Saturday, November 23, 2019

Too much racket - Noise pollution in the neighborhood

Noise in the city - a major impact on livability
by Tarah Hodgkinson

5:15am – SLAM! CRASH! BANG! That is how I wake up every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning. Three days a week, when the garbage and recycling truck comes to empty the bins below my second-floor window. It’s been three times a week for 5 months now. They start at the ungodly hour of 5:15am. Always waking me up.

The first time I heard it I nearly jumped through the wall. When I first moved into one of the units of the six-story apartment, I was told that the truck came twice a week.

I know I sound like I’m complaining. You might suggest I go back to sleep after they are done (not possible), or that I close my window (I do) or I turn on the AC and blast a fan and wear earplugs (check, check, check). You might say “calm down, you chose to live in the city” (try using public transit outside of a city).

But noise pollution (excessive noise caused by machines, transport and other humans) has a harmful impact on humans and animals. Numerous studies have examined the effect of increased noise levels on health. Noise pollution has been found to affect the nervous and endocrine systems and can cause numerous health issues from anxiety and heart disease.

Most importantly, it disrupts sleep, which can be a catalyst for all of these health issues, as well as low birth weights for pregnant women. Additionally, sleep disruption caused by noise pollution can also reduce focus and harm productivity.


As Mateja and Greg described in their recent blog introducing 3rd Generation CPTED, there is more to neighborhood livability than fear and crime. Noise pollution and its impact on public health is part of 3rd Generation CPTED because of its critical role in creating successful, peaceful neighborhoods.

Busy streets along with noise capturing architecture
can make noise pollution worse
While crime and noise have very different consequences, both fear of crime and noise pollution impact neighborhood livability. If people do not feel comfortable in public areas due to noise, they will not spend time there. It’s difficult to get legitimate “eyes on the street” (1st Generation CPTED calls it natural surveillance) when residents are hostile towards their streets.

Fortunately, communities all over the world are starting to pay attention to noise pollution. New technologies are helping to better discern the impacts of noise pollution, and laws and regulations already in place are beginning to expand.  In fact, organizations like Noise Free, have made it their mission to reduce noise pollution as part of a larger public health mandate.


However, many suggestions for responding to noise pollution are individually focused on encouraging the consumer to buy expensive noise-cancelling headphones, rearranging their furniture in their house or purchase other muffling agents.

Even more extreme, some suggest that people just move. But moving to a quieter neighborhood is not an option for most people, in particular, because noise pollution tends to be worse in poorer neighborhoods.

Not surprisingly, those poor neighborhoods are often where crime and fear flourish and where we end up working to introduce SafeGrowth.

Noise attenuation walls - the typical response
There have to be better local solutions to reduce these risks and protect those most affected.  Planners and developers already use highway barriers to reduce loud traffic, but this is not enough. For example, one solution might be educating policymakers on how to create local noise mitigation legislation, especially the sleep-interrupting version. It might be possible to better notify (and enforce) noise violators, improve tree coverage that can block noise, or create “no horn zones”.

Creating safe and livable neighborhoods isn’t just about reducing crime, its also about ensuring that city designers and decision-makers, and residents themselves, treat all neighborhoods fairly and ensure all forms of health and well-being are part of the 21st Century neighborhood.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Greta, H22 and the time bomb

The climate crisis affects everything - including
crime prevention and city development

by Gregory Saville

Tick tock…the clock is ticking.

I recently watched 16-year old Greta Thunberg glare at global leaders and chastise the United Nations for not doing enough about the Climate Crisis. Record numbers of wildfires burn around the world. Floods, hurricanes, and extreme weather dominate the news. And, says Greta, (and legions of scientists), because of climate deniers, Big Oil, and dallying politicians around the world, time is running out.

Tick tock.

In truth, it isn’t from those living today that the Climate Crisis was born. It was born in the belching factories of the Industrial Age, weaned by a century of exploding (and irresponsible) population growth, and befriended by decades of poor environmental choices. Some of those poor environmental choices emerged in how we built cities – sprawl, acres of parking, carbon eating suburbs.

The result? Tax money spent on sprawl left the inner city vacant, sleepy, and blighted. Downtowns were vacated by shoppers looking for regional malls. The guts of the city were emptied into the box stores of the burbs. Studies about such development show that “living in a city can alter our brain’s architecture, making it more vulnerable to… social stress.”

So not only does pollution and smog harm our lungs and bodies, but
neurophysical research suggests that poor urban living conditions negatively affect our brain biology, particularly the part that affects moods – the amygdala – such as anxiety disorders and mental conditions like schizophrenia.

However, while time runs out and Greta says we aren’t doing enough, it isn't true that we are doing nothing. Some innovations do break through.

Swedish teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg,
after her United Nations and European Union speeches
- photo European Union, Creative Commons


This week I co-presented our SafeGrowth project work from New York at the H22 Summit in Helsingborg, Sweden, a conference on Smart City innovations and how they combat climate change. Delivered with my colleague Ifeoma Ebo from the New York City Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, our message showed how tactics in SafeGrowth and community empowerment in high-density housing can humanize residential towers and reduce victimization. If we are to densify in the future, we must know how to do it well.

The conference was in preparation for the H22 Smart City Exposition in Helsingborg. Smart Cities is a concept to dramatically expand data networks and sensors into city operations and embed information and communication technologies via the IoT (Internet of Things) for more efficient use of resources. The idea is if city officials can interact better with residents and monitor city life, they can more efficiently improve infrastructure and services.

Presenting our SafeGrowth work this week at the H22 Summit
in Helsingborg, Sweden - photo Peter Brinch, H22 Summit

It is, in effect, a technical battle against inefficiency and climate change. In the past, I have been skeptical of some smart technologies in policing and crime prevention that have not seemed so smart. So I was curious how the European smart city movement – particularly this one in Sweden -  differed from what I’ve seen thus far. I was not disappointed.


The earliest battle against the environmental crisis began in the 1960s with the counter-culture warriors, triggered by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring on the insecticides poisoning our water.

Silent Spring uncovered how Chemical Industry pesticides
poisoned agriculture

Those early warriors grew into environmentalists who created, among other things, Smart Growth to confront sprawl and reimagine urban villages that offer more friendly places to live, and transit-oriented developments.

Smart Growth is another front in the climate battle. It’s an urban planning rebellion against ecological waste and carbon waste. For 20 years it has promoted new kinds of planning and zoning to improve the environment and create walkable streets. Sadly, most politicians are still ignorant of Smart Growth and few in the public have the slightest idea how it reduces sprawl thereby cutting pollution and carbon emissions.

In the 1990s I worked with a design team on one of the earliest Smart Growth projects in Vancouver – the Collingwood Village community near the Joyce/VanNess Skytrain Station. Touted today as one of Vancouver’s most successful neighborhoods, the Collingwood story has appeared in this blog. Twenty years later we now see how smart growth/transit-oriented development can last.

Vancouver's Collingwood Village transit-oriented development


In spite of all this, anti-Smart Growth critics hope to turn back the nostalgia clock. They restrict multi-family units, spend billions on expressways, ignore efficient commuter trains, and they fight for low densities. Want proof? Look at the outer suburban rings of Calgary, Toronto, Winnipeg, Phoenix, Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Sydney, Perth, etc.

I should know; I live in one! An unpleasant fact I learned the hard way is that owning or renting an affordable home requires a wide range of housing options and, in most larger cities in the developed world, those options are limited by decades of single-use zoning that encourages lower densities. Without more affordable choices, we are left with housing from existing housing stock - and that means suburbs.

There is much to be done, not the least of which remains convincing the business-as-usual crowd that, frankly, things have changed and time is running out. Greta is right. We must do better. Sooner!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Life in the village - The high-level-needs gap

Future neighbourhoods need adaptive public spaces
that satisfy many needs

By Mateja Mihinjac

I had a fairly happy childhood. The suburban village my parents adopted as a family home offered the necessary amenities - two small grocery stores, a bakery, fresh produce store, kindergarten, primary school and a small library. And they were all within a ten-minute walk. We also had a home garden, we could play on the street and I was surrounded by the green fields and nearby hills that became my beloved recreational spots.

Most importantly, this was a safe neighbourhood.

However, as I grew older, my needs and wants also increased. Village life no longer satisfied my yearning for exploration, learning, working and socialising, and the surroundings and facilities felt outdated and bland. It was as if time in the village had stopped.

A poorly lit underpass and graffitied train station sends a message
to village residents - no one cares about this space!


I later realized it was me who had outgrown the village. It continues to satisfy basic needs, but it hasn’t evolved. It has failed to adapt to the reality that, more than ever, humans strive for more than simply surviving and addressing our biological needs. We have higher-level psychological needs such as feelings of belonging, self-esteem and social connection. We have needs for personal growth and self-fulfilment. Abraham Maslow outlined this in the Theory of Human Motivation nearly 80 years ago.

Moreover, we crave a meaningful existence by being able to contribute to the experience of others. Maslow explained this highest level satisfaction in his later work using the term self-transcendence.

It should therefore not sound unusual or extraordinary for people to expect that their neighbourhood should offer a high quality of life by providing opportunities for realising those high-level needs.

Ample food choices in farmers markets and local stores
should offer healthy choices


This is the message that Greg Saville and I convey in our recently published article Third Generation CPTED.

The main premise of our new theory is that for the highest quality of life, a 21st Century neighbourhood should offer more than minimum services and necessities. Good transport, proper sanitation, a healthy environment, ample food, adequate shelter, and local safety are critical, but not enough. Recreation opportunities and social activities too are necessary, but they still don't reach the highest level of motivational satisfaction. So residents drive away and abandon their neighbourhood to find something they cannot locate nearby.

Applying the Neighbourhood Liveability Hierarchy we propose that residents should be able to strive for more advanced opportunities to satisfy their highest needs, while all the basic and modest provisions exist in every place. Such an advanced neighbourhood planned in a holistic and strategic way will help it evolve to support the needs of its inhabitants.

A neighbourhood livability hierarchy for satisfying human needs


In SafeGrowth we offer the hub concept as an epicentre for such developments under the ownership of neighbourhood residents.

The main premise of the concept is participatory democracy and decision-making potential of the residents who would continually assess and address neighbourhood needs thus help it maintain a high quality of life.

Our SafeGrowth advocate and friend Carlos Gutierrez has recently also offered a view of networked community-driven hubs in the violence-stricken nation of Honduras. His story is remarkable because it showcases how community-driven neighbourhood hubs drive local progress and offer opportunities for high-level needs, which concurrently aim to address violence and promote safety.

It's difficult to predict the shape of future urban design,
but it must include places of refuge, nature and positive social interaction


As our basic needs are met, we must create places that allow us opportunities to grow towards higher-level needs and uncover innovative and exciting ways to satisfy them. If we can’t find those opportunities in our living environment, we will look elsewhere and alienate ourselves from our neighbourhood and its inhabitants in the process.

Unfortunately, so many amenities are concentrated in large downtown centres, or in huge, disconnected retail box stores surrounded by acres of parking, that they restrict the opportunities for satisfying high-level needs in suburban areas like the village of my youth. The suburbs become places that excel in basic services and residential use, but where opportunities for self-actualization and transcendence are rare.

Our neighbourhoods must respond to the needs of 21st Century lifestyles and they need opportunities for their inhabitants to flourish in local life and participate in meaningful neighbourhood decision-making. Perhaps then, as neighbourhood attachment grows, residents will enjoy their neighbourhood not only because it’s their living environment but also because it helps them fulfil their potential.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Violence on the streets of Santiago - Towards social peace during crisis

Troops in Santiago earlier today attempting to quell riots 
Photo Martina Bennewitz Martinez

GUEST BLOG: Macarena Rau Vargas

Macarena is an architect from Chile and the President of the International CPTED Association. She has a Ph.D. in architecture and urbanism and has led urban safety projects all across Latin America and the Carribean. She currently heads PBL Consulting, is an associate consultant with AlterNation LLC, and has led the evolution of 2nd Generation CPTED throughout South America. As a citizen of Chile, Macarena and her fellow citizens have suffered weeks of violent protests on the streets of Santiago. In this guest blog, she has a message for policymakers and citizens alike - a message that resonates in other countries around the world. 

* * *

Rioters are burning factories, 11 people are dead, and over 10,000 police and troops are on the streets attempting to quell violent protests. These are times of social unrest in many countries and Chile is not immune. This very phenomenon was described in the first chapter of the SafeGrowth book: “We now see a resurgence of grassroots social movements calling for change… Do these increasing incidents of social unrest prophesize an impending future shock?”

In Santiago, it all started on October 18 when, as the result of a 4% Metro transit ticket hike, there was a spontaneous explosion of social discontent on the streets of Chile’s capital city. Even though wages in Chile have been slightly increasing and poverty falling, the rates of inequality remain high.

Bus burned by Chilean rioters after transit fare hike
Photo by Jorge Morales Piderit, Wikimedia Commons

At this very moment, it is important to reflect and ask what will lead us to a sustainable social peace both during crisis scenarios like this and in everyday life in Chile and throughout Latin America? Is there a methodology that allows us to realize that social peace?


The first point to establish is that public security is not improvised; rather it is the methodical result of concerted public, private and citizen efforts. And those efforts must be sustained to be able to deal with crises like those we suffer today in Chile, and in other Latin American countries. Creating stable and sustainable public policies is not a simple matter – they must integrate and articulate many parts of community justice and safety: control, prevention, reintegration, and victim care actions.

The second point is that before the public explodes in a burst of social discontent, a government must have the tools and capacity to diagnose socio-environmental pathologies that destroy the quality of public life. It must know how to diagnose, with the help of citizens, the possible threats to public life, whether those threats are internal or external. Governments are not always complicit in the creation of social inequity – it often happens because they are unaware of the full implications of even the simplest social policy – like a fare hike in a transit ticket! Again, this brings us to the need for a methodology to guide us forward.

We know from 20 years of work with both 1st and 2nd Generation Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) that we now have such a  methodology. In Latin America, we call this the CPTED® methodology and it offers a social diagnosis that is co-produced with local communities. A CPTED® methodology diagnosis is not similar to the surveys, polling, or social research that governments too frequently rely on for information (and as we see in Santiago, often with disastrous results). The CPTED® methodology allows the diagnosis to be rich, relevant and up-to-date; it captures the pulse of community members and their real needs.

Santiago protesters take to the streets earlier today
Photo Martina Bennewitz Martínez

Our experience has taught us the more hyper-focused the diagnostics, the better the solutions. For example, we know from international evidence that the proportion of those who trigger violence during peaceful protests (resulting in riots) are a minority – often an organized and concerted minority – compared to the mass of citizens they claim to represent. No doubt social unrest and frustration exist. But few public citizens want to harm people, to burn stores, or destroy property. Few want people killed.

What citizens actually want is a solution to inequity, poverty, and a decent quality of life.

The third point is that public security policies must be in concert with various members of the community, both institutionally and socially; that is why citizen dialogue is fundamental. Dialogue must involve the citizenry, the armed forces, government, universities, civil society organizations, the church, and many others.

Modern, high-tech Santiago skyscrapers frame riot troops
Photo Martina Bennewitz Martínez


Citizenship is the backbone that links both the SafeGrowth planning method recently introduced in North America and the broad style of CPTED® that we have developed in Latin America. Both methods employ citizenship at our core because we recognize its importance in developing public policy. Citizenship and the involvement of the public empowers citizens! That is how we end up with sustainable policies and avoid crucial public policy mistakes.

Likewise, in crisis scenarios as we see today, we must avoid polarizing talk that fractures people apart from a common ground. As the city of Bogotá demonstrated in the 1980s with its "Garrote and Carrot" policies, the balance between hard enforcement control was combined with the comprehensive social actions of the citizenry. This eventually cut the homicide rate in half.

Achieving sustainable social peace for Chile is possible, but it requires methodical changes based on evidence in public policies. This crisis is a call to turn the national helm in another direction. We expect both the government and the citizens of this country to walk in that direction.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Neighborhood Hubs in Honduran Cities

Neighborhood Hub, Barrio San Juan, Honduras.
Open at night for learning and community engagement

GUEST BLOG: Carlos Alfredo Gutiérrez Vera

Carlos is a Chilean architect/urban planner and a SafeGrowth Advocate residing in Honduras. He is a director of the International CPTED Association and one of the initiators of CPTED in Latin America. He has conducted CPTED throughout Central America and is co-author of the first Latin American CPTED manual. He works for a Consortium of three German companies (INBAS-SANIPLAN-SUM) giving Technical Assistance to the Honduran government with the Secretary for Community Development, Water and Sanitation, to implement the CONVIVIR program. 


Freddy is a young man from the municipality of Siguatepeque in Honduras. His greatest passion is to practice bicycle motocross (BMX) on his bike, however he and his friends did not have a place to practice. For Freddy and his friends, this is not only a type of recreation, but it’s also a way to socialize and a way to avoid getting involved with illicit and dangerous activities.

Two years ago, Freddy found out a Community Hub Center was being built that would incorporate a space to practice BMX. The program was CONVIVIR, a social intervention initiative implemented by the Government of Honduras and German International Cooperation through the German Development Bank KfW, in alliance with the municipality of Siguatepeque.

Neighborhood Hub Bike Day in the new BMX track 

CONVIVIR aims to improve living conditions for young people in Honduras living with violence, forced migration, teenage pregnancy, poverty among other problems. The Community Hub Project was called Center for the promotion of Quality of Life in Barrio el Carmen.

Excited by the idea of ​​having a place with a BMX track, Freddy approached the municipality to see how he and other BMX practitioners could contribute. He was surprised to learn that the Hub would be built and managed by the community itself, using the PEC methodology (Projects Executed by the Community). It was an even bigger surprise that he and his friends could participate in the design of the BMX track and work as a team with a group of specialized designers.

In community meetings, Freddy and his friends came to see how CONVIVIR builds violence prevention through the recovery of public spaces, strengthening social and labor skills of young people. It accomplished that through the Center for Quality of Life using strategies like CPTED applied by the community itself.
During the planning process, Freddy was able to meet and interact with other members of the community and participate in actions that would carry out the construction of the project.

It was motivating for Freddy to know that the residents of Barrio San Juan will have access to training programs while promoting coexistence among neighbors. They will achieve a sense of belonging, be linked to democratic processes, and participate in decision-making for projects that benefit the community.

Neighborhood Hubs - also called Quality of Life Centers - host numerous
activities including community meetings


The Quality of Life Center in the San Juan neighborhood was finished in mid-2018. Now Freddy and his friends have a place to practice BMX and have also joined other community projects. They feel integrated into their neighborhood and have begun a process of personal growth through activities carried out on a regular basis.

The CONVIVIR Community Hubs have fulfilled their role as urban centers that promote and strengthen neighborhood construction projects.  In recent years, the CONVIVIR Program has built 10 Community Hubs in three cities in Honduras; five in the city of Siguatepeque, three in the city of Gracias and two in the city of La Lima.

Hubs combine attractive landscaping and multiple activities 


In each city, the Community Hubs work closely with the municipal government, thus creating a synergy between community and local government. Ideas and new community projects are born and then begin to link to other infrastructure projects.

The program has evolved into a neighborhood network linking projects in one Hub with other community infrastructure projects such as sports centers, youth houses, libraries, and urban walks, vocational training centers, and others also built by CONVIVIR.

This linking is now creating a network of interconnected hubs, in effect a practical example of the ecosystem of neighborhood hubs as described in SafeGrowth – and highlighted in chapters 4 and 5 of SafeGrowth: Building Neighborhoods of Safety and Livability.

Monday, October 7, 2019

You just might get what you need

Criminology students working in teams - photo by Shahna Britton

by Tarah Hodgkinson

Once the sole institutions that controlled knowledge, universities must confront the reality that today's internet has made most knowledge accessible to anyone who looks online. And while universities are attempting to adapt to change, they are doing so poorly. Short of making more courses available online, most of the material continues to be something that could be easily found somewhere else and is leaving current and potential students wondering what is the point of going to university at all.

We have written about a better style of teaching in the university classroom in Canada. We spoke about how students, disheartened by their current learning structures, flourished when they were given the opportunity to take control over their own learning and address real-world problems.

Presenting field projects - photo by Shahna Britton


I have since moved to Australia and started teaching at a large university here. If North Americans feel like the university system is decaying, Australia is watching it happen at warp speed. Instructors are not expected to change their courses every semester and are often given courses that someone else created. Most lectures are recorded and available online. Colleagues complain that fewer than 20 students attend lectures, despite over 200 students being enrolled. And a month ago, at the University of Melbourne, Professor Danny Hatters posted a photo of an empty lecture theatre.

It is easy to blame this on students these days. We say things like – “they don’t even realize how lucky they are!” “They are just lazy and addicted to their phones.” But this is not reality. I’ve been teaching at the university level for almost ten years. When I started as a teaching assistant, I was barely older than the students (in some cases they were much older than me). The students aren’t lazy, disinterested or unaware of their privilege. Rather, they realize that the current university system isn’t working.

Final class real-life projects for real-life grades
- photo by Shahna Britton

This year, I had the opportunity to take over a third-year capstone course. My students were expected to take all of the learning they had gained over the past three years (assuming they showed up), apply it to a crime problem and then address neighbourhood safety.

The course was one of the few designed with problem-based learning principles in mind. The students were grouped by where they lived and spent twelve weeks addressing a problem in their neighbourhoods. At the end, they had created incredible prototypes that they presented to industry partners and faculty. Many of these presentations led to connections to applying their ideas more broadly.

Different times demand that universities adapt


More importantly, they learned the soft skills they need to work in the future. They were provided with tools to support teamwork, presentation skills, and emotional intelligence. They practiced these by managing a project with four other people over twelve weeks.

These skills are becoming ever more necessary in both the working world and in creating meaningful change in neighbourhoods, just as we teach in our professional SafeGrowth training. Emotional intelligence and teamwork skills are core to creating citizens of future neighbourhoods.  These skills are what students need to be learning more than anything else.

Many instructors and programs are hesitant to include teamwork courses because students complain. And yes, the students did complain! But they also showed up EVERY WEEK. University is no longer about translating knowledge. It is about training students to be active and engaged citizens with emotional intelligence and teamwork skills to make meaningful change.

Students won’t always get what they want in the universities of the future, but if we pay attention to teamwork, real-life learning, and life skills, they just might get what they need.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Meeting in Mexico

by Gregory Saville

A few weeks ago we ran our SafeGrowth Summit just before the annual International CPTED Association conference. Both events were held at a sunny beach resort in beautiful Cancun, Mexico, and they were a study in contrasts.

The SafeGrowth Summit included an intimate group of a dozen SafeGrowth Advocates who ran informal workshops in person (and online) while the ICA conference featured over 500 delegates in formal presentations. Yet both events brought people from around the world and both were smashing successes.


This was the 6th SafeGrowth Summit comprising small, brainstorming sessions where those of us in the SafeGrowth network share successes and failures and also develop new strategies to move the concept forward. We reflected on project work this past year and examined the politics of change. We saw architectural renderings of neighborhood hubs designed by one of our Latin American members and we learned the results of a recent beta-test of our new GPS digitized field observation software.

There were inspiring accounts of the Philadelphia Livability Academies now underway and we discussed a new methodology to track our success after neighborhood projects. We talked, discussed, ate, swam, planned and, best of all, laughed.

The 2019 venue offered sunsets and great facilities


The ICA conference followed immediately after at the same venue and produced the largest audience in ICA history. Over 500 delegates came to share successes and failures, but they focused their work on different versions of crime prevention through environmental design. While SafeGrowth uses both 1st and 2nd Generation CPTED, it does this through the lens of planning safer neighborhoods, community development, and social capacity-building.

The ICA conference featured the first-ever, commercial Expo, as well as case studies from cities around the world. Many of our SafeGrowth Advocates delivered presentations at the ICA conference. Best of all, two of our SafeGrowth Advocates, Mateja Mihinjac and Carlos Gutiérrez, won international achievement awards from the ICA.

Congratulations to all for great work to make neighborhood lives safer and more vibrant.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Tracking fear - measuring safety perceptions in Saskatoon

Saskatoon river trail at night
by Mateja Mihinjac

This summer, I led a team of eight city planners and set out to explore how the physical and social environment in downtown Saskatoon, Canada influences perceptions of personal safety. This was the first-ever micro-level, fear and safety project to use a specially tailored, digitized software app to map and analyse downtown safety in Canada. This is something geographers of crime and environmental psychologists have been studying for decades, but often without the precise measurements that we were about to uncover.


Perceptions of safety have been understudied in the field of criminology despite knowing that they may affect people’s use of the public realm more than actual crime. Moreover, from Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design - CPTED - we know that features on the streets, parks, and neighborhoods where we live may promote or reduce fear in that environment. Yet, we rarely measure this association.

Downtown Saskatoon street research locations
As a criminologist specializing in SafeGrowth and CPTED, the City of Saskatoon planning department hired me for the summer of 2019 to develop and pilot this downtown project.

The first step included the development of the field data collection survey, a modified version of the Neighbourhood Safety Audit that incorporates the principles of CPTED. The survey was then digitized in a GPS location-based data collection app called Fulcrum, that allowed us to capture and record data with our mobile devices for use in subsequent analysis.


We formed two research teams of four participants from the Saskatoon Planning & Development Division. Each participant had undergone CPTED/SafeGrowth training and was knowledgeable about urban design and safety. Teams collected night and daytime data within the downtown area over 13 days.

Daytime audits were combined with evening audits of the same locations
Because we were interested in perceptions and fear at a very micro-level, the study area was confined to the blocks and laneways within a four block area. We used our new app to collect information from 108 micro-spatial locations within a radius of 30 meters (100 feet) of each location, and then we also collected 596 additional intercept surveys with members of the public on the street at the time.

Detailed fieldwork like this is laborious and time consuming, but teams were diligent and we were able to gain invaluable insights, in some cases uncovering findings about fear that were previously unknown.

Fear and safety perception maps can be correlated with actual crime maps


What did we learn?

  1. The social environment influenced perceptions much more than the physical environment. Respondents often couldn’t point to particular land use or design features impacting their perception of safety, but they were able to note people who increased their comfort levels, such as local employees, shoppers, and people running errands. Erratic and unpredictable behaviour on the street increased their anxieties. 
  2. Lack of activity in particular blocks due to underactive land uses impacted perceptions of safety, such as the 29 vacant storefronts in our study area. These vacant properties both lessened street activity and reduced “eyes on the street”.
  3. Interestingly, the respondents’ night-time perceptions did not appear as negative as we expected. Some parts were so inactive at night that we obtained very few interview responses. While CPTED surveys conducted by one team concluded these underactive areas were anxiety-provoking, when late-night social events and festivals activated the area, it positively influenced the perceptions in our surveys with the public. 
  4. Both the public participants and the CPTED team appeared reassured by the uniformed presence of community patrol officers in the Community Support Program. They particularly praised the Program for contributing to increased feelings of downtown safety. Many asked for expanding the program. 

One of the city planner audit teams during night field work

In our SafeGrowth training we often say: Once you learn CPTED you’ll never again look at the environment the same way. However, CPTED novices often forget that the environment encompasses both physical and social. This research provides evidence about the interplay between the physical and social environments on public perceptions. Clearly, physical and social CPTED strategies are equally important and must be part of all planning and prevention.