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 built 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.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Smart cities & collective intelligence - Singapore's story

by Mateja Mihinjac

Never did the reality of rapidly changing and technologically advanced cities become more apparent than during my recent visit to Singapore. Coming from a small European town with narrow medieval streets, city squares and few high rises in its city core, arriving in Singapore felt like time travel. Modern architecture, multi-level pathways and an interplay between city design and nature was, in my eyes, a very different and futuristic image of modern cities.


This city of 5.5 million inhabitants was designated a 2015 UNESCO Creative City of Design. It puts great emphasis on its innovation and aesthetic design, and is one of the leading smart cities in the world. Singapore is also one of the safest Asian cities that boasts the highest quality of life in the region.

The Singapore Design Masterplan Committee developed a 2025 design masterplan envisioning a technologically advanced and environmentally sustainable innovative city with opportunities for enjoying all the ample activities that the city has to offer.

However, despite referring to people-centered design, much of Singapore’s infrastructure culminated from top-down planning. The 2025 plan describes how they “actively engaged industry and public sector stakeholders through interviews and focus group discussions”, but ultimately it fails to consider a deeper level of community involvement and how citizens will develop a stronger sense of community, pride, and neighborliness from design innovations.

As we know in SafeGrowth, in many cities this top-down process often results in citizens becoming disconnected from the plans and decisions made by city agencies. That, in turn, affects ownership and sustainability over the long term as we attempt to enhance social cohesion in neighborhoods.

Smart City strategist Boyd Cohen emphasizes this people-centered point in a recent article when he claims: “Cities must move from treating citizens as recipients of services, or even customers, to participants in the co-creation of improved quality of life.”


This people-centered message is well established in neighborhood-based planning. In our SafeGrowth book, my chapter describes neighborhood engagement as an essential part of SafeGrowth planning. The message of the chapter is fundamental; citizens need to become co-creators of their cities.

Fortunately, this is the latest trend in Smart Cities – a shift from a technological and corporate/government planning system toward citizen-driven planning where citizens become co-creators of decisions, solutions and design.

Unfortunately, despite institutional collaboration, Singapore still appears to be driven top-down by the city government and it lacks a coherent citizen component. By comparison, cities such as Vienna, Austria, and Medellin, Columbia are examples showing how equity and social inclusion can play a part in future smart cities.

At the core of citizen-driven smart cities are empowered, smart citizens who collaborate in the development of the city. It is an approach called collective intelligence, and it arises from two ingredients: technology that supports the social and everyday activities of average people; and planning that involves citizens establishing the activities they want in the city they call home.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Hijacked communities & the rule of law

Independence Hall, Philadelphia - the origins of U.S. law
by Gregory Saville

Thinking of the upcoming year and a resolution on how to improve our SafeGrowth work, I recently watched two new films on the brilliant Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, On The Basis of Sex and RBG.

The life of Justice Ginsberg illustrates the very complex role of law and how law influences social causes – for example, protecting one group from the injustice of another, safeguarding civil rights for oppressed minorities or enforcing the rights of women. Important causes.

But, as an adolescent, I didn’t think much about the law. It rarely, if ever, deterred my mischief-making, usually because I didn’t know it existed. As a cop I considered it a blunt tool to do the job. Penalties were out of touch and enforcement was handcuffed by archaic rules.

The Imagine mosaic in Strawberry Fields, NY -
John Lennon fought for justice using peaceful protest and music

As a crime prevention consultant, law seemed an irrelevant part of safer communities. We’ve cut crime in high crime neighborhoods and not used formal law at all. Nada!

Jane Jacobs once said, “the public peace is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves…”

So, if neighborhoods are kept safe by informal rules and voluntary standards, why bother with formal law? What purpose can it possibly serve except to provide over-zealous litigation attorneys fodder for excessive contingency fees and enforcement officials a reason to exist?


We’ve blogged before on how safe neighborhoods emerge from organized groups trained to come up with solutions to problems. As we describe in our new SafeGrowth book, there are few more powerful tools than local leaders of influence working with properly trained and resourced residents and community partners. In fact, that’s the training we provide for neighborhood activation – 1st & 2nd Generation CPTED, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and organizing skills. Residents thrive when they know what to do and how to do it.

Homelessness affects locals and the homeless - local communities
can take up their cause directly 

Yet we have learned over the past few years that neighborhood activation does not always work. In more and more cases, specific causes for local communities (land use gentrification; infrastructure improvements) are derailed into social causes for society at large (social inequity; unfair legal system). This derailing usually takes the form of hijacking by interest groups – powerful developers want one thing. Social activists want another.

To be clear, activists are a great ally for implementing neighborhood safety plans. After all, Jane Jacobs began her career as an activist. But hijacking is a terrible way to build social cohesion.


Hijacking derails conflict resolution and it derails organized plans. I have seen hijackers declare “micro-aggressions” to attack those who disagree with their cause. It’s an effective derailing method. After all, who can defend against specious claims of prejudice or biased intent when another person’s intention is unknown?

Equally, I have seen powerful politicians derail neighborhood safety plans by touting scientific studies on security and CCTV. It happens when police executives defend questionable police tactics, like stop-and-frisk, and cite sketchy research.

Fifty years ago Jane Jacobs took up the local cause of
neighborhood destruction from this NY apartment

Those too are effective derailments. After all, who can argue with “science” if the quality of those studies is unknown by the public or written in obscure statistical jargon that only an encryption expert could decipher?

Hijacking works because residents often have difficulty choosing one social cause over another in order to accomplish the safety they desire. Interestingly, they rarely have difficulty selecting specific local crime problems that demolish their quality of life. That’s why we spend so much time carefully assessing local problems and analyzing specific crimes. That is why community-collected data and collaborative analysis drives the SafeGrowth plan.


Sadly, even those efforts can fail in the face of powerful political derailment. It is at those precise moments - as local efforts falter and special interests hijack local plans for improvement - when we can call on the very same legal principles that apply to large scale social causes and the interests of the powerful. That is because, in an open democracy with rule of law, those same legal principles are also available to the neighborhood. True, they are difficult to muster, especially with expensive legal costs. They may take a long time – courts are painfully slow and inefficient (it took Ginsberg decades to help change laws discriminating against women).

Private security patrolling Honduran streets -
No local influence on safety planning and a breakdown in law

Law represents a procedural method for taking arguments public. It is no guarantee and my lawyer friends insist law should be used only as a last resort. Legal procedure requires removing the issue from local politics and – at least theoretically – from politics at large. The law demands arguments from different sides, with clearly established rules of evidence. It strives, albeit imperfectly, for an objective airing of facts. It is, in many cases, our last line of defense against derailments.

In SafeGrowth we strive to establish a collaborative environment and a civil way to resolve conflict. We train and we organize. In a vast majority of cases, we are successful. But not in every case.

I have always thought the law was a terribly ineffective system of truth or justice. But, when all else fails, the rule of law is probably the best last resort available to us. In Politics, Aristotle claimed, “it is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens”. The life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg shows how true that is.