Monday, June 27, 2011

Rebirth in Masdar City?

Architectural rendering of Masdar City now under construction

Sometimes it seems like we have more problems than we deserve and more solutions than we apply. Whether Arab Spring, Sputnik moments, tea parties…whatever. Whether silly or sensible, we long for rebirth.

Take transportation. Crime loves transportation. It festers at bus stations and clusters near subway or rail stops. Parking lots make easy pickings for crooks. Poor design makes all this worse.

What might rebirth look like if we could rebuild from the ground up? Maybe with privacy, cool design, and the environment in mind?

Turns out the future is already here.

Masdar City is a city in a city - in this case in Abu Dhabi, UAE. It's the world's first zero carbon, zero waste city powered entirely by renewables. Construction - now on hold for the recession - is already well under way.

Masdar transport planning is remarkable, one part of which is a fleet of driverless, free-moving podcars called PRTs.

A Huffington Post article says Nevada is changing laws to allow driverless cars. PRTs are already in operation at London's Heathrow Airport.

Masdar's system (built by Europeans) is planning for 3000 electric PRTs each transporting 2 to 6 passengers in privacy and safety. Wi-Fi computers maneuver them on dedicated routes, so no traffic congestion. The engineers say PRTs will get you there faster than cars.

Rebirth indeed! What, I wonder, does this mean for personal security and crime?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Vancouver's Hockey Bedlam - Justice after the riots

Dr. Evelyn Zellerer is a criminologist specializing in restorative justice. She teaches part-time at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in greater Vancouver and is a restorative facilitator, trainer and consultant. She has done extensive work in a variety of settings on how to respond to conflict, crime and disorder with restorative methods. She sent this blog entry about the Vancouver riots.

I, like most others, was horrified by the Vancouver hockey riots last week. How should we respond? What is the healthiest way for us to move forward?

It’s time cities like Vancouver used restorative justice to meet the needs of victims, hold offenders accountable, support healing, and build community.

A recent Globe and Mail editorial describes one attempt to hold people accountable.

Vigilante justice is not the answer. Martin Luther King said, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars”.

Criminal justice is another option, but what happens after police make arrests? Those who rioted are charged. Their crimes become against the state and lawyers and judges take over. An already overburdened court gets more cases. There is a battle between the prosecutors and defence. Plea bargaining will occur. There are few sentencing options: fines, probation, community service, or prison.

Criminal justice “success” means spending taxpayer’s dollars locking people up. Is this justice, healing and resolution? I don’t think so.

Have we and the offenders learned anything? Given the high rates of prison violence and reoffending, it seems not. In criminal justice victims are excluded, except as witnesses. And the community doesn’t have a place.

Another option

There is another option: Restorative Justice. Here, crime is a violation of people and relationships, not the state. All parties come together to understand what happened and determine how to respond, how to make things right.

Victims tell their offenders what they feel and need. Offenders face their victims and community. Offenders come to see the impact of their actions, make amends, and learn things of value. The community finds out what offenders need to be non-violent, healthy, contributing citizens. Offenders are a part of our community too. Even if they go to prison, they will return. There is no enemy. It’s only us.

Restorative justice is not soft on crime. For many, the hardest thing is to face those you harmed and sit alongside your family, peers and community to determine consequences. Restorative justice works with all kinds of conflict, including serious crimes like assault.

It is easy to punish people and think this solves things. Even in a riot…it doesn’t.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Charter Cities in the 21st Century?

Rules can oppress or invigorate. Consider a satellite image of lights on the Korean peninsula. Look at what years of oppressive rules have done to the north compared to the open society in the south.

My recent blogs on homelessness made me wonder if cities fail the homeless because of rules? Why can't they do better?

Paul Romer has a fascinating idea. He calls it the Charter City.

Charter Cities are reform zones where people can escape bad rules of today's cities and opt for a new kind of city with better rules. In his first talk he described charter cities as special administrative free-trade zones. They will be safer, environmentally friendly, and will contain all the needed resources for residents, especially the poor.

Romer is no woo-woo slouch. He's an economist who transformed growth theory in the 1980s. He's also senior fellow at Stanford's Institute for Economic Policy.

His idea behind Charter Cities is this: It is easier to start cities from scratch on vacant land rather than get bogged down by the oppressive political rules, legal traps, and special interest groups blocking progress in today's cities.

The City Journal says once a host government designates an uninhabited land area and establishes an independent charter, anyone can choose the rules of a charter city and move there.

The full idea is described on the Charter City website.

Apparently the idea is catching on.

This year the Honduras Congress adopted Romers idea and passed a constitutional amendment to create charter cities.

Will the rural poor move into these special economic zones and end up in 3rd-world styled sweat shops? Romer claims factory workers need not live in slums. Instead, Charter Cities will have laws to ensure proper utilities and decent low-cost housing.

Why not wait for technology to solve problems of poverty and pollution? Romer says new technology will come too late. Instead he says more relaxed rules and new ideas about how people interact will unleash creative potential. Creating independent and open cities allows that to happen.

Check out Romer's latest talk.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Harbinger for better times - Winnipeg's fork at the river

Far from a tourist's trip of the river, Downtown Winnipeg this week looks bleak and hollowed out. It's a story of one-way streets, homelessness, shuttered storefronts and drunken disorder.

There are bright spots like the Exchange District. And not far away a few other gems…Osborne Village and Forks riverside park on the historic Red River. Harbingers of what the city could be?

Elsewhere, downtown is another story.

A recent Globe and Mail article says "The city’s population in 2006 was 633,451, but of those, only 13,470 lived downtown."

Bicycle lanes are as rare as a prairie ski-hill. In peak hours streets are vacant. Are these vacant streets the same ones in a 1905 museum photo of a crowded downtown?

They are.

What befell this place?

A few years ago I wrote about some exceptional local initiatives by
the Winnipeg Committee for Safety and an award-winning prevention program that cut auto theft.

Sadly, that's not enough. Winnipeg still has the worst robbery rate in Canada.

Frontier Centre is a right-wing think-tank on public policy with views about rehabilitating downtown Winnipeg.

Be warned: Wide-angle views from Frontier can seem Twilight Zone-ish, for example reconsidering justice policies like zero tolerance for domestic abuse - a policy that research shows actually reduces future violence.

Yet zoom in a bit and Frontier's images are less scary. Two papers in particular are worth a read: Turf war between cops and BIZ patrollers about security patrols to reduce disorder, and Fixing Winnipeg's Downtown about subsidies for the poor, removing one-way streets, and new zoning to revitalize shops.

NHL Hockey returns downtown

This week the NHL announced a hockey francise will return to the downtown MTS arena. That might spark good times.

More good news: The city has been spearheading new construction, renovation projects, and a new mixed use zoning bylaw. Says that Globe article "Winnipeg is desperately trying to realign itself, drawing life back to its centre as a way to sustain its economic core."

Says Planetizen "Winnipeg has joined other North American cities in trying to reverse its suburban expansion by targeting its downtown".

Frontier published an article describing how immigration helped Winnipeg: Can the Winnipeg Model save Detroit?

From what I saw, Winnipeg should save itself before it saves others.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The power of few - Part 2

In Charles Dickens's classic work, three ghosts haunt Scrooge. My last blog described evidence-based criminology - particularly the power of few - as a path for policing in the future. It too has three ghosts.

The power of few emerges from evidence-based criminology and has morphed into the new vogue - SMART policing. Comstat (computer crime statistics) and intelligence-led policing are part of it. SMART policing is Strategically-Managed, Analysis and Research-driven, Technology-based. The goal of the SMART Policing Initiative (SPI) is to develop effective, efficient and economical tactics.

Three ghosts come to mind.

Ghost #1: What data?

Evidence-based approaches rely on data to prove or disprove hypotheses in an objective empirical way. Data are the thing.

Mike Scott said as much at the inaugural SPI conference; standards of proof for evidence of success are difficult to define. What happens when the data is far from objective?

I've done blogs on research-driven and technology-based approaches like the paralysis of analysis, predicting crime with superlinear scaling, and problems with comstat data.

Ghost #2: Tech-envy

The SPI website offers a proof of technology-driven success in the story of security cameras in London.

London's Ring of Steel is a system of 500,000 CCTV cameras resulting in, supposedly, an improved clearance rate for murder. The evidence? London's murder clearance rate in 2005 increased to 95% from 75% in 1999.

Unfortunately London's 2008 teenage violence increased to a record 29 teenage murders (an epidemic for London), a year in which six days of youth violence ended in 6 teen knife attacks (two fatal).

Also unfortunate is that London's robbery rate ebbed and flowed the past decade. Then there was the explosion of robberies from 26,330 in 1998 to 53,547 in 2002.

So much for the Ring of Steel.

Ghost #3: Buy-in

It is rarely, if ever, advisable to proceed without public education and outreach, especially when targeting offenders or neighborhoods. SMART policing doesn't do that, but too many evidence-based methods do.

Some SPI advocates acknowledge this. "Smart Policing will benefit an entire community, not only through cost-savings and improvements to criminogenic problems, but also through the promotion of a sense of community and collaboration."

If done well, I think this is where SPI might flourish. Not just by promoting a sense of community. Rather, like SafeGrowth, by re-creating it and growing it from the ground up. McKnight and Kretzman describe this in Building Communities From The Inside Out.

Community capacity-building isn't an add-on after number-crunching is complete. It's not a tactic for strategic managers to craft their evidence-based plans. It is the very DNA of safe communities.

To ignore that DNA is to risk being haunted by ghosts of our past.