Thursday, April 12, 2018

Glass half full - Asset mapping

Community-based asset mapping in Hollygrove, New Orleans
- photo by Claire Vancauwemberge  

by Mateja Mihinjac

I recently read John McKnight’s 1995 book The Careless Society: The Community and its Counterfeits. It reminded me of the vital importance in what we term vision-based asset mapping in our SafeGrowth work.

McKnight shows how elevating community capacities, rather than focusing on community deficiencies, can mitigate the many threats to community life that stem from a forest of unfocused and inefficient social services.


The book’s core premise of “a glass half full” explains why systems of professionalized social services embedded within our daily lives fail to generate authentic citizen communities that care. As we teach in SafeGrowth, building cohesion in troubled communities is difficult when residents don’t care, or when they expect other organizations to solve local problems with no local involvement.

Public exercise area for nearby apartments - fitness assets for everyone

The issue McKnight sees with communities surrendering their power to the social service system is the assumption that communities are not able to identify their problems and solve them on their own, or with the assistance of others.

Thus starts the dependency-creating cycle that external service providers propagate. Then, as service professionals present themselves as experts with a suite of solutions to proposed problems, they often justify their own raison d’ĂȘtre while contributing little to positive change in the communities that have become dependent on them.

Asset mapping can reveal empty lots ideal for building community gardens

All this generates negative side effects and leads to a disabled citizenry and weakened community ties resulting in a loss in local capacity to self-organize. In effect, says McKnight, we become surrounded by community services but isolated from the community.

This does not mean that social services and others offer no value. However, communities need to themselves identify these services as useful and thus become active, rather than passive, actors in the life of their community.


McKnight offers asset mapping as a tool for empowering communities and building capacity.

In our SafeGrowth work we help residents tap into the neighborhood resources to realize whatever vision they create to resolve problems within their neighborhood. We use this neighborhood social analysis as an important part of visioning and problem identification.

Some SafeGrowth teams employ GPS mapping software

However, unlike McKnight’s broad scan, we tailor our approach into vision-based asset mapping - tailoring assets toward a specific vision for that problem. This step is repeated for different areas gradually building a repertoire of assets for the entire neighborhood. Neighbors themselves learn not only much more about local gifts for capacity-building right at their fingertips, but they learn how to use them for problem-solving.

The vision-based asset mapping approach empowers residents to become active in solving neighborhood problems. At the same time, they choose what social services to summon and reduce their dependency on external service providers.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A tool for the archaeology of fear

Safety Audits examine the nighttime city

by Greg Saville

They link neighbors in common cause against crime and they collect data to build fear maps in ways never before possible. And yet community Safety Audits are among the most misunderstood, and misused, tools in CPTED. 

In 2005 the United Nations Habitat program recommended the Safety Audit as a method to assess street crime and fear around the world. Safety Audits originated in the 1980s as a method to assess safety in bus and subway stops during the infamous Scarborough serial rapist crimes in suburban Toronto (ending with the arrest of serial murderer/rapist Paul Bernardo and his wife Karla Homolka).

I took part in those original Toronto Subway Safety Audits in 1988 and published a study about their power to unify residents as they record their perceptions of the neighborhood at night. Properly facilitated and staffed, Safety Audits are unique and empowering and they collect information not available on standard fear of crime surveys.

Parking lots are a frequent target of Safety Audits

The first mistake is to think Safety Audits are the same as CPTED surveys or visual inspections for crime prevention. CPTED surveys work well on buildings and streets to assess crime opportunities in the nooks and crannies of everyday places. But CPTED experts cannot conduct a properly implemented Safety Audit; rather they can only facilitate residents. It is the native intelligence of residents that is recorded in a Safety Audit, not the assessment of an expert.

Some think Safety Audits are the same as a community walkabout, a Jane’s Walk, or Night-Out-Against-Crime. Those are not a systematic and coherent data collection activity like a Safety Audit.


Authentic community Safety Audits:
  • Use a small group of locals to answer audit questions
  • Are generally conducted at night 
  • Are conducted within a 75 yard/meter radius of a location and then move to other locations to audit an entire area
  • Include women since they experience the night environment different than men.

Police, residents, CPTED facilitators, and others participate in Safety Audits

Unlike CPTED surveys, Safety Audits extend beyond the physical environment and hone in on social factors: How involved are local residents about their neighborhood? What is the history of this place? How might local residents help improve conditions? 

The latest versions of Safety Audits use computer tablets and GPS enabled software to more accurately record fear and map perceptions. A few years ago I recorded a VLOG with LISC Safety coordinator Mona Mangat on how to conduct a proper Safety Audit.  

Safety Audits are the ideal tool for crime archaeology – they help residents dig up fear and perception discoveries of their nighttime city that may be invisible in other crime assessment methods. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Thoughts on public washrooms

Safe toilet design and access - Humanizing public spaces 
by Tarah Hodgkinson 

Awhile back I took my students to Commercial Drive, a popular commercial corridor in Vancouver, to complete a community safety audit. We visited a few park locations surrounding the main corridor, each of which had a public washroom. This isn’t unusual, but when I encouraged my students to check out the parks they reported that the washrooms were locked... ALL of them! In the middle of the day!


On one of the public washrooms there was a notice to call the city to have the doors unlocked. First call: Answering machine. Second call: They said they would arrive in 30 minutes. I couldn’t believe it! Thankfully, I wasn’t pregnant, toting around children, or anything else that might have made washroom access an emergency.

I’m happy to report that when I took another group of students to Commercial Drive this year, the washrooms were open, clean and accessible. That was a far cry from the locked doors we had seen the year prior, a much too common experience in Vancouver and many cities across Canada and the United States. This raises an important issue we often do not talk about regarding neighbourhood safety - access to clean and safe washroom facilities.


I was reminded of this issue when I visited Australia recently and discovered public washrooms everywhere, not only in Brisbane, but in the Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Sydney and anywhere else I went. For someone who drinks a LOT of water, washroom access is an important part of my daily activities. As someone who has been a caregiver for a person living with multiple sclerosis, washroom access is an absolute necessity.

Proper signage showing where to go
How could my home country, famous for being socially minded, not provide the basic human dignity of clean and accessible public washrooms as in Australia?

Public spaces aren’t created by the people who live there and too often the needs of the public, especially the needs of the disabled, marginalized or disempowered, are ignored in creating these spaces. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the design and management of public washrooms.

In some cities, public washrooms are places of increased target hardening to prevent undesirable behaviour such as drug use and sexual solicitation. For example, many of the public washrooms in Calgary have blue lights that purport to make it impossible to find a vein, a controversial strategy challenged by actual research. Others, like those on Commercial Drive, have found ways of reducing hours of operation and in some cases removing them all together.

Australian public toilets
Is locking down and removing public washrooms the way to solve illegitimate use? Could we encourage local government to invest in cleaning and checking these places on a more regular basis - such as the self cleaning bathrooms in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver? Could we provide safer alternatives for these users (similar to safe injection sites) instead of punishing the public by locking down places that address basic human needs? If other countries like Australia have figured it out, I think there is hope for Canadian and U.S. cities as well.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Unobtrusive security and alternatives to bollards - Part 2

The Canadian Embassy in Washington combines aesthetics with security
 - photo Creative Commons, Wiki 
By Mateja Mihinjac

Last week I outlined why the problem of vehicular attacks on pedestrians demands thinking beyond target hardening. These incidents cannot be simply eradicated through design, but some of the alternatives below offer possibilities for reducing negative social impacts that accompany hyper-security.


One way to avoid perpetuating fear and altering aesthetics of public spaces is to transform overt, obtrusive security to less visible (or invisible) security. Instead of fortressing our cities and increasing mass surveillance, target hardening practices can be integrated into the environment (e.g. street furniture, layout, paving styles, use of special materials).

Multiple cases of concrete bollards painted by local artists and activists show that citizens care about the appearance of their public spaces and the message they convey to their users. Other less obtrusive strategies include natural barriers such as rain gardens, ponds, bridges and Ha-Ha walls.

Simple, reinforced planters can provide security and image
Successful experiments have also demonstrated how altering pedestrian movement through playful and non-obtrusive designs such as floor markings and mirrors prompts people to use a designated safe route and foster their connection to both place and their users.

Congruent with the smart city movement, new invisible technical solutions are also possible. Sweden is now testing geo-fencing on a large scale before the country may be the first to implement this approach in a fight against heavy vehicles attacks. In the U.S., architects are designing safer schools.

Another popular option includes altering zoning practices in city centers such as special downtown zones that limit vehicle use to light-weight and slow-speed vehicles or pedestrian-only areas. Such zones have a life of their own. They provide opportunities for people to explore and enjoy them. Concurrently they help reclaim public space through reprogramming a restricted area into a positive land use. They also demand improved pedestrian infrastructure and street networks that support easy and safe movement.

Altered zoning practices can create pedestrian-only areas
The ideas about walkable and human scale design have culminated in practices such as the Barnes dance intersections. The World Resources Institute also provides a detailed overview of measures that prioritize a safe and human scale transport design.

New York's Highline Park is a pedestrian-only, elevated park above street level


Security professionals, designers and planners can balance security and socially-appropriate measures by providing safety and support connections as well as interactions between people. Obtrusive security measures divide and create barriers between people. There are better alternatives.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Rethinking bollards in public places - Part 1

Retractable anti-ramming bollards - photo by Apostoloff, Wikimedia Commons

By Mateja Mihinjac

Over the past few years, several western cities have seen an increase in attacks on pedestrians by vehicle ramming into masses of people. For example, New York's vehicle ramming last October that killed 8 people or the 2014 terror attack south of Montreal in which two Canadian soldiers were run down in a parking lot. 

In a bid to protect these soft targets, jurisdictions around the world have been installing concrete bollards and other hardened access control mechanisms. These measures intend to slow down or stop a vehicle or absorb an impact in the event of a crash. Some include:
  • Chicanes
  • Fortification through concrete bollards
  • Decorative planters, large rocks
  • Steel bollards (photo above)
  • Remote-controlled hydraulic barriers
  • Walls and hardened, bulletproof glass.

Although these design features are not new, they are instant reactionary solutions to vehicular attacks. As The National puts it: “the use of concrete blocks shows that cities have failed to incorporate effective anti-terrorist features, and are more for public reassurance”. Hyper-security measures neglect appropriateness and social acceptance. 


It might be too early to tell whether such measures prevent further attacks, but relying on obtrusive and defensive practices alone has already raised doubts about their appropriateness. Those doubts arise from feelings of false reassurance, unsightly bollards, and ugly aesthetics. Further, there are risks of displacement to more vulnerable targets and inadequate experience by designers and security officials while implementing high security, target hardening in public places.

Dressing bollards in Brisbane - beautifying a concrete block
In today’s high-risk society it is clear that something must be done to secure public safety. At the same time, target hardened solutions obsess on security at the expense of the democratic use of public spaces, what one author calls the paradox of democracy and hypersecurity.

Do these practices foster a culture of fear and alienation instead of a sense of security and kinship? We need to consider the impact of target hardened community spaces in the public realm, including freedom of movement and positive social interactions. The question is, What is the right balance?

Next week’s blog will provide some alternative practices for a better balance between security and socially-appropriate measures. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Bipolar CPTED - Inclusion or Exclusion?

Access controls with lavender - CPTED can be beautiful
by Gregory Saville

Reflecting on Tarah's excellent blog last week on the need for access control in public housing, I came across an article I wrote a few years ago that adds another dimension to the access control story. I thought I’d share…

CPTED is inclusive, but only if it is used to help residents socialize and take ownership of their common spaces. If not, the results are like the sugar-sweet candy bar; it tastes yummy and satisfies children, but if overused it leads to heart disease and, when the sugar kicks in, the kids go nuts.  

How does it work? CPTED reduces crime by dividing the public realm into semi-public and semi-private spaces. For example, architects design a landscaped courtyard in front of an apartment building entranceway so residents feel that space belongs to them. But CPTED can also exclude some groups. 

Access control fencing around hotel
Is it needed? What's the crime like outside the fence?

Developers use access control to build exclusive gated communities to keep outsiders away from wealthy, enclosed residential areas. Or the tactic called target hardening might use reinforced bullet-proof windows in bank teller areas to deter robbers. But that can also create a psychological barrier between legitimate customers and make it difficult for tellers to provide a more personal service and get to know their customers.


Sometimes CPTED can have both inclusionary and exclusionary impact. For example, back in the 1980s and 1990s, Los Angeles and Dayton, Ohio barricaded selected road entrances into high crime neighborhoods to cut drive-by shooting and drug dealing. Shootings and drug activity did decrease, at least initially. But later crime increased as criminals adapted to the barricades. Furthermore, residents complained about being more isolated, the inconvenience of the barriers, the traffic impact on nearby neighborhoods. Worse still, in Los Angeles they complained about not being invited to participate in planning.

Inclusionary public plaza in Europe - No fences required
Clearly, CPTED has a bipolar nature – inclusion vs exclusion. The devil truly is in the details! As Jacobs said in Death and Life of Great American Cities: “The first thing to understand is that the public peace …of cities is not kept primarily by the police, necessary as they are. It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.”


Beware of these exclusionary triggers:

  • CPTED checklists that list details for design. Some details can help, for example, lighting. But not always. Lighting research is inconclusive! In some cases, increased lighting can attract unwanted activity, or make it easier for drug dealers to see oncoming police. Therefore lighting may cause more harm than good. It may be necessary to turn lights out to cut crime. A better alternative to checklists is CPTED guidelines with examples and photos of positive designs, and requirements for a proper risk assessment prior to CPTED tactics.
  • CPTED that controls access, such as fencing around property, but doesn’t provide alternatives for socialization. For example, when children walk down residential streets lined with chain link fences they learn they are outsiders in their own neighborhood. Children need inclusive, semi-public play areas near where they live to feel they belong.
  • CPTED courses that teach students design tactics but ignore, or pay minimal attention, to 2nd Generation CPTED. That is where exclusionary errors begin! 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Shoot the girl - CPTED in public housing

Public housing, London, UK. - photo Iridiscenti Creative Commons

by Tarah Hodgkinson

A few years ago, a scorned lover walked onto a public housing project and shot his ex-girlfriend. She lived but has suffered terribly with her injuries ever since. The man did not live there, so how was he able to get onto the property and shoot his ex? Was this a fluke, spur-of-the-moment occurrence that might have been prevented?

In a journal article coming out this year, myself and some colleagues describe how we used crime mapping and analysis to examine questions about such crimes in public housing. We compared the police calls for service over a 7 year period at four nearby public housing facilities of similar size and occupancy. The housing where the shooting (and many other crimes) occurred went through a massive reconstruction during this time. This construction was intended to upgrade the living facilities and improve the overall livability and security of the location.


However, after the construction, we found not only did calls for police service start going back up, but they did so dramatically. In fact, the trend was increasing at a rate that surpassed previous levels of calls for service. This seems counter-intuitive. Why would a place that had made improvements to the image and maintenance of the property, as well as security, see an increase in calls for service when the other public housing developments didn’t?

We conducted field research that provided some context. While interviews with property managers demonstrated knowledge of security measures, particularly CPTED principles, some of these principles were not properly implemented in the redesign.

Another example of public housing with poor access controls - Vancouver, BC

For example, they constructed a large fence around the perimeter but failed to replace access control gates and security at key points. The redesign had major openings with no gates or doors to restrict outsiders from entering or exiting. While the entire site was fenced, there was no real access control in or out of the property. Unlike other locations we examined, not only did this facility not have security at the entranceways, it lacked a strong community presence. Thus, there were very little natural surveillance opportunities or proper access controls at the entry points where it mattered most.

Clearly, the lack of proper security measures in public housing, like access control and surveillance, can increase the risk of victimization. In this case, it is unsurprising that an outsider was able to walk right through the front entrance, unchallenged, and shoot his ex-girlfriend.

The implications of poorly implemented CPTED are clear, particularly for responsibility and accountability: accountability for competently implementing CPTED principles in a high-risk location, and responsibility for adequate security in public housing facilities to protect vulnerable residents.