Monday, June 17, 2019

To bench or not to bench?

Benches in public city parks offer refuge for city goers

by Mateja Mihinjac
The public bench has become an indispensable part of city life. It represents a primary seating option for taking a rest, conversing with a friend, having a coffee or a meeting, or simply observing the theatre of the street.

However, occasionally a bench is blamed for drug dealing, panhandling, loitering, vagrancy, or homelessness. This has led to calls for eradicating them or revamping them to reduce their attractiveness for prolonged occupation.


This knee-jerk reaction is not uncommon. We’ve written before about target-hardening approacheshostile architecture and even vilifying the trees for crime problems and safety issues.

Criminalizing loitering, especially when perceived as acts of lower social class, is a common example that diminishes use of public space.

Benches in unpeopled downtowns might attract undesirable uses

These simplistic decisions are often underthought, short-lived, and are notorious for
dehumanizing particular groups of people.

The question of removing benches extends beyond the presence street furniture. It is also about civility, ethics and inclusion. This sentiment comes from our New Zealand SafeGrowth Advocate, Sue Ramsay, who argues that the public debate around city planning should not only evolve around walkability but also sitability. Consider, for example, the needs of the elderly and less able groups in public space.

A public bench can provide opportunities for contemplation -
9/11 Tiles for America Memorial in New York City

In a bid to address undesirable uses cities should encourage positive uses of their downtowns if they don’t wish to surrender them to vilified groups. Installation of benches, in particular, is often part of downtown revitalization programs because they attract diverse users and communicate to them they are welcome to use public space.

Importantly, we should be aware that disorder and undesirable behaviors are a symptom of a social problem greater than design.

Revitalizing the street with temporary seating installation in Ottawa

Before vilifying the bench, how about clearly understanding what underlies the problem and targeting collaborative programs that help? How about work programs and skills programs for those with nowhere to go but benches? How about revitalizing downtowns through festivals, activities, local shops and cafes that focus on desirable activities?

A public bench is the epitome of public life. It allows one to both socialize and be alone, yet remain connected to the social world around them. It is the symbol of access to communal outdoor spaces.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Closing a window on a giant

Professor George Kelling - photo Rutgers University 

by Gregory Saville

George Kelling, police scholar and renowned criminologist, died last week. At a time when we thirst for new ideas, Kelling was a giant!

A decade ago, I sat in a sunny Florida conference room packed with 40 police executives gathered to discuss the future of police leadership. At one point I was seated beside Kelling, quite enjoying his easy manner and penetrating ideas. By that point, Kelling’s contribution to policing and crime prevention was legendary, especially an idea he co-authored called the Broken Windows Theory (BWT), also known as quality-of-life policing.


I recall Kelling good-heartedly chastise some police executives in that room when they intimated BWT was zero-tolerance enforcement and aggressive stop-and-frisk tactics. Actually, in contrast to positive crime prevention and BWT research, studies showed that zero tolerance enforcement did not work. 

Yet the reality of our conference discussions was that back at work, far from our vista overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, crime prevention programs were often little more than media-distorted, bureaucratic manipulations. BWT was not zero-tolerance enforcement, but many police departments still applied it that way. 

Kelling repeatedly published articles to correct the combat cop version of BWT: 
“The assertiveness of Broken Windows misdemeanor enforcement, however, does not equate with “zero tolerance” policies and high-arrest strategies, as is sometimes alleged; done correctly, order-maintenance policing does not rely on such practices.”

Our recent Ottawa SafeGrowth training. All through his career, Kelling
insisted on police/community partnerships

Kelling said NYPD worked with private and nonprofit partners and partnered with businesses to improve lighting and streets. However, personally, I saw very few broken windows actually repaired by BWT. 


Kelling’s work represents much more than BWT. He learned the business of policing by walking alongside beat cops in Newark and Kansas City. 

He began his career as a social worker, but in the early 1970s he co-authored a pioneering study into police patrol and discovered routine police patrol had no statistical impact on crime or fear of crime. 

Although police still deploy police vehicles to patrol willy-nilly, Kelling’s experiment suggested resources are far better spent on crime prevention and other problem-solving strategies - an important lesson I learned from Kelling’s writing!

Beat officers joining our community anti-violence training.
Cops learning about community needs; the key to Kelling's work 

My impression is that Kelling cared much about victims from all walks of life, especially the disenfranchised. One of his former grad students shared with me this thought: “He believed in the power of ideas over the power of papers. He planted these idea seedlings and then nurtured and protected them. He was a true believer in the capacity of the police to do good.”

Perhaps if police leaders had ensured officers were properly trained and supervised in problem-solving methods, the broken windows story might have turned out very different! 

The Washington Post says Kelling’s Broken Windows Theory became “a cornerstone of community policing”. I’m unsure if that is true. But George Kelling’s other ideas and his ethics certainly did. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Something for everybody - Teaching children how to play

Brisbane's Botanic Gardens - Photo Creative Commons Lilywatanabe

by Tarah Hodgkinson

While discussing safer cities in her pioneering book, Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs said that “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody” and this includes creating them for everybody. That includes children.

I usually do my best to avoid the children’s area of parks. I’m not a big fan of the running, screaming, whining, crying or even laughing. Kids are great; they are just not for me. But usually once a week I walk through Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens and right past a children’s play area. On a normal day I would breeze on by, yet I recently took notice of a very interesting sign.

Created by the City of Brisbane, this sign asks, “How would you like to play?” It is followed up by 20 images of children signing different options for play, from climbing to sliding to digging. Each image provides a description of the type of activity and how to sign it.

Not only was there signage about how to communicate how to play (emphasizing good communication skills), but it was all-abilities friendly. Children who may be hearing impaired, or delayed in speaking, could communicate with other children what they wanted and be understood.

All-abilities signage

In prior blogs, we have written about the need for all-abilities planning and inclusive neighborhood design.

However, these designs can often emphasize the “disability” side of design with images of wheelchairs or walkers. In this case, all-abilities design is made fun. It is similar to what UK planner Charles Laundry says about making public spaces fun in his landmark book The Creative City and also what we discussed in our previous blogs on design creativity.

What is also impressive here is there is no mention of abilities on the sign. Rather, it is normalized and made part of the overall play experience. Perhaps this is the best way to move forward in all-abilities, inclusive neighborhood design.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Reimagining anti-graffiti

Decades of graffiti in a village underpass

by Mateja Mihinjac

This blog was inspired by a recent trip to my home village of 6,000 residents. Ever since I can remember, every few months the graffiti in the railway underpass near my house is painted over and the broken lights fixed. Shortly after fixing, the signs of vandalism reappear and a few months later the graffiti reappears. This has been occurring for the last 30 years. 

Graffiti at entrance to underpass - 2018

In 2019 after clean-up, graffiti reappears on the opposite side


At the start of my criminology career, I learned that rapid graffiti removal programs were the most efficient way to address the problem because they deny graffiti offenders or “artists” the reward of having their work seen by others. In the 1980s, the famous Broken Windows Theory began with one such program in the New York City subway system’s Clean Car Program – graffiti was removed and vandalism repaired.

Through subsequent research and practical work I learned this approach might not be very effective and cost-beneficial as it is costly, may lead to displacement, fails to account for various motivations in the offenders, and generally fails to permanently eliminate the problem.

Street art in Manhattan, New York

Since then other approaches appeared for addressing graffiti. One approach focuses on anti-graffiti materials and surfaces, increased penalties for “offenders”, and community clean-ups. Another approach designates graffiti walls and education or mural programs for offenders, such as the successful program for talented graffiti artists described in on this blog site by our team member Anna Brassard.

While some cities successfully integrate both approaches, other cities are more polarized in their graffiti management approaches. For example in Ottawa, city leaders maintain a strict no-graffiti policy apart from designated legal graffiti walls and murals under the City’s mural program.

Street art is a regular feature of urban life throughout the world
Conversely, the mayor of the Colombian capital of Bogota has decriminalized graffiti after a tragic event in 2011 when a young artist was fatally shot. Apart from designated off-limit surfaces, graffiti artists in Bogota are free to express their creativity across the city. Graffiti is now integrated into city life and, interestingly, has become a major attraction for visitors.

I don’t argue for one approach over another since different contexts require different solutions. However, if an approach remains unsuccessful over a number of decades, such as in the railway underpass in my home village, it is time to consider alternative strategies. One missing link, however, is the limited voice of local community members.


In her reflection on developing a graffiti strategy for the city of Melbourne, criminologist Alison Young recommended against the city’s zero-tolerance approach with increased criminalization of graffiti artists, the approach which local government had adopted at the time.

She argued for self-regulation where property owners and local public would have a say in the image and identity of their local part of public space by either retaining it or by requesting the local government to remove the newly emerged graffiti. The thinking was that if local communities were given an opportunity for such self-governance, they might develop a greater sense of ownership and care for the local environment.

Melbourne's tourist approach to graffiti
Photo Creative Commons, Bernard Spragg 

The Melbourne strategy has worked - today the city has a successful street graffiti program receiving world-wide acclaim. That success has turned into a major tourist attraction and economic success story for Melbourne including the popular Melbourne Street Art Tours by local tour companies and the annual Melbourne Stencil Festival.

Since 2010 the city has applied a hybrid approach where they now include the voice of business owners in deciding whether graffiti should be retained.

Melbourne provides an innovative answer to the question of whether we should eliminate graffiti, accept it, or channel freedom of expression in a positive direction for the artists and local communities. Despite a plethora of graffiti management practices, one thing is certain: graffiti is here to stay.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Seattle is Dying? Clearing smoke, breaking mirrors

Homeless camp in Philadelphia
by Gregory Saville

Johann Schropfer was an 18th Century charlatan and swindler famous for his projections of "ghosts" in smoke-filled rooms during seances. That trick was the origin of the smoke and mirrors scam, an illusion perpetrated by someone with something up their sleeve - in Schropfer's case, fraud.

A friend recently texted me the TV documentary Seattle is Dying about homelessness in Seattle. The website of the Seattle KOMO TV station that made the film says: "It's about parents who won't take their children into the public parks they pay for. It's about filth and degradation all around us. And theft and crime."

Homeless shelter in Canberra, Australia
- photo Creative Commons, John Scotas

There's nothing new about blight and fear in urban America. We've blogged on homelessness for years and have been working on the International CPTED Association homelessness committee to develop strategies for CPTED practitioners.

Nor is there anything new about Seattle's homelessness problem. Social workers, police, and others who work with the homeless have justifiably complained about insufficient support and ineffective actions. Politicians struggle to find answers. No doubt this is serious.

But is Seattle's homelessness any different from other places? Local media are supposed to focus on local stories, hopefully, so some good comes out of the coverage. Consider the Los Angeles story about Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless musician befriended by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez, who wrote articles and a book on his story (later featured in the 2009 film The Soloist). That turned into millions of dollars in city support for the LA skid row.

What's different in Seattle? Local media now claim Seattle's problem is the worst in the country. Is it?

Homelessness in Toronto


Then I saw a Fox News broadcast about the KOMO documentary and heard this from a right-wing pundit: "Seattle is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. It is among the most liberal and as a direct result of that Seattle is now a haven for homelessness and drug use." That, says Fox News, is the reason for Seattle's problems. That is also, I suspect, how a smoke and mirrors illusion starts.

Here are lessons to help you smash those mirrors and clear that smoke:
  • Lesson #1: Crime stats around homelessness are notoriously difficult to collect. Those cited in the film are sloppy enough to make a criminologist cringe. 
  • Lesson #2: Homeless stats are even more difficult. Some use nightly street counts, others use shelter counts. Problem is, eastern cities tend to offer mandatory shelter beds for every homeless person (due to more extreme winter weather), whereas many western cities do not. That means homeless counts are inflated in some cities and not in others. Blame the weather, not the politics.
  • Lesson #3: Then there is what criminologists call the base rate problem. To equate a homeless population with a city population base depends on whether you include the inner city, the metro area, or other geographies.  

Sleeping homeless on the street outside a resort in Honduras


Here are some actual stats for 2016 - 2018:

In other words, cities like Miami, Tulsa and Oklahoma City have homeless rates much worse than Seattle. Interestingly, Tulsa and Oklahoma City are among the most conservative cities in the country and Tulsa has a homeless rate double that of Seattle! The KOMO documentary fails to mention that. Why?

Sleeping spot for a Denver homeless person


KOMO News 4 is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, among the most infamous media conglomerates and, according to some political scientists, a close ally of the Trump administration.

Political researchers have studied Sinclair and their outlets and concluded Sinclair has engaged in a litany of biased practices in news reporting and faced intense scrutiny from media critics, as well as some from its own station employees, for the conservative slant of their stations' news reporting.

The Nobel winning Center for Public Integrity has repeatedly raised the alarm about bias at Sinclair stations.

And now the KOMO/Sinclair conglomerate tell us "Seattle is Dying". Is this a case of Fox News pundits using smoke and mirrors for another attack on liberal cities at a time when political polarization is epidemic?

Homelessness truly is a serious problem. It deserves proper research and someone telling the whole story. The suffering of those on the street - and the frustration of well-intentioned professionals like social workers, police, and others - deserve no less. As we have advocated repeatedly, homelessness is a modern scourge we must solve.

To offer up a smoke and mirrors claim that "liberal" cities are the culprit and then use a documentary that ignores crucial homelessness data in other cities makes me wonder; Would Johann Schropfer be impressed?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Science and art - activating space with knowledge

Activating Brisbane with outdoor science

by Tarah Hodgkinson

We have written a number of blogs about activating public space with public art. From music festivals to large murals, neighbourhoods around the world bring people together to observe and interact around art. However, in Brisbane this year, art was mixed with science.

Last month, the city of Brisbane was celebrating all things science in the public sphere. Brisbane had a massive science festival. This included exhibits at the Queensland science museum, an outdoor festival, and perhaps the most engaging: technology-inspired art exhibits around the city. These exhibits, called Curiocity, married together art and science into an interactive and beautiful combination for local residents and tourists alike. The exhibits were placed along the Brisbane river and free for everyone, making them easily accessible and activating these spaces 24 hours day.

Accessible and free - science for the public in Brisbane

Artists, scientists and technicians combine experience in robotics, music, art and technology to create these interactive experiences. The exhibits included “Sky Brisbane” an air-jet activated grid of colourful fabric plumes that move based on the movement of the observer and “Scatter” solar-powered spinning loud speakers that scatter sound as the listener moves throughout the exhibit. These exhibits could be further engaged with through a phone app that was accessed through a scannable bar code at each installation.

"The Universe" outdoor science exhibit, Prague, Czech Republic
- photo Creative Commons Packa 
These kinds of exhibits are not new but definitely are growing in popularity and size. For example, in North Vancouver Canada, Capilano suspension bridge puts on a beautiful holiday light show at the end of each year. Last year they included an interactive light display that turned on and changed colour based on the noise made. Passers-by engaged in clapping, stomping and cheering to see what kinds of colour combinations they could make.

Vancouver's Capilano Suspension Bridge
- Photo Creative Commons Markus Saynevirta


While we often talk about how public art can bring people out and activate space, this combination of technology and art could offer not only further public engagement, but also celebrate and expand science in the public forum. Science festivals that include these kinds of exhibits can encourage curiosity and celebrate the advancement of knowledge, while remaining accessible and enjoyable.

In a time when science and evidence is being replaced by personal opinion and fake news, perhaps the celebration of science in the public realm will not only bring folks out and activate public space but will also encourage thoughtful conversation and curiosity about knowledge and inquiry.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The law of the hammer

The Law of the Hammer - photo from Police PBL
by Gregory Saville

In the 1960s, Abraham Maslow, the brilliant psychologist who uncovered the nature of basic human needs, said  “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. In spelling out this law of innate human behavior, he echoed a concept called The Law of the Hammer by an earlier scholar,
"We tend to formulate our problems in such a way as to make it seem that the solutions to those problems demand precisely what we already happen to have at hand."
This afternoon I searched a popular law enforcement website for police training conferences and workshops in June. I counted 193 courses and workshops across the country and that was only June! There is obviously no lack of training opportunities for American police officers.

Digging a bit deeper I discovered that, of those 193 courses, 75 were focused on SWAT-techniques, weapons training, and defensive tactics and another 50 covered investigation methods (interrogation, homicides). The rest included a mix of digital photography, lock picking, and drone usage.

Policing in a new age - photo from Police PBL 

A few seminars included an obsolete, 50-year old recruit field training program called FTO. Another taught how to deploy chemical aerosol projectiles.

In other words, almost 75% of all courses in June dealt with retroactive investigation long after a crime occurs (investigation, after all, requires a crime to have already happened), or they taught techniques in the use of, and response to, force - the bluntest hammer of them all.


There is no shortage of training opportunities in policing, but the majority use very similar hammers and, I respectfully submit, end up with the same results. We need something different.

Missing from this buffet of training courses:
  • Prevention of crime before deadly situations arise, such as neighborhood strategies like SafeGrowth
  • How to help officers problem-solve with residents to build bridges and community support 
  • How to work with the disenfranchised, the poor, and the mentally ill (the very people who get interrogated, get photographed after they become homicide victims, or get arrested following moments of illness or intoxication).

To a person with a hammer…


This year two upcoming conferences provide a different set of tools into the hands of officers and community members seeking a different way forward. These conferences are rooted in long-proven police methods and educational strategies that create a more comprehensive set of problem-solving skills. None of those 193 training courses cover these themes.

  • The Annual Conference of the Police Society for Problem-Based Learning is called “Training for Resiliency: The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Policing”. It is in Madison, Wisconsin, June 5-7th and features exceptional guest speakers including behavioral scientist, Kevin Gilmartin. 
For 15 years the Police Society for Problem-Based Learning has offered education, certification, and skills-training for instructors, academy educators, and field trainers in modern education methods and mental tools for intelligent problem-solving.
The Problem-Oriented Policing Conference features projects from around the world where officers partner with communities to resolve difficult crime and disorder issues. Fellow officers show how to  tackle, (and more importantly, prevent), gang violence, shootings, neighborhood disorder, sexual assaults, robberies, and many others. 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Lovability - A metric for the future

Brisbane's unique Streets Beach, a downtown public
beach with palm trees, pebbled creeks and crystal clear lagoons. 

by Mateja Mihinjac

The discussion about the quality of life in 21st Century cities often centers around livability. In SafeGrowth we encourage residents to identify livability indicators so they can improve the quality of life in their neighborhood. Livability matters.

Up until 2018, The Economist magazine crowned Melbourne the most livable city in the world for 5 years straight (Vienna taking the title last year). But what is livability?


Livability indices usually focus on statistically measurable data. For example, The Economist’s Intelligence Unit each year ranks the world’s most livable cities by five categories: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

Natural, and safe, sitting areas surrounded by trees in Central Park
However, residents and visitors may not relate to their cities in uniform ways as presupposed by these metrics. Instead, they may offer subjective opinions of livability more meaningful to them.

My colleagues from Melbourne, Fiona Gray and Matt Novacevski, similarly remind us that livability indices alone disregard people’s emotional connection to cities, neighborhoods and places. They offer the concept of lovability as a more meaningful measure.


The quality of life for residents transcends the five livability categories listed above. In a recent article, Fiona, Matt and Cristina Garduño Freeman state that practical aspects of the city are not sufficient. Instead, they argue that aesthetic qualities of the city are also important because they trigger an emotional reaction and foster connection to places.

Being a kid with fun and play - the emotional aesthetic of city life 
In their Melbourne lovability index project they asked residents to share what they love about their city and why. Answers included: beauty, aesthetics of the city, culture, history, tradition, diversity of activities and opportunities, and having places for people to come together to celebrate.

Some cities, such as Singapore, have already included lovability as an extension of livability focus of their city planning. Clearly, citizens must have a say in assessing the quality of their cities, including involving them in decisions regarding city planning.

Public places can offer private moments of relaxation in beautiful surroundings


In SafeGrowth we recognize the importance of emotional connection to each other and to our neighborhoods. We distinguish between “actions of the mind” (actions to create social cohesion), and “actions of the heart” (actions that create emotional connection and neighborhood identity).

Lovability, therefore, offers the potential to merge objective and subjective measures of quality of life. A resident-driven and neighborhood-focused description of city living will expand the concept of livability to make it more meaningful and long-lasting.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Budapest CPTED - the beginning of a beautiful friendship

The national government buildings in Budapest
by Gregory Saville

Like so many countries today facing political questioning and turbulent change, Hungary is in rapid transformation. In that context, it’s fascinating to watch the launch of a new movement in a place with progressive-minded people seeking a positive future. Moments like that teem with excitement and hope. Such was the case in Budapest, the enchanting capital city on the Danube River where I attended a conference two weeks ago launching CPTED in that country.

Sporting the tagline, “The Role of Conscious Architectural and Environmental Design in Crime Prevention”, the conference was one in a series of similar events this year aimed at introducing CPTED to different sectors of the Hungarian community.

Budapest features a modern (and deep) subway system
- the first electrified subway in Europe

Organized by the dedicated folks at the “kulturAktiv”, an NGO dedicated to helping young people understand the built environment, (with the Hungarian National Crime Prevention Council and the Lechner Knowledge Centre), the conference was meticulously organized with an international group of speakers and local experts.

I have attended such events many times over the years but rarely have I seen such thorough preparation. The Hungarians have read, studied, and attended CPTED events, such as the International CPTED Association conference in Calgary a few years ago. They came prepared and they knew their stuff! Their workshops showed the depth of knowledge about CPTED, 2nd Generation CPTED, the role of children, and CPTED in high rise housing.

For some quirky (and charming) reason, Budapest features a statue of
Lt. Columbo, the 1970s TV detective 
I was immensely impressed with the presentations, from Istvan Molnar’s session on whether CPTED should be compulsory or recommended (I favor the former) to Anna Szilagi-Nagy’s presentation, A matter of opinion – whose task is CPTED? (I vote for everyone).

They have done their homework! I wish we had that kind of foresight and commitment in North America, where too much CPTED is mired in the “design out crime” of the 1970s - locks, lights, territorial control and 1st Generation CPTED!

Thank you to our new Hungarian friends for your commitment to your community. That commitment, above all, is the mark of exceptional people. As the protagonist in a famous film once said; “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Recreating spaces, not demolishing them

Art in the community - display near the Brisbane Powerhouse
by Tarah Hodgkinson

Beautiful places inspire us to create, think differently and feel connected to the past. Or at least that is what I heard at a lunchtime talk on beautiful places and why we need to protect them. The speaker discussed how, rather than tearing down older, unused buildings, we could repurpose them for new uses. These buildings would retain their original character and provide an environmentally sustainable way to maintain a connection to the past.

I heard this talk about four years ago. This is a well-known urban planning field called heritage planning, of which one of our SafeGrowth Advocates, Carl Bray, is a recognized expert.

The deck of the Powerhouse

It all came rushing back to me as I stepped onto the property of the Brisbane Powerhouse. The Powerhouse on the Brisbane river was a power station in the 1920s. However, it went unused for decades and fell into disrepair. There was much debate over what to do with it because it would have cost over a million dollars to tear it down.

Additionally, it took over ten years to get support from politicians to repurpose the building. However, rather than tearing it down and destroying the character of the massive building, in 2000 the Powerhouse was recreated as an arts centre.

Powerhouse box office

In 2018, over 680,000 people visited the Powerhouse and it now hosts over 1200 performances annually. Almost a thousand emerging local artists have presented their work on the walls of the Powerhouse. It has two restaurants and bars which allow it to serve the public both on and off show days and hosts weddings year round. In short, it has become a cultural hub, supporting the Australian performing arts market which takes performances out to the entire community.

What are the takeaways? One is that beautiful places (even old ones) are often inspiring. The Powerhouse marries the old and the new to create a place for everyone to enjoy. There are environmentally sustainable and creative ways to make old buildings new again and bring new life to our neighbourhoods.

Front of the Brisbane Powerhouse

Another lesson is that change takes time. The artist society fought for ten years before it successfully repurposed the Powerhouse into an arts centre.

In neighbourhoods that are trying to make changes, it can be daunting to realize that change can sometimes take a decade. However, it is also a testament to the perseverance and the power of a small group of concerned (and well organized) citizens.

We discuss Liveability Academies as one part of the SafeGrowth method. Teaching local residents how to create a vision and to organize for what they want is an important part of neighbourhood governance. And, as the Powerhouse demonstrates, it can result in amazing, and beautiful, changes.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Cities of neighborhoods - are we there yet?

Sixty years later, Jane Jacobs' neighborhood in New York
is still active, walkable and fun
by Mateja Mihinjac

It’s been nearly 60 years since Jane Jacobs called for integrated mixed-use cities rich in social and economic opportunities with livable and safe neighborhoods. Following almost a century of car-domination, urban design with people at the center is once again gaining traction.

A few years ago we blogged on this idea in the Denver neighborhood of Edgewater and the walkability ideas of urban planner Jeff Speck. In more and more cities, neighborhood development is once again in vogue.


The Australian city of Brisbane is one of many cities revisiting these ideas. Following public input, in 2018 the Brisbane government issued a blueprint with a plan to create “a city of neighborhoods”.

Melbourne too has introduced the idea of 20 Minute Neighbourhoods where “people can access most of their everyday needs within a 20-minute walk, cycle or local public transport trip”.

Transit center - downtown Melbourne, Australia

These ideas resonate with our concept of re-imagined urban villages and the “Hub Concept”, which we presented in our SafeGrowth book last year.


However, despite the need for an integrated and holistic approach to reimagined neighborhoods, it is the physical shape, especially transportation infrastructure, that receives the most attention.

Consider the expansion of pedestrian zones and car bans in city cores. Consider also the worldwide boost in micro-mobility with bike-sharing schemes and the boom in electric scooters.

Yet, as innovative as such ideas are, cities often neglect integrating these physical innovations with social and economic plans to address social relations, local identity, and local economy. And they rarely adopt them in suburbs.

Cities rarely consider new neighborhood walkability plans for suburbs


This may be part of the reason that cities are not always successful in promoting their people-centered designs. The Melbourne plan, for example, has been criticized for non-holistic thinking and fears the plan may suffer from infrastructure deficits.

Critics challenge Melbourne planners to consider the Vancouver planning model, which is to design a walkable neighborhood that embeds physical amenities closely into social activities and services.

This is the concept for Collingwood Village in Vancouver, a 4,500 person neighborhood that includes market housing, 15% public housing, a community center, schools, daycare, playgrounds, food and play areas, and an adjacent public transit station, all within a 10-minute walk. (Full disclosure: Greg Saville, from our SafeGrowth team, helped the designers of Collingwood Village plan for safety and livability in the early stages of that development.)

Collingwood Village, Vancouver. A walkable, transit-oriented development
and integrated neighborhood - photo Creative Commons


Unfortunately, developers and decision makers rarely consider locally-based social amenities and programs to boost community pride and local identity. Further, most of these new neighborhood concepts are concentrated near downtowns where house prices are hyper-inflated, versus car-dependent suburbs that are void of crucial services.

If we truly wish to create cities with an interlinked ecology of neighborhoods, we should start expanding walkable neighborhoods to suburban areas. Jane Jacobs envisioned these ideas over 60 years ago. We now have the knowledge and tools to realize that vision. In SafeGrowth, we believe the 21st Century should become the Century of the Neighborhood. The time has finally come to put those ideas into practice.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Addiction is the problem - drug courts and crime

Vancouver Law Courts - traditional courthouses are formal and intimidating.
Photo by Joe Mabel, Creative Commons
by Tarah Hodgkinson

A colleague and I were discussing petty theft and property crime in his community. After consulting the community, we were told that very few people reported these incidents to the police. I asked him what he thought was going on with so many people experiencing petty theft from their property.

“It’s addiction” he responded.

This was not a new revelation. Research often finds that addiction is a driving factor for stolen property. We have discussed this a number of times in this blog.

However, the illness of addiction is rarely taken into account when convicting individuals who commit a crime just to get their next score. Consequently, the justice system becomes a revolving door for those battling substance abuse. Unable to obtain their drug of choice legitimately, they turn to illegitimate activities like petty theft, robbery or even the sex trade.

Pineville, Oregon county court - Criminal courts are far from the reality
of street-level drug addition
Photo Ian Poelett, Creative Commons

Many addictive substances like alcohol are legal and many alcoholics hold regular jobs and pay for their addiction without engaging in crime. But drug addicts who end up in criminal court are defined as burglars, robbers or sex workers. In reality, they are better defined as individuals living with substance abuse and very little support for addressing their addiction. Drug courts offer an alternative.


Drug courts take a public health approach to substance abuse disorder. All parties work together including lawyers, police, public health professionals, drug counsellors and members in the community. Unlike a traditional criminal court, drug courts are specifically focused on helping addicted offenders into long term recovery.

Drug courts can be housed in regular office buildings
next to drug treatment facilities

Drug courts are particularly important for marginalized populations that already suffer additional roadblocks on the road to recovery. While different drug courts have different configurations, they are gaining support around the world, such as in Canada, the United States and Australia.

Many crime prevention tactics in CPTED, for example, focus on preventing opportunities for property crime. However, if we don’t consider the social factors influencing some of these crimes, then those battling substance addictions merely find another way to feed their habit.


It’s easy to think that we just need harsher laws for drug use. But anyone who has dealt with addiction personally, or watched someone experience it first hand, knows that punishment and deterrence tactics rarely work.

Why do people get addicted in the first place? The answers are complex. While drug courts may not resolve every cause of addiction, they do offer a public health approach to what is largely a public health problem, not a criminal one.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Clean-up in paradise - Barbados & litter control

Pirates of the Carribean - Exploring an underwater wreck
during deep-water dives in the tourist mecca that is Barbados
by Gregory Saville

It’s difficult to get worked up about crime in a place like Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. Surrounded by lush beaches, palm trees and bathed in tropical sun, most visitors to the Island are unaware of the recent surge in gun crime or fears about drugs. To be clear, Barbados does have among the lowest crime rates of all the nearby Caribbean Islands, isolated somewhat from the political unrest in nearby Venezuela and blessed with competent police services.

The wharf in downtown Bridgetown
Instead, what you notice in the city is the energy and bustle during daytime and the quaint Victorian and Georgian architecture, high ventilated gables and wide verandas along the narrow, serpentine streets. But if you look closely there is something missing: litter and graffiti.


Bridgetown and the surrounding areas seem remarkably free of litter, garbage and graffiti. True, there are some spots, here and there. And graffiti pops up now and then. But overall, the streets (and the beaches, for that matter), are remarkably clean.

Litter containers, graffiti-less walls
This is in stark contrast to other tourist destinations where garbage is a common fact of life. New Orleans, for example, following the Mardi Gras festival, is a mess. Even after clean-up, the city has litter everywhere. And as we know from CPTED 1 theory, the image of a place has an impact on perceptions of safety and security.

Bustling streets and downtown shopping

It wasn’t always this way in Bridgetown. Graffiti was rampant and litter and illegal dumping were of major concern. Newspaper editorials carped about the problem and tourism experts warned about its impact.

Anti-litter and clean-up campaigns and community-led groups like the Barbados Guardians have effectively cut litter significantly. Anti-graffiti programs in schools have brought a new public discourse to the issue.

Serpentine streets in Bridgetown
There is no doubt many larger environmental problems remain unresolved like over-filled land waste sites, ocean plastic dumps, and others. But, at least with street litter and graffiti, Bridgetown shows it is possible to marshal public opinion and local commitment, with the help of government, and change the lives of everyday people for the better.

That is, of course, the basic message of SafeGrowth. Bridgetown shows how that is possible with graffiti and litter control.