Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bus shelter madness in New Orleans

I am continually struck dumb by the palpable idiocy of politics and government when dealing with neighborhood crime.

CPTED teaches us territorial control of public spaces by residents is how we begin to reduce crime. Local pride in urban features, like bus shelters, is how residents take their own streets back from drug dealers. Pride comes from local involvement. It doesn’t take CPTED-trained architects and urban designers to figure this out. It is fairly obvious.

But obvious knowledge is not enough to prevent crime and build communities.

Case in point: events this past week in the New Orleans neighborhood of Hollygrove.

A few weeks ago I spent time teaching SafeGrowth in New Orleans, a city still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I saw so many folks dedicated to making things better. They are a dynamic and impressive bunch. Dynamic for the creativity they bring to revitalize blighted streets. Impressive for their dogged persistence fighting the malaise that so often blocks forward movement.

Hollygrove is an area plagued by persistent crime. It is a poor place with deteriorating roads and abandoned houses, many slated for demolition. Yet there is hope and potential. In one place I saw an innovative non-profit garden center with locally grown, organic produce and training programs to teach residents how to grow their own food. In another place residents described how they are attempting to work together to turn a blighted space into a place called home.

Perhaps the most exciting story is a locally-conceived and locally-constructed bus shelter, built in partnership with a national non-profit that brings architecture students together with communities. Over 50 residents participated in the bus shelter project. In fact the shelter was paid through fund-raising by local residents themselves. Imagine – in a place where poverty permeates – residents found non-government funds to build a creative bus shelter on their own. What an excellent example of local territorial control of their own public space and pride in ownership!

What happened?

Initially the regional transit authority approved the Hollygrove bus shelter. Then, at the last moment without public dialogue, they made a decisive policy decision. They reversed their position! Someone apparently believes it is better to install a universally static design for bus shelters throughout the city.


This sounds to me like another example of the no disruption crowd, those uncomfortable with change and who prefer things simpler, cheaper and easier.

Is a universal static design simpler? Since when was simplicity an answer to complex problems such as transportation and crime in a place so vexed? Anyway, the city already has an artification project in other parts of the city where local artists paint bus stops.

Now Hollygrove has done one better! They've created their very own unique (and immensely more interesting) design. Somehow, that message got garbled in the halls of politics.

Is a universal static design easier? Since when was laziness an excuse for not preventing neighborhood crime and not building livable communities? Besides, the design, construction and funding of the Hollygrove bus shelter was finished by the residents themselves.

Cheaper? Is neighborhood safety really all that cheap?

Decisive policy-making? Perhaps so...with all the resolve of which only the deluded are capable.

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

Unknown said...

This is a real shame. It's quality bus shelters and improvements like this that boost ridership and directly benefit the transit authority. This is exactly the kind of thing transit authorities need to be encouraging.

GSaville said...

Yes, I know what you mean Meg. Increased ridership levels is precisely the kind of thing more livable neighborhoods can generate. That was the experience in the Toronto subway system when the safety audits were first developed to increase safety in the 1980s.

It seems some transport authorities have not done their homework. Or perhaps they are too caught up in their own bureaucratic banality?

Either way, the community continues to suffer.