Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tent city teardowns, family reunifications, and jobs

Homeless tents - 1930 or 2010?

CPTED tells us a great way to enhance safety is to improve the maintenance and image of a place. In policing they call it fixing broken windows. 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. It's less so if you want long term sustainability.

This week I saw a clean-up and enforcement project that did it different. As SafeGrowth suggests, 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 Colorado Springs has 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 from crime.

Police tried clean-ups, arrest 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 the local homeless they discovered 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 family 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 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 a number of other agencies providing medial 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 finding jobs, and 40 clean-ups of camps around Colorado Springs were completed.

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 it's 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