Sunday, April 26, 2009

Graffiti in Victoria BC - Beauty and the Beast

Victoria, British Columbia
Here's a shocker that shouldn't shock. But it does.

Have you noticed how some of the most beautiful cities in the world suffer from some of the worst graffiti? And have you noticed how waves of ugly graffiti signal undercurrents of social problems throughout a city?

I recently spent time in Victoria, BC...certainly one of the most beautiful smaller urban places anywhere. It has historic architecture, lively street life, interesting districts like Chinatown the Inner Harbour, and a thriving tourist business. Yet in recent years it has been hit with thousands of graffiti tags. I drove from one end of the city to the other and no places were spared.

This was not the political or street art expression you see in some places. It was felt-marker pen scribbles and spray paint vandalizing post boxes, telephone poles, street signs and benches. The city is launching a campaign to tackle it this summer. They have their work cut out for them.


Let's hope their prevention strategies don't obsess on graffiti paint-outs as the sole answer. Paint-outs are a beautification tactic from 1st Generation CPTED and they have a role. But they only go half-way. Kind of like eating cake without the icing. Yuk.

Prevention strategies must also integrate the neighbourhood-building strategies of 2nd Generation CPTED like those we teach in SafeGrowth.

Years ago I recall visiting another beautiful city - Sydney, Australia - where I saw the same kind of blight. It was just prior to the 2000 Olympics and I did media interviews commenting on the profusion of graffiti. I asked what kind of face Sydney was presenting to the world. It did get front page coverage but I doubt it triggered any specific action.

However, there was a significant anti-graffiti clean-up program prior to the Olympics and according to accounts, it made a big difference. I'll be in Sydney this winter and am anxious to see if those efforts were sustained 2nd gen CPTED strategies or whether they faded into a shade of spray paint.


That is where Victoria finds itself today. Each year the Canadian government releases urban crime statistics showing how Victoria is in the Top Ten worst for Canadian cities that size (about 250,000). Victoria's Crime Rates

While it is still a beautiful and magnificent city, like everywhere it has problems. Clearly, graffiti is not the among the most serious.

But graffiti does signal a particular cue about a place. It sends a message. Some graffiti might be artistic expression. But more positive community-designed street murals can do the same thing. For example, check this out see article on Mural programs

Next month the International CPTED Association launches a new service: CPTED Workbooks for Designers and Community Developers. The inaugural issue will be on Tackling Graffiti. Watch for it International CPTED Association website

Also, check out Steven Woolerich's latest Target Crime blog called "Taking it to the Streets". see Steven's Target Crime blog

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Still crazy, after all these years - reversing blight

The Oregon District, Dayton, Ohio - photo Nyttrend, Creative Commons

With all this talk of police reform, it's easy to get sidetracked. Last week during business travel I came across another urban gem - an example of how to do neighbourhoods right. I was working on the SafeGrowth program in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton is an older city in the rust belt. Manufacturing jobs, like a GM plant, have been shutting down and thousands have been laid off. Innovative police chief Richard Biehl is working with his agency and community to expand problem-solving and crime prevention in some troubled neighborhoods. 

 It was during this workshop the participants brought me to a fascinating area called the Oregon District. All the Daytonions I spoke to raved about this trendy neighborhood. And for good reason. The Oregon District is an historic area just outside the main downtown area. It has interesting shops, restaurants and pubs. It is accented by tasteful street designs such as decorative lighting and pavement treatments. 

The residential areas behind the commercial street are among the most desirable in the city. During our safety audit walks we found plenty of TLC from front yard flower pots to artistic renos. The residents to whom I spoke loved living in this area. There is an active neighborhood association. Local folks are working to make it a safe place.

Downtown Dayton - photo Nyttrend, Creative Commons

But the Oregon District wasn't always this way. For those working in troubled areas, it's important to remember all success stories have a beginning. Things don't just happen! Thirty five years ago the street was blighted. Then a local doctor got the idea to invest and turn it around. He was followed by others. 

Essentially they tackled the blight and began purchasing properties in the cities oldest neighborhood. Gradually, the street began to develop. A gazebo in a retrofitted park here. Streetscaping on the commercial block there. Eventually, I was told, the positive energy spread to surrounding residential areas. 


Today residents and shopowners participate in alley sweeps, local festivals, social events, garden tours, and baseball camps. The local neighborhood association tackles issues such as liquor permit saturation - what we call tipping point capacity in SafeGrowth. A theatre company is moving there. 

It has taken three decades, but Dayton's Oregon District is now among the most successful in the city. In so many ways this story echoes the story of Westville in New Haven (see my blog from last month on Westville). A half century later, Jane Jacobs' crazy ideas of vibrant neighborhood life still trickle down the years. see the Oregon District