Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Arcosanti - Our future?

Arcosanti - arcologies are Paulo Solare's model for a new style of city - photo Arcosanti
This week we end the first decade of the 21st Century. What does our future hold for safe and vital urban places?

This time of year prognosticators creep out from under crystal balls and offer us variations on Mad Max, Bladerunner, or a United Federation of Planets. Rarely do we get practical, real-life models on what that future might look like in our cities.

Not so for architect Paulo Solari and his urban laboratory called Arcosanti. This week I re-visited this futuristic arcology in the Arizona desert.

Arcologies show up in popular fiction such as William Gibson's Zero Count, and Niven and Pournelle's Oath of Fealty.

It's where the future noir sci-fi film Bladerunner took inspiration for the Tyrell megacorporation HQ (now a popular staple in cyberpunk literature).

Arcosanti is the first-ever model of an arcology. Real-life versions are now planned near Abu Dhabi (Masdar City) and near Shanghai (Dongtan - halted during the recession).

Touring the real arcology is much more modest than the visions

Arcosanti was the first - an urban laboratory for creating lean alternatives to sprawl. Arcologies are future cities that fuse architecture and ecology. While 60 percent of land in today's city is for cars, roads, and auto services, a similar sized archeology eliminates the car entirely within the city. Since arcological land development grows 3-D (upwards as well as outwards) no place is farther than a half mile from the natural environment - rivers, lakes, trails, agricultural fields, forests. That is, no farther for all city dwellers, not just the privileged few.

When I went to criminology grad school I learned nothing about futures like this. There was plenty of abstract theorizing in windowless rooms. But few of the theorizers had the foggiest about crime in such future places. Classes were blind to the crime potential in the future.

I originally traveled to Arcosanti 18 years ago and took a course in arcological design. I learned how it was possible to place living, working and public spaces within easy walking distance. I asked Paulo Solari what he thought about crime and prevention in such a place. He told me the future residents would need to create their own methods - he was the piano maker, not the piano player.

Lunch at Arcosanti

At the time that seemed reasonable. Architects cannot account for every social eventuality. Still, as we know in CPTED, criminologists, planners, and architects were sound asleep in the 1950s when modernism led to public housing like the crime infested Pruitt-Igoe project in St. Louis and the San Romanoway apartments in Toronto.

Clearly we must tread carefully.

While futuristic thinking may be difficult - and futuristic modeling rare - we owe much to visionaries like Paulo Solari for helping us to think ahead in a bold, new way.

If you want to learn more about arcology as planning for the future, read Arcosanti: An Urban Laboratory.

And...Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"I dare" - an antidote to the naysayers

Autobiography of Kiran Bedi

As we saw in my recent blogs of New York's Comstat program, police leadership can make a difference in community safety. But what does excellent leadership look like? How about the fIrst female police officer, and police chief, in India - Kiran Bedi! Watch Kiran in her presentation this month. See it HERE.

Naysayers whine: "Look what happened to her, she didn't last!" Didn't last? For decades she worked on the streets and in the police organization to make things better. How much more can we ask?

Naysayers complain: "But she didn't change Indian society! What is different?" Change India? Even Mahatma Gandhi didn't do that. But he, and she, have made a huge difference.

Naysayers criticize: "The statistics from her prison reforms didn't get better under her rule!" It's important to remember statistics are not always used in the service of honesty.

What is the truth about the first woman police officer in India? Who is this leader? What can she teach us about policing, crime prevention, and being a decent human being?

Always the naysayers. It's easy to listen to their lullaby of cynicism. It's easy to miss the point.

Don't be fooled. Find out for yourself.

Helen Mirren narrated a documentary film about this remarkable woman. See a trailer HERE.

Her autobiography is online HERE.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunset on the Arabian peninsula

The world's largest dancing water fountain

Getting people to use public spaces seems like a lost art. There are many ways to create intriguing public spaces. Water is among the best tool. A family member recently sent me a YouTube of the Dubai fountain, the world's largest.

Musical fountains with dancing waters have been around for many years. The most famous stateside is probably the Bellagio Hotel fountain in Las Vegas, made famous by the film Ocean's Eleven.

Not to be outdone, last year the city of Dubai opened the world's biggest fountain with dancing waters. Copying some of the Bellagio's musical themes, the Dubai fountain shoots water 50 storeys high and uses over 6,000 lights.

It is beautiful to watch. See it below.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Untapping kinetic energy - civic potential under the surface

The SPARC Philosophy - Alexandria, LA

When it comes to community development, it's easy to miss the latent capacity under the surface. I call it social kinetic energy and it's visible only for those who look carefully. Or for those special leaders who make it work. I met one this week.

Case in point: Alexandria, Louisiana.

As with many cities, this community has some terrific areas and wonderful downtown architecture. It also has some not-so-terrific challenges. Between those two polarities are anomalies that often arise in the public realm.

A beautiful streetscaped downtown, but no pedestrians

A street sign meant to protect pedestrians, but blocking the sidewalk forcing them onto the street

It's weird what we do in urban places.


After my photo tour of surface issues, I attended Alexandria's SPARC planning and safety summit. There I saw fascinating speakers on thoughtful planning. Later I ran a SafeGrowth session and met engaged, committed participants from the community, city hall, police, and others.

Then I met one of those rare leaders committed to making that kinetic energy work - re-elected Mayor Jaques Roy. He absolutely got what SafeGrowth can mean in his community. He is also just the quality of civic leader to muster the community energy to make it happen.

Watch some clips on YouTube.

This is how positive change happens. We need more civic leaders like Mayor Roy!

Friday, December 3, 2010

New chairs at the Comstat table

The headlines proclaim victory. Are they right?

Last blog I talked about what caused dips in NY crime. There is no doubt something remarkable began in New York during the 1990s. It coincided with a wholesale reform in the New York Police Department. There is doubt whether those reforms caused the crime declines.

In NYPD Battles Crime, Eli Silverman says it was those reforms that did the job. Conversely, in The Great American Crime Decline Franklin Zimring suggests demographics and other factors probably triggered most, but not all, of New York's (and the entire country's) declines.

Most, but not all? He tantalizes us by adding that NYPD's reforms may have accounted for up to 35% of their decline. If that's the case he says, "it would be by far the biggest crime prevention achievement in the recorded history of policing."

There were many parts to those reforms, for example the broken windows theory (which I argue is less a theory and more a group of descriptive symbols). The most famous of those reforms was called Comstat (sometimes called Compstat).

Crime maps are the cornerstone of comstat

Comstat is short for comparison statistics, Comstat uses current crime statistics and maps to hold mid-level supervisors accountable for cutting crime. They do this in regular (sometimes heated) meetings at the Comstat table with the Chief as inquisitor. As my last blog suggests, senior officers often hate being hauled on the Comstat carpet for crime increases.

Today, some police executives have adopted it, such as in New Orleans, while others doubt that it works. Baltimore police suspended it at one point.

Advocates war with critics and journalists eat it up. This is especially the case in recent scandals.

I think sitting at the Comstat table did bring the neighborhood crime pulse to mid-level commanders in a new way. Accountability for crime is not a bad table to sit at even though it is a lopsided table with missing chairs. Why lopsided? Because cops can't do it all.

Police can tackle crime as it happens, catch bad guys on a crime spree, or stem a flow of drugs and gun shootings. Comstat helps them do that better. It's an overdue step forward. Sadly, as with all progress, one step forward can become two steps backwards.


As Silverman describes, as time went on cops resorted too often on heavy use of force, alienating some of the community. Surveys showed a downturn in public confidence. About the future of Comstat and the leadership reforms Silverman asks: "Can the center hold?"

That's the wrong question. The police are not the center - the community is! Police are untrained to tackle the roots of crime, the social, economic and psychological causes. The comstat table needs chairs for those more able to tackle those roots: non-profits, business associations, faith groups, and community development organizations. Consider the importance of schools, social services, housing, cultural activities, transportation, and investors.

It won't be easy to sit at the same table. Not all crime data and discussions are appropriate in public. Neighborhoods are not always representative or properly organized. For their part police are accustomed to re-acting, not pro-acting. After all, comstat crimes are always after-the-fact (otherwise they wouldn't show up on a crime map). And the Intelligence-Led Policing folk might think of the new chairs as eyes and ears for cops rather than smarter brains for everyone.

Still, because the discussion is difficult doesn't excuse others from the table especially given what's at stake - creating opportunities to develop communities and combine the roots with the branches of the crime tree.

The incoming New Orleans police chief has taken a small step forward by inviting community representatives to observe his comstat meetings.

Geller and Belsky's new book provides a more thorough path to tread

Bill Geller and Lisa Belsky's new book Building Our Way Out of Crime shows what the next step might look like.

Ultimately, when it comes to tackling crime, holding the center is easier when it is more thoroughly and legitimately shared with resourceful hands outside the organization.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Shazam! New York's crime solution?

For a decade NYPD has claimed credit for lower crime

This week America celebrates Thanksgiving. Among the multitude of things for which to be thankful is lower crime rates than in the 1970s and 1980s. An article in the New York Times says this year the NYPD offer thanks for yet another dip in the annual crime rate. Wonderful. Except for one thing. Crime didn't dip. At least not violent crime.

According to the NYPD 2010 crime stats, murder is up 16% since last year, rapes up 14% and robberies up 5%. Only when combining the violent crime numbers with much more numerous property crime numbers like burglary and larceny, does the crime rate "dip".

Is Thanksgiving the moment when the decade long crime decline finally stalls? It this the turning point for a city once celebrated as poster-child for effective policing? Is this when the Great Recession finally triggers a tidal crime shift from ebb to flow?

The good news? Perspective. Even a 16% increase this year is a light-year away from prior decades. In 1990 New York there were 2,263 murders. In 2009 there were 471. All this in spite of a population increase.

More good news - research from Vera Institute's Michael Jacobson suggests "effective policing in New York has made some difference - even though the statistical effects, if they are there at all, are small." At least some policing strategies have some impact, though it's unclear to what extent NYPD's version of those strategies deserve applause.

The bad news? Cooked books.


One (admittedly narrow) research survey released last month says retired senior officers are now raising questions on the veracity of NYPD crime stats. That's not new. I remember this kind of thing in some Canadian police organizations 20 years ago. Those familiar with police research have for years read the literature about these kinds of shenanigans - literature politicians tend to ignore.

The most notorious tactic is the Great Reclassification Scam: Crime reports in one category get reclassified into a lower category. Last month's study described how theft reports with expensive stolen items were checked against web sites such as e-Bay to find similar items with lower prices. Stolen items in the reports were repriced with lower values in order to reclassify them from felony grand larcenies (thefts over $1000) down to misdemeanors.

Shazam! Lower felony rates!

Granted, some of the retired senior officers surveyed may have had an axe to grind. Some also offered the slippery ethical reasoning that reclassification scams resulted from pressure to keep improving their crime stats each year.

Interestingly, most officers surveyed said New York was now a safer place and the Compstat strategy, the statistics and management system producing those stats, was partly responsible. As well, other research studies contradict the scam allegations and conclude NYPD stats are generally accurate.

Who to believe? Crime up or down?

Perhaps the more important question is, What did police do differently under Compstat to tackle crime?

Next blog: Compstat!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Small is beautiful

Night-time Moscow from the International Space Station, NASA photo

When viewed from space, cities look beautiful, exciting and filled with energy. It's easy to forget they even have crime. Those who focus too much on that big picture look for big city solutions with a wide-angle lens.

Close-up, the picture of the city looks very different. Turns out it's the close-up picture with the zoom lens that provides the best opportunities for creating safe places. One example was provided at the ICA CPTED conference by Jim Diers, Seattle's neighborhood guru. His presentation is on-line at the ICA website.

Dead spaces, such as deserted nooks beneath overpasses, are isolated, not maintained, and ideal for drug dealing, robberies, and nefarious crimes. The neighborhood folks in Seattle decided to turn this one into something more interesting and fun.

Underpass no-man's land

After a long public dialogue one favorite design was chosen - the underpass troll. It is today among one of the choice tourist spots to view. It is also far safer than it was.

Re-activating dead spaces with fun, collaborative design

Fine tuned design with collaborative public input can produce beautiful results. Another ingredient for success.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Project H - A starting place

Low cost playground designs that mesh math skills with physical activity

How do we start community building in a place of rapid decline? How do we create social capital where none appears?

Tough questions. One answer is to learn from others with great ideas. Here is a great idea using community design.

Emily Pilloton is a brilliant, young activist architect (Watch her video. You'll see what I mean). Her book Design Revolution set the stage for how she works.

She and her partner have now launched the next act: They moved to the poorest county in North Carolina and created Project H Design, a strategy to put their ideas into action.

Emily describes Bertie County, North Carolina as the poster child for the demise of rural America. A place where downtowns are hollowed out - a "rural ghetto" with no shared vision for a collective future.

They have already done some pretty cool things (see photo above) Now they are teaching high school kids how to start transforming their own neighborhood through community design.

There is a New York Times article about it here.

My favorite is her appearance this past January on the comedy show The Colbert Report. Wait for the buffering - it's worth it.

I have added the Project H group website to my LikeMinded list in case you want to follow them. (I do!)

I can't imagine a group more likeminded to SafeGrowth.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Bonnie and Clyde Effect

The bullet ridden car of Bonnie and Clyde, 1934

Do bad economies cause crime waves? The infamous Bonnie and Clyde saga in the 1930s happened during the biggest economic downturn in history. It was covered in the national media and it stirred fear of rampant crime. The economy was a mess and more crime comes with it. Gangsters were everywhere. At least that's how the story went.

Whether rampant crime was a reality (it wasn't) didn't seem to matter. It sold lots of papers.

Today we again see local crime stories on the national media during a time of economic challenge. They too stir fear about rampant crime. As before, those stories sell lots of papers (or today's equivalent).

Is crime getting worse with the Great Recession? When they feature horrific local crime stories that convince us we're off to hell in a handbasket, are national news editors getting it right? (Hold the sarcasm. I know that's laughable. Bear with me a moment)

Back in January I wrote about crime rates. Turns out this year's local crime picture has been blurry. Nationally, official crime rates continue their decades long decline. In some cities and regions it is the opposite.

Criminologist James Allan Fox recently told the Huffington Post that economic downturns generally result in some crime increases. Check out the national crime rate store here.

Fox says "there is a connection between an economic downturn and crime: Budget cuts create significant challenges in keeping crime rates low." True, economic downturns tend to correspond with youth crime and street level drug activity. One example is the crack cocaine epidemic during the economic decline of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

On the other hand Criminologist David Kennedy thinks it isn't downturns, but rather boomtimes when crime peaks. "Just look at the 1920's,' he says, "It was a period of booming economic prosperity…and very high crime. The 1950s and 60s were the same. The economy was great, but crime rates rose every single year."

Check out the Huffington Post story here.

Bonnie and Clyde made for readable, and sellable, national news

The Bonnie and Clyde effect blurs what matters most. National, or for that matter citywide, crime rates detract us from getting the job done: the task of building safer communities in our own neighborhoods. Generally speaking, it is crime in our own neighborhoods that matters. It is fear of crimes elsewhere that keep us inside. National news stories on horrific local crimes tell us nothing about our neighbors and less about our local safety.

Who, I wonder, holds national news editors accountable?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Suburbs: The Fix?

Suburbs: The Fix is in

Tonight the CBC broadcast a news documentary about the increasing political power of the suburbs.

In every planning or human geography grad program there is a course on urban studies. In that course there is usually a debate about the urban/suburban divide, a divide that runs deep in popular culture. It cuts deep into the environmental wastage from long suburban drives to work in rush hour. It surfaces in a dwindling downtown tax base from out-migration.

Best-selling author Richard Florida recently wrote "the challenge is to remake the suburbs, to turn them into more vibrant, livable, people-friendly communities and, in so doing, to make them engines of innovation and productivity."

For many years growing suburban populations and a dwindling urban tax base resulted in downtown deterioration and high crime rates.

The picture is no longer so clear.

Suburbs not only represent a place of increasing political power, they have also seen increasing crime rates. In places like New York downtown crime rates have declined while Memphis recorded a suburban crime blip after the demolition of a downtown public housing project.

There is now some light at the end of the tunnel.

Toronto's Jane/Finch suburb has long been a hotspot for crime. Last year I published an empirical study on one SafeGrowth project I helped launch there - the San Romanoway apartments.

It was one of the first times the crime trend was halted in a small suburban pocket. There is now a fabulous documentary film about San Romanoway's chief community organizer Stephnie Payne called "The Fix" explaining how it works.

Perhaps this is one future for our suburbs?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Malaise - the real threat to safety

Our local Halloween parade and scary costumes

Today we celebrate Halloween, that ancient Celtic harvest festival marking summer's end. Today it's signalled by masks and scary costumes hiding the faces of kids looking for goodies.

Last week I ran a SafeGrowth training in Milwaukee with the Community Safety Initiatives folks at LISC. (Students: Assignments will be posted in the Toolkit section below on Wednesday)! During the training I had interesting chats about the difficulty implementing tactics in an environment with poor resources and even poorer political support.

Then I thought of the scariest ghoul of them all when it comes to safer places: malaise.

Malaise is a feeling that things are just not going right. It's the social disease which President Jimmy Carter once called a fundamental threat to democracy.

Malaise is similar to anomie, the social pathology described a century ago by famous sociologist Emile Durkheim. It's the alienation felt by people from by an inability to reach legitimate goals, in this case caused by resources or politics.

I see malaise occasionally in the faces of practitioners who confront significant challenges. Perhaps they've been beaten back by setbacks. They get to a point where they lose faith that their work matters, but still they put on a brave mask. They may think to themselves; there are no treats from prevention work, only political tricks.

That is malaise at its worst!

No doubt this is a real feeling. But is it a real thing? Can someone not suffering malaise accomplish what others cannot? Is it like the spooks on Halloween - more contrived than real? There is no doubt obstacles exist. In fact, there is probably truth to the idea that some regions are more (or less) likely to solve problems creatively, what Richard Florida calls The Creative Class.

Yet, like Halloween, we can choose belief in one thing or we can choose belief in another. There is just as much to be gained from persisting and seeking more creative options. That is the exact opposite of malaise. It is called vigor.

Vigor is the magic I see in successful practitioners. Vigorous practitioners exist in all regions. I've posted many examples over the past year. Here are a few:

1. Seattle's neighborhood governance described by Jim Diers.
2. The Westville neighborhood in New Haven, Connecticut.
3. The Oregon District neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio.
4. The Hollygrove neighborhood story in New Orleans.
5. The San Romanoway apartments in Jane/Finch, Toronto.

Interestingly, Milwaukee has a great example as well. The SOHI District, a main street program in Milwaukee sponsored by the city and the Local Initiative Support Corporation of Milwaukee. Some of the SOHI folks attended the SafeGrowth training a few years ago. Their work has been remarkable. There are websites of SOHI as well as a SOHI YouTube channel of their successes.

There is even a crime review article published in the April, 2009 CPTED Perspective newsletter

Perhaps the very best person to exemplify vigor was a young woman in a Cincinnati SafeGrowth training 6 years ago. Her name was Sarah and I titled that blog An Ode to the Sarah's. For the sake of tackling malaise, and the sake of our neighborhoods, it's worth a look.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Visions of the future - the 2010 ICA conference

Calgary - a dynamic growing city flush with oil wealth. Site of the 2010 ICA Conference

This week I attended the International CPTED Association's international conference in Calgary, Alberta. Typical CPTED conferences, like other prevention conferences, can be pretty droll affairs rehashing tired old ideas. Old wine in new bottles. The worst? My vote goes to academic conferences where obtuse PowerPoint slides fill sessions like hieroglyphics on an Egyptian Third Dynasty tomb - a theory-bound academese intended more for the academically-heeled than for those who actually prevent crime.

Not this time.

As a regular ICA attendee I was struck by the richness and passion in this year's offerings. We heard presenters from Germany, Chile, the Netherlands, Brazil, South Africa, Australia and North America. We heard police officers from Berlin and Toronto, planners from Washington and Saskatoon, scholars from Seattle and criminologists from Florida. We learned about behavioral based design in Ontario, community-led CCTV in Pennsylvania, safer schools in Holland and how to use public art to tackle domestic terrorism.

My own sessions were gifted by incredibly talented practitioners with whom I co-presented. In one, Saskatoon planner Elisabeth Miller and I coaxed conference participants into an interactive dialogue about overcoming obstacles. In another session I co-presented with computer scientist Nick Bereza from ATRiM Group and Michael Huggett from Australia. We presented the CPTED Continuum - a new way to understand CPTED from target hardening to traditional CPTED and situational prevention to neighborhood planning.

There were too many great presenters to mention them all (forgive me for not).

But there was one speaker who had the right stuff. He captured our imagination. Jim Diers is a visionary and powerful speaker. Currently with the University of Washington, he is former director of Seattle's Office of Neighborhoods. He is also author of Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way.

A book worth reading

Jim spoke on participatory democracy and how to strengthen social capital. He is one of those people who finds ways to get people involved creating more livable places.

If you are interested in vital and safe places, and you haven't heard Jim's story you must. If you haven't read Jim's book, you should!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Deep Diving into Creative Prevention

The ASIS Convention Exhibit Floor, Dallas, 2010

Chris Landauer, MIT aerospace scientist, challenges the story of five blind men who touch an elephant in five different places and then describe it in five different ways. It all depends, says Landauer, on our assumption there is an elephant.

There might not be.

Our traditional criminal justice system (CJS) also assumes things, for example we must punish offenders or find guilt in court. Does this kind of thinking limit creative solutions to crime? Maybe there is no elephant?

This week I was in Dallas at the American Society for Industrial Security convention, the largest security trade show of its kind. Security technology isn’t always new, creative, or the best solution. But competitive high tech can be a breeding ground for creative solutions.

Case in point: TecGarde Mobile Solutions, a firm I worked with at the show. They are an innovative, tech start-up and Blackberry alliance partner with the Blackberry folks. I enjoy working with cool outfits like TecGarde. They sport some of the most creative smart-phone devices in the world. Creativity, it seems to me, is the foundation upon which a safer future rests.

Canada-based TecGarde display

It reminds me that truly creative cultures rarely flourish in rigid hierarchies, especially CJS organizations that ooze chain-of-command thinking. Nowhere is this message truer than with Ideo, the industrial design firm featured in the ABC documentary, The Deep Dive. By deep diving, Ideo comes up with fantastically innovative ideas. Deep diving is inherently non-heirarchical. That’s what outfits like TecGarde are all about.


Which brings me back to the elephant. True, creativity can occasionally seep through the CJS chain-of-command. Successful problem-oriented policing projects prove it is possible (check out motel crime in California or homelessness in Colorado). But these are not the rule, they are the exception. It's hard to be creative when trapped in hierarchies. After all, elephant assumptions may not be real.

Where do we find truly innovative strategies? How do successful organizations become creative? I think we need to peek at the technology world more closely, especially how technology firms do creativity.

Postscript: On the final day a number of laptops were stolen from display exhibits. Remember - this was a security tradeshow with CCTV firms operating thousands of security cameras in plain sight at their exhibits. Unsurprisingly, the crooks were apprehended the next day and their loot was recovered quickly.

For these brash, Mensa-challenged crooks it seems the security elephant was real. In this case it sat on them.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Flash mobs and urban chaos

Over the past few years the Flash Mob has been an odd, chaotic marriage of mobile phones, social networking and Twitter-something kids. I blogged on one that went wrongish on Philadelphia's South Street.

Urban creativity need not be nasty and Flash Mobs are usually fun. If left to the creatives with a sense of civility, they can be downright amusing. As long as they remain unstapled by the self-interested, they represent an urban chaos that makes urban life fascinating.

Example: In April members of the Opera Company of Philadelphia Chorus thought it might be fun to treat the Italian Market Terminal with an impromptu performance of La Trviata.

It's pretty funny. And terrifically creative.

Check it out.

Click here for Market Mob Fun

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tent city teardowns, family reunifications, and jobs

Homelessness during the 1930s Depression - Toronto's Yonge Street Mission
Photo Wiki Creative Commons

CPTED tells us that one way to enhance safety is to improve the maintenance and image of a place. We rarely hear how to do that. Is there a specific way that works better than others? One might think image and maintenance is a simple matter. Perhaps that's true in clean-ups for short-term gain, but it is less so if you want long-term sustainability.

This week I saw a clean-up and enforcement project that did it differently. As we teach during SafeGrowth classes, it demonstrates the importance of a rigorous collaborative process. Yesterday that project won the 2010 award for excellence in problem-solving at the International Problem-Oriented Policing Conference in Dallas. It is the Colorado Springs Police Department Homelessness Outreach program.

A year ago I described that one fallout of the Great Recession was the exploding number of homeless in squatter settlements like Tent Cities. I described an interesting innovation in Portland called Liberty Village.

Homeless tent prior to cleanup in Colorado Springs

Now the Colorado Springs Police Department report that they have begun to come to terms with it.

Like many cities, hundreds of homeless people were squatting in unsafe and unsanitary conditions in Colorado Springs. Life in makeshift tents (or in nothing at all) is a miserable experience; there are no provisions, sewage, water, nor protection from the elements. Not to mention the danger of crime.

Police tried clean-ups, arrests, and removal of abandoned property. When they were criticized for civil rights violations, they stopped. Then the sanitation problem worsened with piles of litter, garbage, and human waste. At that point, over 500 people were living in a homeless tent city.

The police formed a special team to apply problem-oriented policing. The key, they say, was collaborating with numerous groups. They spoke to a hundred homeless people to discover their needs.


They examined programs across the country and researched new laws. They analyzed and mapped the scope of their problem and found a majority of related calls for police service clustered around the homeless camps. In other research conducted on local homeless people, they discovered that 21% had severe mental illnesses and another 23% suffered substance abuse.

Their homework paid off. When clean-ups took place, they happened in the context of a much more rigorous collaborative process. What did they do?

  • They created referral programs to mental health agencies, alcohol treatment programs, shelters, and jobs programs.
  • They connected homeless people with families and obtained funding to reunite them.
  • They worked with civil rights groups to draft an ordinance prohibiting camping on public property when social strategies failed.
  • They met weekly with people who are homeless, service providers, civil rights leaders, and homeless advocates.

In their report, they say the team has worked with "nine shelter agencies, 11 food providers, 6 mental health care providers, and several other agencies providing medical treatment, drug and alcohol treatment, clothing and other services."


Over the past year, there have been only 29 felony arrests and about 80 minor arrests. Concurrently, of 500 people living in tents, 229 families have been sheltered in better living arrangements, 117 people were reunited with family, 100 people were successful in finding jobs, and they completed 40 clean-ups of camps around Colorado Springs.

I've mentioned before the problem of displacement. Because they were able to help with social service referrals and family reunifications, they managed to minimize displacement. Incidents and problems have diminished and police-related calls for service have declined.

Congratulations to the Colorado Springs community and its police department.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Train graffiti

When is the last time you saw a freight train? When is the last time you saw a freight train without graffiti?

Remember a time when freight trains did not have graffiti? I think it was about 25 years ago. Why and when did graffiti show up on trains? Did Fixing Broken Windows programs and anti-graffiti strategies displace graffiti out of cities onto these traveling billboards?

I just watched a documentary film about angst-ridden Gen-X street "artists" who started the whole thing back in the 80s. Or so they say. Kids at the fringe. At 35 they are no longer kids and no longer on the fringe.

The rest of us are left with their legacy. A contribution to urban culture. Thanks.

Then again, if the sum Gen-Xer legacy amounts to painted freight trains (it doesn't!) is that so bad? Compared to the legacy of the "Greatest Generation" and the Boomers - vanishing fish stocks, depleted forests, genetically-modified food and the human-caused carbon nightmare driving climate change - painted trains are not so bad.

That, of course, is a conceit. Gen-Xers (like all other generations) owe, and deserve, much more. For me, painted trains are little more than the latest manifestation of contemporary culture. In this case they just happen to be ugly.

It need not be so. Why not capitalize on the fringe tendency to paint trains? Train murals. (Why not?) Traveling train-art competitions. (Such possibilities!)

I wonder why train companies have been so lethargic to move beyond "catch them and charge them"? Given the utter failure of that strategy over the past few decades, it would seem obvious something more intelligent is in order.

Look what Canada Post came up with...

Hard to graffiti when it already looks graffitied

If bureaucratic stasis were real, a large federal bureaucracy like Canada Post (or the US Postal Service for that matter) would be poster child. Yet, even here, innovation is possible.

So why are train companies silent?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The devil is in the details - grass walls and bus stops

Green walls are eco-friendly, attractive, and deter graffiti

Oregon's famous urban growth boundary experiment in regional planning has detractors and cheerleaders. There is, however, little doubt that limiting suburb size and preserving farmland has created one of the most successful city's in the nation. I am not being Pollyannaish. It has dreary and rainy winter weather. It still has a homeless problem and crime. But overall, it's hard to argue about the success of Portland.

This is largely a function of zoning, something I've been discussing of late.

It came to mind this week during a business trip to Portland. I mentioned Portland's successes last year during a visit. The list of laurels is long but it among them is a very low (and declining) city crime rate. All this is in spite of a nasty higher-than-normal unemployment rate.

My walks last year were in the residential neighborhoods. This time I stayed downtown where there are lively and safe downtown streets at night. There are safe public areas, parks and well-used transit. There is a wide mix of pedestrian traffic and though one-way streets dominate, unlike other cities I've visited lately, in Portland they tend to be narrower with a dense proportion of shopping variety. As in Philadelphia's South Street, shops here cater also to local residents (grocery stores).

Does regional zoning explain this success? In Portland's case the zoning style tends to the traditional form, though the urban growth boundary concept was revolutionary for its time. By law all Oregon cities must establish urban growth boundary beyond which urban development is prohibited.

An urban growth boundary limits sprawling suburbs like those elsewhere. That, more than other cities I've seen, results in intense attention to urban amenities (free public transit downtown) and a preponderance of grassroots local action (such as the local City Repair movement).

Portland's simple bus stop designs with no-ad clear glass and safety intercoms

It also results in far more interesting urban forms than I've seen elsewhere (streetscaping and architecture) which makes downtown walking fun, activity-rich, and culturally interesting. For example, street lighting does not replace decorative sidewalk lighting. Parking lots were uniformly well lit, clean, with good sightlines. Grass walls deterred graffiti. It had well designed bus stops with CCTV and without unsightly billboard ads. All these little details added to the safety mix downtown.

This week Portland reminded me that the style of zoning, though important, isn't enough to create a safe place. It's the little details of the urban fabric that matter too. In safety, we do sweat the small stuff.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Completing the equation - part 2

We must rethink land use zoning

There were interesting comments to my last blog about CPTED, design guidelines and the incomplete equation.

My view is that without social capital, territoriality doesn't work well. Offenders usually want to avoid detection when they steal, burgle or rob which is why natural surveillance helps prevent crime. But that is only true when offenders fear someone will apprehend them (or get the police). In other words, someone must care enough about their neighborhood to do something. That's social capital.

To cultivate social capital we must re-learn how to better build and re-create neighborhoods from the ground up.

Jane Jacobs champions this idea in her famous incantation when she says the public peace is kept by an intricate network of voluntary controls and standards among people themselves. That is why we created 2nd Generation CPTED.


Social capital is the idea that within healthy neighborhoods there is a subtle system of what anthropologist Edward Hall called social dos and don'ts. It's the idea that there is wide range of social activities, people, services, businesses and cultural events that encourage local folks to share, sell, play, and relax. Social capital helps them tackle their own neighborhood problems. Service providers (e.g. police) are still available, but the majority of issues are dealt with internally.

There are plenty of neighborhoods where this happens. Westville in New Haven and the San Romanoway Apartments in Toronto are two. Last month I discussed Hollygrove, the New Orleans neighborhood where impressive improvements have been underway for a few years. Last year Louisiana AARP asked me to introduce CPTED in a SafeGrowth format.


This week, AARP posted an article and video about the residents and their work in Hollygrove. The video shows what in 2nd Generation CPTED we call "social stabilizers". My favorites are the "Hollygove Originals" and the walking club.

Click here to watch the AARP video of social capital at work!

CPTED-styled, urban design guidelines are a small step in that direction. But guidelines will not create Hollygrove, Westville or San Romanoway. Design guidelines fall short.

How can we encourage local interest and ownership, community driven initiatives such as community gardens, artists moving into and reusing old areas, and locally improved public spaces? Can urban planning help?

The world of land use planning (distinct from other forms of planning) is usually the world of zoning. Traditional zoning is done through setbacks, floor-space ratios, and restricted/permitted land use categories. It can be very restrictive and changes (variances) to it can be awkward, difficult and politically dangerous. From a CPTED perspective, traditional zoning says little about safety.

Unlike traditional zoning, form-based zoning controls the physical look of a place through design guidelines. For example the shape of building facades, types and sizes of streets, and the scale of architecture prescribes the what the neighborhood will look like. For CPTED guidelines, form-based zoning is ideal. However, this does not lead to social capital.


Performance zoning is another alternative. Where traditional zoning specifies the types of use, performance zoning specifies only the intensity and results of that land use. It deals not with the type of use, but the performance of that development and how it impacts surrounding areas.

Performance zoning is already working in a few places. Early adopters include transport planners aiming to require roadway builders to adopt designs to cut traffic fatalities.

Performance zoning is more flexible than traditional or form-based zoning. It better accommodates market principles, social activities, and environmental protection.

Performance zoning in Breckenridge, Colorado

It's not difficult to see both CPTED guidelines and social capital as performance measures in such a place. There are helpful websites to learn the pros and cons of performance based zoning and the international experience with performance based planning.

Today's zoning denies certain uses or forms when developers submit their plans. Performance zoning evaluates the impacts of land uses directly. Property owners have the obligation, cost risk, and duty to fit the required performance to their land - and the freedom to use their own creativity in an innovative way.

As Jacobs often noted, one of the first ingredients of social capital is local innovation. Richard Florida says the same thing when interviewed on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Perhaps that's how we solve the safety equation in the 21st Century city?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An incomplete equation

Clean, efficient design with great sightlines, yet empty streets.

I spoke to Elisabeth Miller, a planner friend from Saskatoon, this week who told me about the pending publication of some CPTED and Design Guidelines for developers and architects. She is a planner with the city of Saskatoon and last fall I researched and crafted these design guidelines, which Elisabeth and I then wrote into a Guideline document, from best practice around the world.

Could a similar approach work at a larger scale, for example in urban zoning?

If you study different types of zoning it is clear that most forms of zoning align with architectural design guidelines. Then I realized there is a problem with zoning.

In Death and Life of Great American Cities Jane Jacobs says, "No amount of police can enforce civilization where the normal, causal enforcement of it has broken down."

Jacobs used the ideas of territoriality and social capital as part of her equation for safe streets. Unfortunately early CPTED used only half of that equation - urban design.

As all new students of CPTED soon learn, basic 1st Generation CPTED involves urban design and architecture to reduce crime opportunities. There are three components:

1. We See You: Natural surveillance is lighting and landscaping that puts eyes on the street. The purpose is to see offenders or to signal to offenders they will be seen.

2. You Are In Our Place: Access control is gates, fences, roadway barriers, or walkway placement to limit the number of people into or out of an area. It allows people to see who is entering or to signal to visitors - we live/work here.

3. You Can't Get Away With That Here: Territorial reinforcement divides public space to semi-private or semi-public areas - for example, paving patterns and floral landscaping to demarcate a building entry. Clean-ups are another way to signal someone cares. These make it difficult for offenders to offend with impunity.

All three components hinge on one simple (and debatable) idea: It's our turf and we care. Design guidelines fit perfectly into this part of the equation. Zoning – not so much.

Here's the problem

In the absence of social capital, territoriality doesn't just happen. It is not necessarily true that people care simply because their space encourages it.

There are plenty of places where access control, good lighting, and natural surveillance provide a very poor sense of territory. Urban mega-projects like sports stadiums and casinos are notorious for plenty of crime (pick pocketing and robbery come to mind).

Large box stores are another example where there may be many eyes on those streets, all sorts of branding, signs, and territorial markers and yet crime can flourish (auto theft comes to mind).

Territoriality can help but it cannot ensure crime is absent. The intimate personal space of a residential living room or bedroom is already "owned" and controlled yet that is precisely where most domestic violence occurs.

The fact is territoriality does not work without social capital.

Next: How zoning can help.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fun theory

Bottle Bank Fun

After some serious blogs of late, I thought I'd lighten up a bit. A thought occurs: How do we make the street fun?

One of my favorite answers is fun theory. It's an interesting program by Volkswagen. I've highlighted some of their innovative urban designs last year such as the piano stairway and the deepest garbage bin in the world. This is a fantastic fun way to get people to engage.

The Bottle Bank Arcade is their latest offering.

Check it out.

Watch the Bottle Bank Arcade

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wounded Knee

Graveyard at Wounded Knee - Entranceway to the past

One of the four principles of Second Generation CPTED explains how neighborhood culture can create a common purpose. That can become the glue that binds people together to work against problems like crime.

Attaching culture to neighborhood safety can be tricky as I discovered this week on a tour of South Dakota. Sociologists say culture is everything beyond genetics passed from one generation to the next. In their view language, religion, values, law, and fashion all fit.

Yet in my experience, it is much more useful for each neighborhood to define its own sense of culture and then build on that common definition. That narrows the list considerably. When that happens music, art, sports, and historical events rise to the surface. One great example is the Intersection Repair programs in Portland.

Another example emerged while I visited an unforgettable and deserted place on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I'm referring to the haunting, windswept cemetery overlooking the valley when hundreds of Native Americans were slaughtered by 7th Cavalry Regiment in 1890.

I stood looking at the run-down graveyard, where a single faded monument notes the inconceivable tragedy that was Wounded Knee, and I wondered how such a thing happened.

What lesson can such a place tell us about community culture? How can good arise from such evil so long ago? Can a remote, rural place of such political furor offer anything helpful to urban dwellers seeking a cultural touchstone of their own?

Some will say no. Yet I cannot so easily dismiss the lesson of Wounded Knee. It is a lesson worth studying and remembering for its exhibition of human folly. I struggled to make out the fading inscription on the lone monument which recounts the words of Sioux Chief Big Foot "I will stand in peace till my last day comes."

That, more than anything, makes the point of a shared, community culture. At least it should.

Perhaps this is where the truly difficult work of building a community culture begins. Places like Wounded Knee are a warning for civil vigilance - we must not allow prejudice to infect our civility.

As I watch the latest CNN "controversy" about locating a mosque near Ground Zero, I am again reminded this message - standing in peace - is relevant in rural and urban places alike.

Monument at Wounded Knee

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bus Stops - crime hot spots or community building blocks?

Clean, good sightlines, territoriality - What is this bus stop missing?

Guest Blog

Megan Carr is a Livable Communities Specialist interested in SafeGrowth, particularly transportation’s role in shaping vibrant and safe communities. She runs her own consulting firm, Civitae, LLC. Megan recently participated in the AARP SafeGrowth programs in New Orleans and delivered a presentation to transportation authorities regarding safety and bus stops. A longer version of this article will appear in the upcoming ICA newsletter CPTED Perspectives.

Why is it that some bus stops act as hot spots for crime while others can serve as building blocks for community?

 Two studies by Loukaitou-Sideris in 1999 and 2003 examined the physical attributes of high crime bus stops in Los Angeles. What’s interesting about the findings is that of the nearly 20,000 bus stops, 18 percent of the total incidents occurred at just ten stops.

Findings at these ten stops indicated they were:

• Located at intersections involving inactive land uses such as empty lots and surface parking lots

• Lacked adequate lighting or nearby shops, public phones or police sub-stations

• Located near dilapidated and/or vacant buildings (83%)

Furthermore, movement predictors such as nearby alleys had an almost double crime incidence rate. Crime was also significantly higher at intersections near bars, liquor stores, check cashing establishments, and Single Room Occupancy hotels.

The Other Side of the Coin

In Los Angeles following the Rodney King riots in 1992, Mayor Riordan launched the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative designed to restore people’s sense of ownership in their communities. Recognizing that bus stops can function as focal points for communities, the organization developed community plans starting with placemaking improvements at bus stops.

Project for Public Spaces was hired to assist neighborhood groups who were each given a grant to develop a bus stop area plan. Many positive outcomes followed as a result. From the initial $100,000 seed investment, a vacant lot in North Hollywood was transformed into a beautifully landscaped transit park with illuminated bus shelters, matching benches, information kiosks and kiosk art. Eight new businesses were attracted to the intersection filling formerly vacant facilities.

An additional $500,000 was invested in property improvements and $60,000 in private funding was invested in the park. Consequently, 30 new jobs were created in the vicinity of the bus stop.

The project employed a placemaking approach that encompassed what 2nd Generation CPTED calls Community Culture. It included fa├žade improvements, pedestrian walkways, pedestrian-oriented lighting, public art and plentiful landscaping providing needed shade and defining pedestrian areas.

By making improvements to the site, riders today benefit from natural surveillance and amenities from nearby businesses in addition to a more aesthetic and comfortable bus experience.

These examples provide valuable lessons on the importance of site design at bus stops. From reducing the opportunity for crime to supporting local economic development, investing in quality public spaces at bus stops is a worthy focus for community redevelopment.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The crime triangle - a veneer

Proper analysis is the first step to prevent crime

I like the crime triangle. It is popular among crime analysts. It helps analyze crime hotspots. It is also part of problem-oriented policing. Sometimes too it is part of the prevention practitioner’s toolbox. It has elegant utility and simplicity.

The crime triangle emerges from "routine activity theory" (RA) in the early 1980s. RA explained some behavior quite well, like predatory crime (stalking). It did so with a simple premise: crime converges at the intersection of likely offenders, suitable targets and an absence of guardianship (or, more recently, "handlers").

In lay terms, picture the three sides of a triangle with an offender, a victim, and a target/place. When those things come together, so the theory goes, crime goes up.

The crime triangle is useful. Break the triangle and you prevent the crime. Want to increase guardianship? Get property managers to keep better control of their properties. Improve bar management in bars that over-serve. Simple. Elegant.

So far, so good. Except for one thing; that is where it typically ends in the RA world. The crime triangle does not dig deeper into the causes of crime.

Why? Because routine activity (and its crime triangle progeny) is one of those crime and place theories.


RA is less a causal theory explaining why and more a descriptive symbol predicting when, where or how. It ignores why someone becomes motivated in the first place. RA assumes an endless supply of motivated offenders. They are motivated for some reason; we just don't know why. The only "explanation" of motive falls back to rational choice theory.

Rational choice assumes offenders are rational actors who weigh risks against rewards. From the window of RA (and the crime triangle), crime looks like a "normal" condition of life.

True, some criminal behavior is “normal” in the sense that as events, products, and social affairs change, so too do crime opportunities. But as a causal theory, that’s rather trifling. It’s a bit like saying with enough water, sun and moderate temperature, certain environmental conditions will produce rain.

Then again some criminal behavior is not normal at all and RA just doesn’t work. Consider the story of the Connecticut mass murder in the news today.

As the NY Times says, this is “the latest in a series of American workplace tragedies”. It is a sad story about a workplace shooter who killed numerous workmates and then himself. He may have snapped from perceived workplace injustice. Perhaps he was clouded in a drug stupor. Maybe he was insane.

Routine activity theory might suggest how to remove opportunity for future incidents like this. That is a good start. Baby steps.

But RA theory will never actually know why because it will never ask. In cases such as this, the risk and reward assumptions of crime-and-place theories look rather silly. What does a suicidal shooter “risk”? What “reward” was this shooter gaining? Vengeance? (If so, we’re back to motive.)

Motive is a key piece of the puzzle


What will the crime triangle tell us in cases like this?

1. Capable guardians - cameras, plentiful supervision, and so forth. Unfortunately this shooting occurred at shift change when there were lots of employees and supervisors about. As for CCTV, how often do we watch nighttime news clips of robbery/shootings on corner-store CCTV? Cameras don’t stop shootings.

2. The time/workplace environment – preventing guns in the workplace. Will metal detectors work? Perhaps, but how difficult is it for shooters to become bombers. What then? Bomb sniffing dogs? At some point Orwellian paranoia replaces civility. Where do we stop? Body cavity searches?

3. The offender – modus operandi (not motive. Remember, RA is motive-neutered). The crime triangle asks if "handlers" like armed security might have intervened (that actually might have helped). Or maybe we could have prevented the shooter from getting guns in the first place? Others can argue 2nd Amendment rights. I won't bother here.

Crime triangle questions just don't do it. Instead, we must also ask this: Why did the shooter shoot? What can we learn about motive to prevent such tragic events in future?

The crime triangle is a useful and elegant baby step. I like it and I use it. But it is veneer. It is short term. It is not enough.

Our analysis of neighborhood crime must include a more robust analytical dialogue. If our analysis does not encompass action to move social life forward, it is not robust. Ultimately, if our theory fails to include motive, we are cluttering our dialogue with junk and the analysis of junk.