Monday, August 31, 2009

Color Your World

Steven Woolrich is an Alberta CPTED consultant and member of the International CPTED Association. He has worked in a wide-range of roles during the past 25 years including policing, corrections and security as well as practicum work with NYPD. He currently authors the Target Crime blog linked on LIKEMINDED.

An old 1972 classic song titled “Concrete Sea” by Terry Jacks got me thinking about how important color really is in our communities. Jack’s sings “No one is meant to be living here in a concrete sea”. If you look around many cities you will understand where his thoughts came from. This is especially true in many urban downtown areas of our cities, but this is starting to change and that’s encouraging.

City Hall Park in Red Deer, Alberta is a prime example and a popular gathering place throughout the summer months. Think about how you feel and act when you see color and you will appreciate how important it can be in various settings.

As crime prevention practitioners, urban designers, architects and anyone dealing with the built environment, learn to utilize more color. Colorful landscaping arrangements in our green spaces, textured pathways that incorporate color, and murals are only a few great examples of how we can use color to brighten up our lives.

Color psychology as it is often referred to is another valuable tool we can use to help reduce crime and improve quality of life. Color evokes many memories and mental associations that can drastically alter how we feel. The various hues can produce the power to recall sounds, smells, textures and other sensations that can comfort, calm, or intimidate. It’s difficult to predict with any certainty how someone may react to a specific color but there are some basic guidelines that can help us as professionals.

Choosing proper colors can help us create moods that are more “positive” and therefore support safer environments to live, work and play. Red for example, is considered one of the boldest colors because it demands our visual attention. However, where this color is used could be very important as it is associated with rage, confrontation, blood, aggression and ferocity. Obviously red is not a good color choice for prisons or hospitals. Orange, my favorite color tends to make people feel rushed, or in a hurry. People tend to feel that blue is clean, crisp and airy like a cloudless sky. Blue is a color for relaxation, it lowers the heart, pulse and breathing rates and has a cooling effect.

According to Carol Ritberger I’m considered a “green” personality. She points out that “Greens live in a world of hopes, dreams, and emotions where the intangibles of life are the most important. Their rich imaginations thrive when using their creative abilities – their minds work quickly, bouncing from one thought to another. Greens think in metaphors and analogies, painting vivid pictures in their minds; greens see life from a holistic perspective that allows them to see the complete picture. They love creating ideas and exploring possibilities”. As a Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) consultant I found this interesting.

Ritberger, points our that Greens “focus on what things could be rather than what they are or intended to be. Greens also rely on their hunches and insight to get a real feel for what is happening”. Most encouraging was that Greens along with many CPTED practitioners are “driven by idealism and the belief that their purpose in life is to make the world a different and better place. They feel they must influence the quality of life for others”, according to Ritberger. This takes the whole idea of going green to a new level.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Streetlights: The recession's latest victim

A number of these blogs have covered safety and street lighting. Recently a friend sent me this newsclip: USA Today

It turns out municipalities are trying to save money by turning out streetlights! Will it cause crime to spike at nite? Will more folks be victimized walking home at night under a dark and gloomy sky?


The lighting research I've read is sketchy at best. It doesn't shed much light on the issue. Some research suggests lighting does impact downtown city crime. Lighting does correlate with higher fears of walking outside at night.

We should keep an eye on cities cutting lighting. Let's hope they are also cutting crime in the process.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The playful landscape

Book cover "The Creative City"

Too often we get caught up in the control of urban space to control crime. We target harden our stuff. We build our defensible space. We fort-up with gated communities.

At times it seems we have gone mad!

Awhile back I met Charles Laudry, author of The Creative City, during a project to rehab a downtown city park from druggies. During field walk-a-bouts I heard the same old solutions – defend, harden, and fort-up. I was reminded of Wendy Sarkissian’s line that we so often exclude "the other".

Truth is, lots of visitors to this park were not druggies. They were homeless and down-and-out, many of whom wanted druggies no more than anyone else. They were also students, shoppers, office workers, and tourists. My fear I believe Charles shared was that forting-up might exclude the very mix of people that makes places worthwhile.

Charles’ approach is different. He is all about making places creative and fun. His creative city shows how we need to tap into the urban creativity and imagination of residents themselves when building places. Consider, for example, the work of Richard Florida.

How does an urban place become creative? The City Repair program is one example. Another is signage. Here are photos emailed to me recently of some public toilet signs. It seems Charles is right. Whenever possible, funning-up is far more interesting than forting-up.

Which way to the restroom?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Preventing crime with self interest?

Rational Choice and CPTED

Practitioners of CPTED rarely talk about the theories beneath their prevention method. Yet theories matter, especially Rational Choice Theory which some describe as the foundation for CPTED. I recently read a New York Times article about how self-interest isn't everything. It reminded me of Rational Choice Theory.

I like the idea that self-interest and personal choice matter when it comes to crime. Yet I do not believe rational choice is the primary way to sustain safer communities. It might help us prevent opportunity crimes like joyriding and burglary with CPTED and situational prevention. After all, better lighting can deter burglars. Locked garages can deter car thieves.

But it takes Herculean effort to stretch rational choice to explain wife battering, racially motivated assaults, or heat-of-the-moment violence. For those crimes we must look elsewhere for answers. Rational choice, and 1st Generation CPTED, has limits.

Why should we care? Why can't we prevent crime with rational choice and self-interest and leave it at that?

In the NY Times Robert Frank says "traditional economic models assume that people are self-interested in the narrow sense." We reap rewards in order to motivate actions. The choices we make are rational in the sense that there is something to gain and we weigh the benefits. Everyone has the right to choose their own future, so the idea goes.

But, Frank points out, there are a few snags.

First, the "right" to a free choice is quite a different matter than self-interest. Rights are legal creations. Self-interest is slave to a much deeper, psychological master. We may all have the right to choose but whether we do so is a matter of everyday real life.

Then there is the sticky problem of actual versus expected consequences. All actions end up in some consequence and people will find self-interest in the most innocuous ways. Consider the panhandler. Choice 1: Give the panhandler coin to stop pestering. But that has a short lifespan and it will not solve root problems like substance abuse and mental illness. Choice 2: Withhold coin believing the panhandler will seek alternatives for more reputable income. But that might involve getting robbed by one of those alternatives – that’s clearly not in your self-interest.

Self-interest believers claim weighing the benefits between #1 and #2 is how we make rational choices. Unfortunately, as with panhandling, we can never know all the facts to make an informed choice. We must select within limits. When that happens, self-interest can get “bounded” by so many limits it becomes irrelevant. (Indeed bounded rationality is in vogue with game theorists),

The fact is, people do things for motives beyond self-interest. Some volunteer in community affairs for little reward. Are altruistic feelings their reward? To make sense of rational choice in crime you must look outside criminology.

Shifting self interest

A good place to look is the work of Gary Becker, who won the 1992 Nobel Prize for upgrading rational choice theory and Albert Hirschman's 1982 book Shifting Involvements. Both claim self-interest is important, but it waxes and wanes. As people get what they want - such as higher standards of consumption - they discover they must work harder to maintain those standards. This creates a cycle of more stuff with higher standards. The cycle continues, increasing stress and decreasing satisfaction. At some point, says Hirschman, there is a tipping point when people become disenchanted with their self-interest motives.

These tipping points create periods of altruistic behavior, volunteerism and social involvement. Some people shift away from self-interest behavior, even if for a short time. Self-interest, it turns out, is perishable with the right conditions.

When do social tipping points occur? Remember the political chaos of the Cold War and President Kennedy's maxim "think not what your country can do for you"? It happened then! Today we face economic chaos - a world-wide recession, millions of layoffs, declining stocks, and failed businesses!

What we need today in troubled neighborhoods isn’t an understanding of how we reduce self-interest, as helpful that might be in the short haul. What we need is an understanding of how to renew interest in civic affairs to get troubled neighborhoods activated over the long haul.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Community Activators in Montreal

Hiring graffiti artists?

Timely news from Montreal. Just as I blog about graffiti problems and solutions in recent months, a success story emerges in MacLean's, Canada's national magazine.

Prevention NDG is a community organization in Montreal working to prevent crime, especially graffiti. While tackling tagging, they have struck a balance between paint-outs, murals, and education. Among other strategies, they also hire graffiti artists to paint murals to deter graffiti tags. Taggers will seldom, if ever, tag a mural. The Montreal Gazette article (and photo above) says it all.

Says one of the community workers at NDG: We also believe that it takes a multi-pronged approach to deal with this issue: removal, sensitization and prevention. We try to sensitize citizens on the importance of cleaning it quickly themselves (if they are able), however many home and apartment owners feel that it is the City's responsibility.

And therein lies the crux of the problem. Getting local folks to take responsibility. Getting them to shake off their dependency habits. Depending on someone else to solve their own problem.

That is why the work of community organizers like Wendy Sarkissian (scroll down), Jim Rough, and Mark Lakeman is so important. They are the activators. Activators of neighbor action. Activators of local ownership.

The activators, their skill-set, and their toolbox! That's where we must begin.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Beyond "stranger danger"

Wendy Sarkissian. World-renowned social planner and innovator. Wendy's consulting career spans over 30 years and ranges from developers’ boardrooms to low-income housing projects. Her work includes collaborative approaches in community engagement, housing design, public open space, designing for children, older people and people with disability, earning her over forty professional awards. She is Adjunct Professor at Bond University, Adjunct Associate Professor at Curtin University in Australia and a Life Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia. Wendy's most recent books include: Speak Out: Step by Step Guide to SpeakOuts and Community Workshops (2010), Creative Community Planning (2010) and Kitchen Table Sustainability: Practical Recipes for Community Engagement with Sustainability (2009). 

I’ve been working in a neighbouring community for the past few weeks and have marvelled at how privileged I am to live in a vibrant place with a great sense of community. Because when there is no sense of community or one that is shot through with stigma, prejudice and sexism, it’s very dispiriting. It’s dispiriting even to hear people talking about their community.

A few days ago I was speaking to some local women in that community. We had never met though they were all friends and colleagues. Within half an hour of talking about life in their community, three of the eight women were in tears. They told stories that chilled my blood; that made me shake with anger: of men in the local pub (even the publican) showing photos of local teenage girls having sex. Sharing images on their Blackberries in the pub. Men with daughters just their age.

They told stories of a good police woman and others unable to assist in domestic violence situations. No safe houses or refuges. Women sleeping under the bridge. Deep-seated racism and sexism, as well as a deep local antipathy to newcomers. Stories of government indifference to the needs of women, isolated rural folk and older people. It was truly appalling.

In my community engagement work, I often speak about social capital and the need for community capacity building. I can learn a lot without leaving home. In my own community of Nimbin (population 330), we have social capital by the truckload. And what’s important is that it’s not just relationships with family and familiars that count. Its wide-ranging networks of activism, green politics, Left and anarchist politics, feminists, ecologists, Permaculturists, hippies, communitarians, cannabis law reformers, peace activities, activists of all descriptions... We are many communities, not simply our tiny geographical one.

Preparing to go to dinner to celebrate the birth of a new book, I put on my track pants and ugg boots [women's sheepskin boots]. I find an old, almost threadbare but still warm shawl. No need to dress for dinner in the winter in Nimbin. (One day last winter, deep into my writing, I headed to the local café in the morning for a good coffee. An hour into the newspapers and a second cup, I looked own to discover that I was wearing my bedroom slippers! Nobody noticed or cared.)

Acceptance of difference is essential to community capacity and community safety. I believe that when we shun strangers and emphasise “stranger danger” policies, we make people “other”. The women I spoke with felt that they were "other" in their own community. There was another, dominant, culture operating in their community and they were not part of it.

But, I reminded them, “We hold up half the sky.”

Not that sky, apparently.

There are many ways of being different. For community safety to flourish, we need to embrace all of those ways. Sometimes a small backwoods community – like mine – can offer some suggestions.

But then there are the security cameras in Nimbin, which the merchants love. They begged for them

And that’s another story...

Wendy's forthcoming book SpeakOut describes techniques directly relevant to the SafeGrowth model.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Radical Common Sense

Seeing things a new way

This week I chatted with my very dedicated Houston SafeGrowth folk working on their projects. They were looking for crime stats and maps. Nowadays such things are online in most cities. In Houston the police stats and local media crime trackers are both freely available.

Information gathering is frequently overlooked while developing solutions to crime. I cringe when I see unsupported assumptions guiding actions. So with their risk assessment underway, the Houston SafeGrowthers are doing an excellent job of getting their stories just right.

Interestingly, over the years I've learned that, by itself, information gathering is insufficient, a possible flaw in the fashionable evidence-based prevention and policing programs.

Part of the problem is what Toffler calls obsoledge – obsolete knowledge. Knowledge is always changing, especially knowledge about safety and our ideas on how to improve it. As we gain a fact, it is already obsolete and incomplete. As any crime analyst will tell you, nowhere is this truer than in crime stats. Over the years I have seen many evidence-based strategies create an echo chamber of misinformation.

Crime data isn't enough

While evidence is important, the problem is our belief in common sense and how we use that evidence to lead others to solutions. Leadership being the operative word.

We use the term “common sense” believing it a practical way to think about getting things done. But beneath common sense are a bunch of assumptions leading to contrived solutions that don’t get things done. Solutions like solving crime with incarceration, more cops, or cameras. I wrote about Zimring’s book Crime Decline and Waller’s book Less Law, More Order to tackle some of that misinformation.

Perhaps a better way to proceed is to use Radical Common Sense.

Futurist Marilyn Ferguson says Radical Common Sense is accepting we cannot solve our deepest problems through traditional ways or wishful thinking. We must learn the lessons of modern biology; a natural world that works more through altruism and cooperation (live and let live) than by competition (every man for himself). It means we accept the criminal justice system for the adversarial, blunt tool that it is and instead see our future in cooperating, sharing best practices, and accepting that our fate is tied to that of others.

Radical Common Sense is leadership based on our ability to teach others, ourselves and our ability to change accordingly. Who does Radical Common Sense in our line of work?

My recent favorites include Jim Rough and his wisdom councils and Mark Lakeman and his city repair movement. Each have questioned basic assumptions and learned to change their view. They identify the consequences of their solutions from many different sides, but they do their reasoning in collaboration with those in the community, not only from a lab, ivy hall, or computer screen.

Radical Common Sense ideas can be simple and beautiful

Here's the thing; What characterizes these Radical Common Sensers is how they minimize their time in regret or complaint. As Ferguson says, every event is a lesson to them and every person a teacher. That, of course, is the classic definition of a grassroots, community leader. It's also how we create successful SafeGrowth practice and safer neighborhoods.

The not-so-hidden agenda is the conviction that leadership must become a grassroots phenomenon if our societies are to thrive. If that strikes you as unlikely, consider first of all that nothing else is likely to work. And secondly, be aware that people already secretly suspect that they are capable of taking charge. [Ferguson, 2005, Aquarius Now: Radical Common Sense].

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Graffiti - artist or anarchist

Philadelphia mural project

My life the past week has been spent editing the newest product of the International CPTED Association (ICA). It's the first of a series in Designer's Guidebooks and the first issue is on the subject of graffiti and how we can deal with it.

While reading this excellent document I was struck by the many types of graffiti and the many kinds of people and motives who create them. Some are vandals, artists, gang-bangers, activists, and some just rebellious youth.

I was also struck by how many of those tackling the problem often have no idea which is which. And as with all safety and prevention, if we don't know what's behind a problem it is difficult to solve it. We might slow or displace it with temporary fixes. But if we want a sustainable solution, we must understand it. That's what the ICA Designer Guidebooks are all about.

It's not the first time graffiti has been featured by the ICA. Last fall an issue of the CPTED Perspective newsletter also dealt with the topic, specifically on how murals can turn a space into a place. I also wrote a blog entry on graffiti problems in Victoria. Then there is the story about City Repair a few blogs ago, a kind of murals-on-steroids in Portland.

Some cities, like Toronto and Philadelphia, have great programs for tackling graffiti. For example, check out the Time Magazine photo story on the Philadelphia project. Also check out a You Tube of Toronto's Amnesty International Urban Canvass project.

Watch for the launch of the new Designer's Guidebook on the ICA website.

PS: Houston SafeGrowth students - don't forget to click Risk Assessment Descriptions under the Toolkit for the July 31 assignment!

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