Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sustainability and safety - Civic DNA for the 21st Century

Built in the 1960s, Toronto's iconic city hall became an architectural landmark

I walked around Toronto's city hall yesterday. It reminded me of the unnecessary conflict between environmental sustainability and safety. This is particularly curious given the greening of urban streetscapes in recent years.

The emerging dialogue about security, safety, and sustainability is important. Last year the Built Environment journal published a series of articles on the topic. This year there will be presentations at the International CPTED Conference.

Environmental sustainability rarely makes it into CPTED recommendations. Practitioners over-trim trees or over-light walkways like a floodlit night-time game at a stadium.

Removing trees, paving land, and burning excessive energy are not sustainable. They are not the only options for safety. Being blind to this is not only unfortunate. As anyone who reads science knows (or has read any legitimate environmental story in the past decade) climate change is real. Ignoring it is unethical.

It need not be so.

There are plenty of safe options. Urban gardens humanize vacant land, for example in Boston and Philadelphia. Live walls prevent graffiti. All which brings me to Toronto's new city hall. More specifically, the recent opening of the massive green roof and public garden.

Roof garden for the public

Trees, shrubs and landscapes now cover once desolate slabs of cement sameness. Sitting areas offer respite and ample emergency phones provide access to security. The greenery enhances the iconic structure of the building. Why, I wonder, wasn't it done when the structure was built? The advantage of retrospect perhaps?

Best of all I watched people taking respite from the busy streets below. Legitimate "eyes on this street" provides what Oscar Newman called defensible space.

Safety and sustainability can become part of our civic DNA if we learn how to make it part of the CPTED and SafeGrowth message.

Sitting areas, safety phones, and respite from the street