Sunday, August 18, 2019

Where the green grass grows - Rural crime

by Tarah Hodgkinson

When we think about crime, we tend to think about the city. We think about robberies, gangs and guns and we imagine dark alleys or vacant lots. We don’t tend to associate rural areas with crime. We often romanticize them as idyllic places where life is slower, people know their neighbors and crime is rare.

However, the data does not support these imaginings. In Canada, for example, with only two exceptions, the top 20 highest crime rate communities are all towns or small cities in rural areas.

Imagining crime beyond the city can be difficult. While the overall number of incidents are lower in rural areas, crime rates in rural Canada and Australia are often higher than their urban counterparts. In the U.S., although large urban cities like New Orleans, Atlanta, and Chicago compete for the title of crime capital, the States with the highest crime rates are among the most rural – Alaska, New Mexico and Nevada.


Rural issues are different as well.  The recent research reveals high rates of theft and violence, particularly domestic violence, impaired driving and the use of crystal methamphetamine. In areas of drought, water theft is a major problem.

Rural crime is intimately linked to changes that have affected rural communities such as a reduction in job opportunities, poverty, few opportunities for youth, and a lack of access to mental health and addiction treatment services. Additionally, many rural communities are ethnically homogenous, but rural policies often alienate indigenous populations.

Further, increases in immigration have led to increasing tensions and scapegoating onto these already marginalized groups. This is in spite of the reality that legitimate research on immigration and crime reveals that immigration leads to a decrease - or zero effect - on crime.

Rural crime also poses unique problems for prevention. For example, building local capacity in rural communities is much different than in urban areas. While rural areas account for approximately 17% of the population in North America, developing crime prevention strategies is no easy feat where distances are not walkable, services are difficult to access, and local stakeholders are few.

These problems are exacerbated when most research on the causes and solutions to crime comes from studies in urban areas. It is no small matter that CPTED was a product of large cities and none of the original writers spoke of rural areas.


Rural criminology is a new branch of criminology trying to better understand these issues. There is now a rural criminology division at the American Society of Criminology and a centre for rural criminology at the University of New England in New South Wales, Australia. However, these groups are relatively new and their ideas are still emerging.

Only in recent years have we seen research emerging in the conferences of the International CPTED Association about crime prevention in rural areas.

At this point, there are no easy answers to preventing crime in rural communities. We have seen some success in smaller communities in Canada where SafeGrowth has been adopted wholeheartedly by local leaders, such as in North Battleford, Canada. However, as we gain a better understanding of the rural correlates of crime, we continue to adapt our methods and strategies to these new contexts - what SafeGrowth has always done.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Cop reality shows and the harm they do

NYPD anti-terrorism officers in Times Square
by Gregory Saville

I just watched the latest TV reality cop show. There are now almost 50 such programs on television screens around the developed world, most jumping on the bandwagon of the successful Cops program from 1989 ("what you gonna do when they come for you"?).

To those of us living in the active-shooter-killing-field that is modern America, it’s tempting to see cop reality shows as, well…reality. This is especially so considering the horrific news of 32 innocents fatally shot by domestic white terrorists over the past week in Texas, Ohio and California. Cop reality shows must be real! Right?

But the truth about cop reality shows is quite different and to those working to reduce crime in the long term, they don’t do us any favors. Distortions of the truth are never the truth.

Florida Highway Patrol at a traffic crash - Photo by Tampa Gator, Wiki Commons 

Reality shows have become to television what professional wrestling is to martial arts: entertaining, absurd, filled with predictable characters and laden with inevitable storylines. We all know it’s fake – or at least half-true – but it’s like when you see that copy of some trashy grocery store tabloid: you know Queen Elisabeth did not tell Prince Charles to dance naked holding a cup of tea in the lobby of Buckingham Palace. Yet it’s just gross and gratuitous enough to attract us in a comic-book fake way that we just can’t resist.


The cop version of those reality shows are the silliest. True, they show real people and the tragedies in their lives, but they show us only the worst moments. (To be fair, the higher quality shows state exactly that).

Unfortunately what they don’t state is that we see little of what led up to the events on screen and nothing whatsoever of what will happen afterward.

Toronto Police set up for a public event
They show no dull driving on routine patrol. No waiting for calls. And certainly no paperwork – the common-place drudgery that occupies the real cop’s life and takes up far more time than the TV snippets on screen. In other words, reality shows present far less than the real story of real police work. They show a snapshot.

We don’t even get the before/after story about the officers whom the cameras follow. We know nothing of their life, the emotional impact of those calls on their families, or even what they do after their shift (where many of the real stories unfold). While the stories of the victims and suspects in the show might be an uninvited open book, the behind-the-scenes police stories are too personal and verboten to the producers. It is not that they should be included! It is more that because they are not, the real “reality” is hidden.


But these shows have a much more insidious impact on the crime prevention story.

Reality TV producers say nothing about the long-term crime and safety in the neighborhoods in their programs, because they don’t really care about that. Has life worsened for people in those places? The officers respond, arrest, and patrol and, while the impact of such strategies is clear to criminologists (they don’t work), that evidence isn’t part of their TV reality.

If the evidence was somehow included about the truth of crime in modern-day America (and many other developed countries), it would appear as it actually is - in a steep decline.

U.S, Violent Crime Rates, 1990-2017 - Source FBI

Cops reality shows reveal moments of tragedy and crisis because, frankly, that’s what brings viewers to advertisers.

That’s not reality. It’s commerce.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Gender-neutral washrooms and safety

Gendered public washrooms are not the only option
by Tarah Hodgkinson

Gender-neutral washrooms are popping up all over metropolitan areas, including universities, government buildings, community centers, and trendy cafes. Many of these washrooms existed long before they were labeled “gender-neutral.” They were simply single-use washroom facilities in places that didn’t have room for more than one washroom.

There has been a lot of concern over the last few years regarding gender-neutral washrooms. Are they more dangerous? Are they putting women and children at risk of potential predators? What does the research say and how we can move forward in making safe spaces for everyone?

Single-use washrooms have been around for a long time

We’ve written in this blog before about how bathrooms are a basic human right. However, for many non-binary and trans people, proposed anti-trans laws in the United States make a simple, human action a political and personal minefield.


The research doesn’t support the concerns around safety issues. Gender-neutral washrooms (or even washrooms that allow you to choose based on your self-identified gender) do not make bathrooms unsafe for women or children. Incidents are rare in the first place and have been found to be completely unrelated to legal decisions.

Second, gender-neutral washrooms improve safety for those who identify as trans or non-binary. These individuals suffer much higher rates of intimidation and harassment than the general population and, therefore, creating safe washrooms can improve safety for the trans population while not increasing risks for others.

Third, gender-neutral washrooms benefit more than the non-binary and trans community. These washrooms improve accessibility issues and reduce wait times for women since women spend slightly more time in the bathroom than men.

Everyone needs to pee in safety

Women who attend large events, like a concert or the theatre, are acutely aware of the long lines for women’s washrooms. In fact, some sporting facilities have increased the number of washrooms for men, creating further disparities in access to washrooms for women.

Some might laugh off the problem of women’s washroom lines, but if you are dealing with an invisible disability or you are pregnant, the lack of easily accessible washrooms can lead to some major issues.

The fact is, from all the available research, concerns about safety and gender-neutral washrooms are not based on the empirical evidence. Instead, they appear based on the politics of exclusion! And even with all the available evidence, decisions about safety should not only be based only on research; they should also protect those who are the most marginalized and at-risk in our communities.

Sometimes that means just changing the sign on the door.

Monday, July 22, 2019

"I'm just lonely"

Homeless person sleeping on metal access control bollards on a rainy night
- the public realm can be cold
by Mateja Mihinjac

A couple of weeks ago a North American native man sat next to me while I was enjoying my lunch and observing the busy downtown street that had been pedestrianized during a special event in Saskatoon, Canada. I greeted him and asked how he was doing. This initial interaction led to a conversation I did not expect.

As we started chatting I soon learned he was homeless and unable to get back to his home on a First Nation’s Reserve, so he’s been sleeping in downtown streets. I offered him the rest of my lunch and a soda drink, which he accepted with gratitude.

Then he shared the words that touched my heart: “I’m just lonely.”

He explained that he often walks up and down the street to kill time, trying to get some money and just trying to survive. This day was no exception. He said he’s never seen this many people in this street, usually occupied with motor vehicles. Despite the business of the street, however, he felt lonely because he had no one to talk to. I felt honoured to have had a chance to make a connection with him and offer him what we often fail to show to street people: attention and respect.

It brought to mind two essential steps we have learned in SafeGrowth that underlie meaningful relationships and the ability to establish trust with those most vulnerable.


Years ago, psychologist Abraham Maslow described the importance of human connection and sense of belonging in the famous Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.

As social beings we have an innate need to connect with fellow humans and, in its absence, we crave social contact. Even more, loneliness has been identified as a growing health and social concern that reduces longevity and quality of life.

Loneliness, distrust of strangers, vilifying others
- the social sickness of urban places
Yet, especially in public places, we often ignore opportunities for social bridges or are afraid to establish the connection because we feel too vulnerable, are distrustful of “strangers”, or we fear or stigmatize them. Some people vilify groups or individuals whose lives and choices they poorly understand without offering an opportunity to get to know them.

Establishing a connection with a smile and hello can be a simple initial step to building meaningful relationships. Some think this can be misinterpreted, but in truth, it isn’t difficult to be straightforward and honest.


Meaningful relationships and human connectedness helped us survive in tribal communities and those same values can now help us survive and thrive in neighbourhood communities as well.

Our work in SafeGrowth hinges upon residents and local communities establishing trustful relationships and working together in common purpose - prerequisites for building the social glue for neighborhood problem-solving and change-making.

Summer activities in public spaces - year-round, active social spaces
provide chances for positive connection


Having had a chance to live in different countries and meet people of various backgrounds I have learned to appreciate the importance of establishing connections with strangers. I make the effort to acknowledge, establish eye contact, smile or say hello to anyone I meet, regardless of their background or appearance.

Because of this I have been able to establish meaningful relationships in my personal and professional life, and am very fortunate to do so. I hope I will never have to say those three scary words: “I am lonely”. No one should.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

We the north - Twenty years later

The pedestrian entranceway built at San Romanoway

by Gregory Saville

Some high crime neighborhoods seem to remain that way forever, like a horror film that won’t end. Grandparents in those places share flashbacks with their grandchildren about ‘the old days’ of gangs and guns, while their grandkids still face those same neighborhood profanities decades later!

There is a theory in criminology called ‘deviant places’ that goes something like this: High crime neighborhoods persist for decades regardless who, or what generation, lives there.

Yet the San Romanoway apartments in north Toronto, a place we revisited a few months ago, is living proof the deviant places theory needs rewriting. It should be called the ‘reclaimed places’ theory because, if you know the incredible success at the San Romanoway neighborhood, you’d know that those chanting ‘it will never change’ are wrong.

Locally-led, non-profit, SRRA - two decades of community-building


Read the history of SafeGrowth and you will learn that in 1999, not long after we created 2nd Generation CPTED, Gerard Cleveland and myself were asked to work with an urban design and crime prevention team to review conditions at a high crime apartment complex in the infamous Toronto Jane/Finch corridor. This was the San Romanoway apartments, a story that I published a decade ago, and now consider an embryonic version of SafeGrowth.

Food programs in the community dining hall
Since those early years, plenty has happened at San Romanoway where 4,000 residents live in 3 huge apartment towers. Most significantly, the crime and violence that plagued that troubled community has subsided considerably. It hasn’t vanished – last year they had a homicide. But, as SRRA program manager Cathy McCulloch told us, that was a rare event. In fact, on whole, crime is down and livability is up. It's a far better place than what we found 15 years ago during interviews and surveys. San Romanoway is no longer a horror movie; it’s a coming-of-age film about turning night into day!

Childrens play areas and sports programs are still thriving
Credit goes to the residents and the local organizers who have done all the hard work to transform the neighborhood, especially the non-profit, San Romanoway Revitalization Association (SRRA) – a group that still chases funding dollars but, somehow, keeps many of the programs running. Sadly, it hasn’t kept them all running and it hasn’t been easy! They have faced financial cuts, labor disputes, and defunded programs. As one of Canada's most successful crime prevention and community-building projects ever accomplished, they still don't get nearly the funding they deserve!

SRRA program manager Cathy McCulloch shows off
art by local photographers - a celebration of life at San Romanoway

In spite of it all, somehow, the SRRA persists and residents, along with leaders from the property owners, community leaders, and police, keep disproving the ‘deviant-places-never-change’ theory. As the photos from our site visit illustrate, places can change.

Toronto basketball fans just celebrated the 2019 national championship Toronto Raptors with a “We The North” chant. I’m reserving my chant for the supporters, leaders, and members of the SSRA. You are truly "We The North"! You rock!

San Romanoway community gardens at the start of planting season

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Building new cities – Development for whom?

The Living City - Condos for the future

by Tarah Hodgkinson

Oakridge Centre is an area rezoned for a new development in Vancouver, Canada, the largest in the city’s history. It promises advances in urban design and affordability, with numerous public amenities.

It will be a transit-oriented development with futuristic apartments complete with advanced home technology and custom furniture. It will contain shared spaces in each tower that assure a combination of “private life and common life to be a true community.”

The Centre has been receiving kudos for advancements in design, its focus on transit, mobility and accessibility. Oakridge Centre boasts it will have a mix of market and affordable housing, with 25% of its new housing developments allotted for social and non-market housing.

For a city that has been suffering a housing crisis for several years, this should be a huge improvement.


Sounds great, doesn’t it? In a country where a quarter of all households spend more than 30% of their gross income on shelter and in a city where the average one-bedroom apartment requires a $84,000 yearly income, or about $2,100 a month - the current Vancouver median household income is $65,000 - obviously, there is a desperate need for affordable housing.

A planning development notice - Ever wonder what's behind them?

But what about affordability at Oakridge? How is it defined? The documents on Oakridge Centre do not offer a metric for “affordability.” They rarely offer any measure of cost or percentage of household income. However, to qualify for BC’s Housing Income Limits rates, household income can not exceed $41,500 for a bachelor suite, $48,000 for a one-bedroom, or $58,000 for a two bedroom.

As such, the competition for these units would be extraordinarily high and do little to address the current housing crisis in the city. For those who earn beyond the Housing Limit qualifiers, the market rates are untenable. Condo pricing starts at $800,000 and peaks at $5.5 million.


Assuming a 10% down-payment, the average person would need an income of $105,000 per year for the cheapest condo, over $30,000 more that the median household income in Vancouver in 2015. Considering figures like these, a review of the available material suggests that social housing is not integrated into the development at all.

Social integration is a large contributor to social capital and it helps the poor move out of poverty, but this example seems to pay little more than lip-service to affordable housing and diverse community-building. It caters to luxury clients while offering self-congratulations for exceeding city targets of 20%.

Condo housing and affordability

We have been writing about the housing and homelessness on this blog for several years. Cities and residents cannot continue to accept development that prides itself on offering a percentage of “affordable housing” while the other 75% is considered luxury and completely unaffordable to the average citizen. Affordability is more than just cheap rentals and social housing. It is a human right.

When the median household income is almost less than half of what is necessary to afford the cheapest unit in a new development, no amount of transit-oriented development, public amenities, or brilliant design will prevent financial desperation or homelessness. If Vancouver, and cities like it, want to build futuristic cities, they need to build cities for everyone.