Sunday, July 31, 2011

City clean-ups and chutzpah in Sao Paulo

Bureaucratic banality or Mayoral chutzpah? I recently learned about a remarkable urban experiment in Brazil.

Prior blogs discuss beautification and the CPTED strategy called image ("management and maintenance"). While image cannot stop crime, it can trigger positive change.

The town of Celebration illustrates how new urbanists and their form-based zoning take that one step beyond. Sao Paulo has another.

In 2007, Sao Paulo, one of the world's largest cities, instituted a radical experiment in beautification: a ban on unsanctioned, outdoor advertising. No billboards, no posters on buildings, and no brand advertising on busses. It is called the Clean City Law (Lei Cidade Limpa).

Unlikely instigator of the law was conservative mayor Gilberto Kassab. Four years later, in spite of plans to reintroduce a few isolated advertising zones (and unsuccessful legal challenges by the advertising industry), the law is deemed successful.

They have removed 15,000 billboards and levied fines of $8 million for companies violating the new law. In a modern, free-market democracy a city without public advertising is an anathema. Yet, the law remains.

The difference between pointless and consequential in law is whether it works.

True, they are still working to clean up unsightly blank billboards. Sao Paulo remains poor and gang infested. None of that, of course, is what the Clean City Law was about. It was about visual pollution and civic pride in the public realm. Survey's indicate over 70% of Sao Paulo's population love the new law.

Beautification can make a place seem like someone cares. It's a small, consequential step to help residents feel pride in their city. And as we know, a sense of place and pride is the first step in the long journey to neighborhood engagement.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gun crackdowns or transforming violence? Choosing our future

News this week of a mass killing in Norway depicts a racist flat-earther for what he really is; a murderous bigot. Small solace for the victims. Can community safety ever be immune from such madness?

Worried about events far away, I checked on a friend's safety in Mexico following the recent drug cartel slaughter of 20 people in a Monterrey bar.

Mass murder by lone bigots? Hard to see that coming. Drug violence and cartel gun crime? That's a different story with no simple explanation. Something can be done. But what?


Some still grasp at simple explanations. I just read a blog from a combat-cop acolyte suggesting more cops and crackdowns is the way to community safety. Facts and research suggests otherwise.

Michael Scott, director of the Center for Problem Oriented Policing, published The Benefits and Consequences of Police Crackdowns, a study of 42 police crackdowns.

He found that carefully planned gun crackdowns did show some promise when "supported by problem analysis and conducted in a way to safeguard civil rights". Yet half (47%) of the crackdowns in his review had no impact, weren't evaluated or had mixed results.

Fast and Furious

The fact is too many crackdowns have unintended consequences, none more spectacular than the failure of last year's ATF operation Fast and Furious.

The idea was to target Mexican gun runners, provide guns through undercover sales, track and then catch them. That would, supposedly, help stem the flow of American guns feeding the Mexican drug war. The opposite happened.

Fast and Furious resulted in a dead US Border Patrol officer and over 1,500 guns missing, many in drug cartel hands. Some may have even been used in the Monterrey shooting. According to ATF's report to Congress yesterday, the crackdown spiraled out of control. An ATF attache to Mexico called it "insane".

So, what will stop the violence?

A short while ago Emiliano Salinas, son of the former Mexican President, provided ideas for the future on Watch it HERE.

He gave examples about how to organize each community and act together. Says Salinas: "The problem is that we play the role of victims. We need a civil response against violence."

Made me think of The Tragically Hip's lyrics in Courage:

So there's no simple explanation
for anything important any of us do
and yea the human tragedy
consists in the necessity
of living with the consequences

Friday, July 22, 2011

Beauty, eh?

A number of years ago I was asked to write-up a government study on CPTED strategies in US cities. The results were asymmetric. Lacking political gravitas, most cities did little to implement CPTED. Arguably, it seemed like one of the greatest failures of any prevention policy in recent history (three-strikes laws notwithstanding).

I say arguably because failure is a generalization and generalizations can be a cagey thing. For example, the study also revealed some municipalities had taken major steps forward, now described in Atlas's book 21st Century Security and
in a chapter titled "Implementing CPTED".

Interestingly, the government study did show one CPTED strategy proliferated - management and maintenance, what Newman called Image. That was probably because Image emulates planning trends like beautification, streetscaping, and the form-based zoning of new urbanism (a trend now at risk in places like Winter Park, Florida).

Though it cannot stop crime, it can trigger positive change. Beautification is not to be ignored. I recently took photos in San Diego and San Francisco showing how simple beautification can be. Then a Canadian CPTED colleague (and International CPTED Association board member), Steve Woolerich, sent me this fascinating clip of a street piano in his Alberta city. Check it out HERE.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Can research help cops prevent crime?

Research seems to be the last place cops look for solutions. They appear to implement most new approaches without supportive research to back them up.

Having co-researched and co-authored (with Gerry Cleveland) the Police Training Officer program - first adopted in Reno and then nation-wide - I am sensitive to this argument. The PTO program (and its grown-up progeny, the Police Problem-Based Learning program) was fully funded by the COPS Office. They both were thoroughly researched and pilot tested prior to implementation. Along with Problem-Oriented Policing a few decades earlier, I believe this to be a rarity in the police world.

It is the same with crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). CPTED was studied and evaluated many years ago by researchers. Studies exist today on its effectiveness and some progressive police agencies have adopted CPTED based on this.

But usually not.

Now there is a new movement called evidence-based policing that seeks to fix the disconnect between science and policing.

This week I chatted with Harvard's Malcolm Sparrow. He has just published a brilliant and provocative response to the Evidence-Based scholars in a paper called Governing Science.

This is a must-read for informed leaders. It is a must-read for social scientists too.

Here's one tasty tidbit:

"…the relationship proposed by proponents of evidence-based policing offers virtually no benefits for police. The best they can hope for is that the scientists they have invited in…will finally confirm what police thought they knew already: that an intervention or program the department had previously deployed did actually work. The downside risk for police is much greater."

The article explains why he says this and how he thinks it should work. Read it HERE.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The walkability breakthrough in New York

Navigation, for most humans, isn't by GPS. At least not yet.

For most of us it is just a matter of getting around by looking where we are going. Sometimes maps help. Sometimes we ask for directions (even males do this occasionally)!

Designers call this wayfinding. In CPTED we call it "movement predictors". When it comes to urban safety and what people feel about a street, it matters. A lot.

A year ago I blogged on walkability, Jane's Walks, and the Walk Score to measure the walkability of your neighborhood.

This week a CPTED friend sent this NY Times article about City Signs to Help Pedestrians (they aren't just for tourists).

My favorite part is NY TImes writer Michael M Grynbaum's description: "One feature is novel for city maps: concentric circles that represent an approximate walking time."

Woo hoo! Honoring pedestrians over the car. A breakthrough!