 18% decrease in homicide across Cure Violence locations between 2010 and 2013 and 69% in non-targeted locations since the program was first implemented in NYC in 2009.

Cure Violence has to date been implemented in 10 countries across over 25 cities. These include Western cities as well as regions with high levels of violence in South America, Africa, Middle East and zones of conflict such as Iraq and Syria. This year Cure Violence also celebrated a jump in 10th place of the Top 500 NGOs in the world.

The Cure Violence model, therefore, holds a great promise to help reduce violence and victimization from gun violence in cities like Syracuse.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Curing violence in Syracuse




by Mateja Mihinjac

A few months ago I visited Syracuse, New York during a workshop organized by SUNY’s Center for Community Design Research. The workshop was part of the Center’s Visioning Voices Speaker Series, an outreach program aimed at finding collaborative solutions for safer and healthier neighborhoods.

During a safety audit with residents, police, and others – and despite hearing about high levels of violence in Near Westside neighborhood – the neighborhood was quiet with few people occupying the streets. In some parts, we observed gang members controlling their territory, but the most obvious clue to violence were signs calling to end violence.

Syracuse anti-violence programs
SIGNS AGAINST VIOLENCE

The first sign was positioned in a community garden: “OG's Against Violence” (O.G. = Original Gangsters). Clifford Ryans established this NGO 15 years after his son, then aged 17, was killed in a shooting. He now advocates against violence and walks the streets of Syracuse to interrupt potential violent altercations across the city. He is on a life mission to prevent fatal shootings in his city.

The second sign was on the windows of a now-closed Inn with large posters saying “stop the killing” and “cure violence”. These posters were in response to the death of a 21-old man who was shot on the adjacent street on an evening in April 2017. This event had shaken neighborhood residents. The city of Syracuse had celebrated 83 days without a homicide in a city where homicide from shooting is rampant, and this shooting broke that record.

Community safety walk in Near Westside
NEAR WESTSIDE 

The Near Westside neighborhood is known for high levels of gang-related violence and deadly shootings. Estimates show that the neighborhood has been experiencing levels of crime above national, state and city average.

With 72 deaths and additional 453 injuries resulting from gunshots in Syracuse between 2009 and mid-2015, gunshots clustered in Near Westside.  In response to that gun violence, Syracuse implemented an anti-violence program called “Operation SNUG” (SNUG = "guns" backwards) in 2010, which operated for over a year until its money ran out in 2011.

The program showed great promise although there were suggestions for modifications for a program to better suit the needs of Syracuse community.

Syracuse Police participated in the Safety Audit
In 2014 operation SNUG was reintroduced in Syracuse, which became one of the 7 sites across New York State that received a grant to implement a coordinated, community-based strategy modeled on the well regarded Cure Violence program.

Next blog: The Cure Violence solution to gang shootings.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Smart Cities in the 21st Century



by Gregory Saville

Where will we emerge in the next few decades and where will crime fit into the future city? Our new book, SafeGrowth - Building Neighborhoods of Safety and Imagination (we announced it in our last blog), has a chapter dedicated to answering this question. Here is an excerpt:

A VISION FOR THE FUTURE

“The Smart City is the latest addition to the urban planning lexicon. Smart cities - also known as digital cities or wired cities - encompass the idea that new information technologies will transform city services by better managing urban affairs.

It is, as yet, unclear how the Smart City will impact safety, inequality or crime neighborhoods. Advocates speak glowingly of the Smart City vision, such as how digital technologies might lead to a new form of e-governance. Already there are signs this is coming to pass. Ubiquitous CCTV security cameras on public streets already require police monitoring and response.

In cities like London, England, there are over a half million CCTV cameras pointed at streets, sidewalks, and parks, and the trend is worldwide. In Calgary, for example, there was an 80 percent increase of CCTV cameras on public streets from 2011 to 2016. Now over 1,100 integrated cameras point at buildings, sidewalks and streets throughout the city, all monitored at the city’s Integrated Security Centre.

Canada's 18th Century parliament in the background.
The modern Museum of Civilization in the foreground.
NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH IN CYBERSPACE

Another Smart City innovation is neighborhood-networking websites, a social network for neighbors via websites that focus on specific areas. This allows neighbors to share information and plan events, such as block parties. It is a 21st Century version of Neighborhood Watch that fosters neighborliness (or just old-fashioned nosiness). Because network members must live within the designated neighborhood, and identify themselves to others on the website, these websites tend to avoid some of the rancor that plagues other social networking sites.

Neighborhood-based social media do have safety and security advantages; residents can monitor and report nearby break-ins, car thefts, or even organize block parties to get to know each other in real time. It’s easy to imagine how SafeGrowth neighborhoods, where residents work together to tackle local problems, might relish a cyber version of Neighborhood Watch that needs no police management, is accessible 24/7 on tablets and cell phones, and requires no neighborhood meetings that otherwise clutter busy schedules.

"Habitat" at Expo 67 - Montreal's World Fair. World-renown architect
Moshe Safdie's vision of 21st Century housing.
Yet both Smart City innovations come with drawbacks. In spite of claims for protection from crime, civil libertarians complain that constant CCTV surveillance on public streets invades our privacy. And evidence is inconsistent whether CCTV in public streets works better than human-based systems, like Jane Jacobs’ eyes-on-the-street. Further, private neighborhood social networking services are not easy to monitor for cyberbullying, in spite of claims to the contrary and there have been complaints about racial profiling. How does one decide what to do?

Will the Smart Cities movement hinder or hamper SafeGrowth neighborhoods? As yet, there is no clear vision of what Smart Cities will become. Perhaps we should worry less about the technology and more about educating the Digital Generation on how to build a SafeGrowth city in the 21st Century?”

For the full story, get our SafeGrowth book from Amazon.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

New SafeGrowth book on Amazon

SafeGrowth book in soft cover and Kindle from Amazon
by Gregory Saville

We are thrilled to announce the publication of our new book, SafeGrowth: Building Neighborhoods of Safety and Livability! This book chronicles a decade of implementing and teaching SafeGrowth, along with methods like 2nd Generation CPTED, to turn troubled places back from the brink of crime.

This is part of the back cover:
"Do we really seek more CCTV cameras on public streets to protect us from the supposed enemy at the gates as we cower behind our doors? When did we agree to a public life with more razor wire, chain-link fences and cops zooming from one call to another, sirens blazing? There is a better way to create safer cities and, while some programs have existed for years, few offer a coherent way to plan cities in partnership with residents. 
SafeGrowth is a new model for building crime-resistant and vibrant neighborhoods in the 21st Century."
While a decade of SafeGrowth training programs (and this blog) represent building blocks, this book frames the latest and most complete version of the model. It is the first full statement of the SafeGrowth theory. I edited and authored the book with others who attended and facilitated three SafeGrowth Summits, starting with our inaugural Summit in Canmore, Alberta in 2015 coordinated by our own Anna Brassard.

A few of the participants from the Canmore, Alberta SafeGrowth Summit, 2015

Part 1 of the book describes recent years as a time of transformation and it places social unrest, crime, and urban development into a larger historical context, especially chapter 2, "Stirrings of a New Idea".

The book then recounts the findings from three SafeGrowth Summits, particularly the first one at Canmore, Alberta where thirty participants created new ideas for planning safer neighborhoods with chapters on “The Hub Concept”, “Urban Villages” “Block Level Development” and “Livability Academies”

CASE STUDIES AND THE FUTURE

Part 3 includes case studies from the cities of Red Deer, Alberta and New Orleans, Louisiana. Another case study includes a chapter by International CPTED Association board member, Elisabeth Miller called, “SafeGrowth in Saskatoon”.

The final chapters of the book, written by Mateja, Tarah and myself, describe four principles of SafeGrowth theory. We hope you enjoy the fruits of our hard work and see how SafeGrowth offers a 21st Century blueprint for anyone who loves safer cities.

You can order the book here.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Parks, yoga & activating public spaces

Activating public parks with yoga - Photo courtesy of Dallas Delahunt 

by Tarah Hodgkinson

Outdoor yoga has become an important ingredient of summer fun. In cities across Canada and elsewhere, local yoga studios and yoga teachers are setting up weekly yoga classes in parks and other public places.

Some yoga classes are incredibly expensive and at times exclusionary, but outdoor yoga is accessible and plays a crucial role in creating healthy neighborhoods. Above all, it activates public parks and, as research illustrates, well-used parks can enhance both public health and social cohesion.

Most, if not all, outdoor yoga classes are free or donation-based and they boast of accessibility and an “open to everyone” motto. This is evidenced by the number of classes attended by families with kids, the elderly and even pets.

Free Parliament Hill yoga in Ottawa attracting 1,200 yogis
Photo courtesy of Dallas Delahunt
In Ottawa, for example, local government employees and the community come out for weekly lunch hour yoga on Parliament Hill from May to September. Some of these free classes have boasted over 1,200 people. 

FIGHTING CITY HALL FOR YOGA

Perhaps you think that outdoor yoga is merely a fad for Millennials looking to sport their Lululemon purchases and get a tan. But consider the community’s reaction last year when Vancouver’s park board attempted to shut down free yoga classes in a park because the instructors didn’t have a permit.

The yoga classes were free, or pay what you can, making it difficult for the instructors to fund the permit. This pay structure was done purposely to make the yoga accessible to everyone, regardless of income.

The community came out in droves against the decision and, after a barrage of emails and letters to the city, the city agreed to wave all the fees for the permit.

Free, fun and open to all ages - Photo courtesy of Dallas Delahunt

For cities like Vancouver and Ottawa, public yoga has become a part of the local culture. It is a chance for people from across the age and ability spectrum to come together and connect, while also taking care of their health. It is a public engagement strategy for the 21st Century that community leaders and parks officials everywhere should encourage.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

CPTED on a pendulum

Relaxing in Central Park made easy with benches, clean walkways
and something interesting to watch
By Mateja Mihinjac

Embedded within SafeGrowth practice resides a number of tactics, one of which is CPTED - crime prevention through environmental design. CPTED is often criticized for being simplistic and reductionist in its solutions and for promoting fortressing while displacing undesirable activity.

In January, Greg reprinted an article he wrote a few years ago about the exclusionary nature of CPTED when it disregards some at the expense of others.

These side effects may seem unsurprising considering that the word “prevention” implies attention to undesirable behaviors. However, years of experience teach us that not every crime problem will benefit from simply restricting behaviors; we also need to provide alternatives and support desirable conduct.

Not all dogs agree, but even in rain, dogwalking is pro-social
This does not infer a binary approach to CPTED but rather attention to details because, when it comes to intended and desirable outcomes, context matters! It is therefore prudent to outline some of the 1st Generation CPTED principles using a pendulum between restrictive and desirable behavioral outcomes.

Talented street artists can beautify unpleasant areas

THE CONTEXT PENDULUM

A broader view of CPTED is nothing new; it can be observed in the early writing of CPTED by the original authors. For example, we know from Oscar Newman’s work on defensible space that territorial influence is most powerful when it combines “latent territoriality and sense of community” when residents care for shared spaces and each other.

Tactics to uncover latent territoriality include designing visual contact between residential areas and building semi-private areas where neighbors can congregate, factors that still emerge today in research.

Methods to enhance the social climate of an area include getting people to better know, and care for, each other with cultural and recreational activities.

Street markets provide a fun reason for going outside
Newman predicted this latent territoriality promotes ownership through supporting pro-social behaviors while concurrently deflecting unwanted use without the need for physical reinforcement.

Similarly, Jane Jacobs extended her discussion of “eyes upon the street” and argued that streets are safe when they provide opportunities for desirable activities by offering people a reason to occupy them, as we described in recent blogs on sidewalks and alternatives to bollards.

There is no shortage of other methods to create desirable locations, for example through tactical urbanism and placemaking that build pro-social activities and informal supervision.

Street busker activating a public plaza

FINDING BALANCE

Mainstream 1st Generation CPTED continues to undermine the need for investing in social capital as the underlying prerequisite for effective and sustainable crime prevention.

In SafeGrowth, we employ 2nd Generation CPTED to promote social cohesion, local pride and social interaction. The goal is to swing the pendulum towards pro-social conduct and away from an anti-social, target-hardening mantra. Ultimately, the key for quality of life in neighborhoods is finding the right balance between the two.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

What's up with sidewalks?


Dr. Jekyll lives on the left.
Poorly lit sidewalks with sodium streetlights meant for cars, not people

by Greg Saville

What’s up with sidewalks? Walkability might be the gateway to a friendlier and safer city, but it requires a high-quality place to walk with interesting destinations. My walks of late uncovered some big-time flops. What are designers thinking when they create sidewalks?

Shrubs 1. Sidewalk 0
Too narrow and obstructed by private landscaping
Some sidewalks are inappropriate for people with disabilities. Others have street signs in the middle of the sidewalk forcing walkers onto the street. Yet others are dark at night, in disrepair, too small or are encroached by yard landscaping.

Salvation lies elsewhere.
This church dismisses walkers by fencing front stairways
Some municipalities require homeowners to keep sidewalks clean in front of their home and, in winter cities, free of snow. That is reasonable. But cities often expect too much, such as when public sidewalks are worn or damaged and homeowners are required to pay thousands for repairs.

Too often sidewalks are poorly designed and they end with no destination.

Logic lost!
Warning walkers of a crosswalk, but forcing them to walk
onto the street to avoid the sign

SMART GROWTH 

In the planning movement called Smart Growth, walkability plays an important role. One attempt to measure walkability is The Walk Score, but it is far from ideal (try it).

Activating a sidewalk with lighting, benches, and a night-time economy

My current address has a measly Walk Score of 46, making it car dependent. Yet, nearby are trails, a lake, park, and mountain views. My former address scored a dazzling 84; In one direction there were great restaurants, parks, a library, coffee shops, school, and trails. Yet, in another, you could just as easily get caught between gang shootings. Obviously, Walk Scores say nothing about neighborhood quality.

Interesting design, colors & lighting attracts people
Recent Smart Growth designs include the SmartCode concept, an attempt to replace restrictive zoning practices of the past. As yet, it’s unclear SmartCode prescriptions are any better at triggering the creative, bottom-up placemaking shown in a few of these photos. But it’s a starting place.

Street artists at night bring culture to dead streets

Friday, May 25, 2018

To "Phoenix" - We can help you do better

Walking Manhattan streets on a rainy day last week
by Gregory Saville

Last week I walked rain-soaked streets in Manhattan and in ten blocks, 15 different homeless people approached me asking for cash. A few suffered mental illness, some a demon intoxicant, and others the unfairness of circumstance. One reached out for dollars with his left hand while he clutched a cell phone in his right. Everyone's story was different - except they were all on the street.

I often feel an apoplectic irrelevance at moments like that. Why does homelessness persist? What can be done? We have blogged many times about homelessness in Reducing homelessness, part 1 & 2, Sidewalk sleeping in Toronto, Hostile architecture and CPTED, and Dignity Village.

I’ve coauthored an ICA White Paper, on the topic, and Tarah Hodgkinson heads an ICA Homelessness committee to seek alternatives. But blogs and White Papers don't solve the problem. What can we do?

ALTERNATIVES

Big cities have always had homeless but for the first time in a very long time, the number of unsheltered homeless people is rising. Bucking a decade-long decline, homeless numbers have been increasing since 2017.

No surprise: New York and Los Angeles - the largest cities - had the largest numbers (over 130,000 combined).

Big surprise: Seattle and Silicon Valley’s San Jose had the 3rd and 6th largest homeless populations. Apparently, street living in those high tech cities bypasses the riches flowing from companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Facebook who also reside there.

Of the smaller cities, all but 2 of the 10 worst homeless cities were in warmer climate states (Florida, California, and Hawaii) where winter snows are absent.

Hostile architecture in the affluent Upper West Side, NY
Overall, numbers are down. Some kinds of homelessness continue to decline, child homelessness and veteran homelessness. Further, some states do much better at taking care of homeless people with overnight shelters. New York and Massachusetts house almost all of their homeless overnight (95% each). On the other hand, California, Nevada and Mississippi house only 49% to 68% of their homeless overnight.

There are some good news stories from Canada. Since 2015, the Canadian city of Medicine Hat, Saskatchewan (population 60,000) has eradicated homelessness in their city.

Rain lifting from a foggy NY evening. Lifting homelessness
from city streets - a lofty and worthy goal.
Clearly, negligent cities have much to learn from others, including the homeless themselves.

SafeGrowth advocate Kallan Lyons worked at a Toronto homeless shelter and helped produce Streets to Script, a book of writing in the words of those in the shelter. One resident, Phoenix, writes:
I sit and ponder,
Why life has turned out this way,
I had thought my life would turn out differently…
I will make a better life for myself,
So I sit and ponder,
How my life can move forward.
Yes, Phoenix, you can move forward. We all can do better to help you.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

New York returns the cop to the beat

With towers as a backdrop, New York is a city of neighborhoods
by Mateja Mihinjac

Once considered a breeding ground for crime and violence, today New York City is one of the safest large cities in the USA. While this cannot be attributed to any single strategy, there is no doubt establishing close and positive relationships between public and police promises effective problem-solving and quality of life in the long run.

It was not always so! In the past, the NYPD employed a number of strategies to improve public safety. Some of the best-known and controversial tactics include broken windows policing and stop-and-frisk. Between 2005 and 2013, the NYPD relied extensively on stop-and-frisk. Unfortunately, in 2013 the way they applied the tactic was ruled unconstitutional.

In addition, research found no correlation between this tactic and crime rates and, given increasing tensions between the public and police, NYPD rethought their approach.

NEIGHBORHOODS ARE THE KEY 

In 2015 NYPD introduced a neighborhood policing model. The focus of the approach is permanently locating an officer - an NCO - within a neighborhood and building personal relations with residents on a daily basis. While this echoes earlier, often criticized, forms of community policing, the New York NCO  program attempts to take advantage of the intense personal knowledge of local areas.

It also provides officers with "sector integrity," allowing them time within their beat away from calls for service and assigning them to that neighborhood long enough to develop personal relationships.

NCOs focus not only on developing leads to tackle serious crime, but they also partner with residents for long-term problem-solving. As the NYPD website says: “sector officers play the role of a generalist cop who knows and feels responsible for the sector, and who provides the full range of policing services there.”

Before radio was used, beat policing and
call boxes were the norm in neighborhoods

In effect, this is a resurgence of the local beat cop of pre-radio days, except with a problem-solving focus and without the old style police call box. The NCO program also resonates with our methods in SafeGrowth where we teach residents how to partner with police, create planning teams, and target unsafe activities to create neighborhood safety plans.

NCOs - NEIGHBORHOOD COORDINATION OFFICERS

The cornerstone of NYPD neighborhood policing are the NCOs - Neighborhood Coordination Officers whose daily presence within the assigned neighborhood and respectful demeanor help build relationships.

New York NCOs and residents team up to solve problems

I witnessed the positive effect of this approach on several occasions while in New York: residents would greet their NCOs with hugs while NCOs would share their personal phone number with the residents should they need assistance with crime-related issues. The goal is for officers to be part of the community and be seen as an ally as opposed to an enemy.  

According to the New York City Police Foundation, in neighborhoods implementing neighborhood policing since 2015, shootings have declined 58% faster and the number of arrests declined 10% faster compared to the rest of the city. In the past two years, NCOs on foot patrol have met thousands of residents in hundreds of meetings, thereby building deeper local relationships in neighborhoods throughout the city. 

As NCO policing continues to expand to precincts across all five New York City boroughs, the approach has been recently applied to transit. NCOs will patrol the same subway stations and train lines to provide safety and build relationships, in this case with frequent riders. The beat cop, so common in another era, has now returned to the neighborhood.