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.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

LEDs - New technology to light up your life

Night-time lighting in many cities is awful


When it comes to safety on the street, we've talked about the role of walkability and lighting. Last week we talked about sustainability and green spaces in our civic DNA. Today guest blogger Randy Atlas introduces a new technology that combines natural surveillance with environmental sustainability.

Randall Atlas is a nationally recognized criminologist and architect specializing in CPTED. He is author of numerous publications about CPTED including his most recent book 21st Century Security and Crime Prevention: Designing for Critical Infrastructure Protection and Crime Prevention.

A similar version to this blog will appear in the upcoming CPTED Perspective newsletter.

The LEED rating system has become the driving force behind the green building movement in America. This program is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings.

One of the most effective methods in CPTED is the use of natural surveillance. Natural surveillance limits the opportunity for crime by taking steps to increase the perception that people can be seen, thereby naturally reducing the risk of crime. Jane Jacobs formulated the natural surveillance strategy based on her work in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Nighttime lighting helps promote natural surveillance. A well lit parking lot or outdoor area is an extremely important feature of public spaces for numerous reasons. Not only does it deter crime and vandalism, it can attract customers, facilitate traffic and pedestrian safety, and increase economic development. Proper lighting provides an individual with choices on movement: whether to go forward or back from a particular area.

Lighting can also be energy draining and costly, harming the environment. The Light Emitting Diode - LED - is a new technology appearing in North American cities with superior energy efficiency and excellent lighting characteristics. LED also is more durable and has lower operating costs than traditional outdoor lighting.

New LED technology is so efficient it can light up sports stadiums


The Emerging Technologies Program of Pacific Gas and Electric Company in Oakland, California recently studied the applicability of LED luminaries in a street lighting application.

After concluding from the first phase that “no significant concerns (were) so identified” of the likelihood of any negative safety impacts from the installation of the LED luminaries on a public street, the project moved into the second phase. This involved the replacement of fifteen 121 watt high pressure sodium lights in an Oakland, CA neighborhood with the same number of new ‘Beta’ LED 78 watt lights from Ruud Lighting.

The results indicate that the LED lights drew an average 35% less power than the standard high pressure sodium lights used by most cities. Over the course of a year each LED light saves 178 kWh.

Lighting that is poorly planned may waste energy, decrease vehicle and pedestrian safety, and may result in light pollution. It is important first to identify energy efficiency and safety goals and then explore all the options, such as LED lights. That is the key for finding a proper balance between LEED and CPTED. It is also how we will improve urban developments and our way of life in future.