Monday, October 31, 2011

The Interrupters

Gary Slutkin is another prevention kid with a great program on the block. Despite Newsweek's yellow journalism alleging conflicts between David Kennedy's and Gary Slutkin's different anti-violence programs (and their eviscerating response), they both have the same goal and similar successes. You say tomato, I say tomahto.

Recall Kennedy uses the justice system, targets high risk populations, collects cases on offenders, and uses the threat of sanctions to intervene.

Slutkin takes the public health approach. He blocks violent outbreaks by targeting high risk offenders and uses community "interrupters". Interrupters are savvy street workers who convince family and friends to help offenders see violence is in no one's best interest.

A new award winning film is out called The Interrupters. It describes a year in the life of violence in Chicago. It's a fascinating documentary about Slutkin's program.

I hope the film - and the program - does well.

Still…getting the right program is only half the battle. Staying on point is the other.

Kennedy's CeaseFire anti-violence program cut Boston homicides in half in the 1990s - the Boston Miracle. Now he says they moved away from CeaseFire and crime is on the rise. Streetworker unionization, role change and budget cuts decimated a once proud program.

Oakland too lost the plot. Courts issued gang injunctions without CeaseFire coordination. Then "funds from the city to CeaseFire were interrupted when the number of Oakland police dropped below levels required by the ballot measure."

When will officials learn to keep political fingers off things that actually work in the hood? When will we, the neighborhood dwelling public, wise-up and slap their fingers for it?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Back from the brink

SAFEGROWTH DEFINED: Crime prevention and community building is best achieved within the neighborhood by harnessing the creative energy of neighborhood change agents and functional groups.

I'm on a roll with good news stories lately. Here's another one demonstrating the above.

Hurricane Katrina hammered it. Fifteen to 20 murders annually vexed it. Even homegrown rapper L'il Wayne once sang "Hollygrove ain't no muthaf**kin melrose".

No longer.

Hollygrove in New Orleans is born again. Not in the religious sense…though, maybe. SafeGrowth training through Louisiana AARP is part of this story (eg: read The Hollygrove Story and Bus Shelter Madness).

Fast forward…

Only four murders this year. What's down? Crime, by 78%. What's up? Community events, garden centers, and Night Out Against Crime. AARP-sponsored strategic planning sessions with residents charted new urban designs for elder-friendly places. The Hollygrove Walking Club now walks for health and peace.

Two weeks ago Hollygrove won a national MetLife Foundation award from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. Watch this new video on their success story.

Here's another video, this one about their garden program.

The rappers are right. The hood's where it's at!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Imagine this - transforming the untransformable

Last blog was about cohousing as a way out of a Wire-esque future. Here's another.

I love winning stories, especially in places with special challenges. Winning stories have power; cynics are exposed with winners under their nose.

Wins in Philadelphia have appeared here previously in the Semillia arts initiative and the city's vibrant South Street.

Eastern north Philadelphia however has special challenges. At a policing conference last week I spoke to a participant from a 2010 SafeGrowth training. Sarah Sturtevant is a talented member of Philadelphia's LISC team and shared some wonderful stories with me.

One was about a redeveloped Rainbow de Colores park. See Sarah's blog HERE.

A few other wins are described HERE.

Then I came upon a great video of their visioning sessions. Says one person in the video: "When you build a plan to fix problems you might be wildly successful and fix all the problems, but still not create a good community."

How true.

The video Our Community, Our Vision.

Thanks Sarah to you, your fellow LISCers, and especially those community members and local organizations committed to wins. You all remind me of another Sarah I wrote about a few years ago. She too was remarkable.

Thanks for your inspiration.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Avoiding a Wire-esque nightmare - Part 2

One of my favorite quotes in The Wire is when a 16-year-old drug dealer points to a run-down apartment and says, "…this shit! This is ME, y'all. Right here!" I've heard real drug dealers say that.

Author Arthur C. Clarke once wrote the only way to discover the limits of the possible is to venture a little way into the impossible.

Unworkable neighborhoods demand a different future. Higher density housing may replace sprawling suburbs for reasons both environmental and economic. But too often we get old style house design and traditional apartment buildings. We get unmanaged and decrepit public housing that ends up as gang-breeding warehouses. Witness all-too-real neighborhoods in The Wire.

The Wire never won a major award and had modest ratings. Yet it's described as the greatest TV series ever made. Part of that is due to its bleak existential portrait and the warning it offers. Clearly, we need to venture into the impossible.

I recently saw just such a vision in Victoria BC - Fernwood Urban Village, an elegant and well designed development proposal for density co-housing.


Cohousing is resident-planned, owned and managed equity housing. When I contacted cohousing projects around Seattle, many had affordable rental units. Enough of those in our future and maybe we could eliminate public housing altogether!

Like most cohousing, Fernwood is pedestrian-oriented with common dining rooms, media rooms, and workshop. Residents own their private residence but the design "makes social interaction easy and integral to everyday life." Each unit has it's own kitchen but residents usually choose to share a few meals each week in the common house.

Unlike gated communities, resident-owners share co-housing design and management. Thus, residents learn problem-solving and collaborative decision-making skills for handling conflict later on.

Municipalities rarely encourage or provide financial incentives for cohousing. That needs to change. We need to venture into the impossible.

Check out co-housing movements in the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Avoiding a Wire-esque nightmare - Part 1

David Kennedy’s book Don't Shout for eradicating gang violence describes only the first step. It skims root causes that create gangs in the first place. There is more - the neighborhood and the street and the housing where gangs breed.

A few years ago an HBO crime drama, The Wire, portrayed contemporary gang life and a cultural war against the urban underclass. Striking to me was the similarity between gang ghettoes in The Wire and the actual housing projects we work in SafeGrowth programs. We call them "gang breeders" because that is exactly what such nightmarish places create.

Five years after The Wire ended we are deep in recession and housing is undergoing a transformative tsunami. Foreclosed houses in outer urban rings are leaving swaths of ghost suburbs. Inner urban rings are densifying into a new kind of suburb where demands for multi-family housing and apartment rentals are exploding.


Are Wire-esque nightmares in our future? Suburban ghettoes? A new kind of vertical poverty, growing in cities like LA, Chicago, Toronto and New York?

How can we build denser, environmentally friendly housing? How can we satisfy the needs of the future and make livable and safe habitat?

Intentional communities provide a proven answer. One successful version is co-housing. I've studied co-housing for 20 years and visited dozens in different countries. I've spent time with architect Jan Gudmand-Hoyer who pioneered the idea in the 1960s.

In North America co-housing has been around for a few decades. There are about a hundred in the US and Canada. In Oregon, Washington and British Columbia alone there are 24 projects, a third of which have been running for over 15 years.

McCamant and Durrett write about co-housing. Their recent book Creating Cohousing describes it.

Next blog: How can we make this a reality?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Demise of Guys

Prisons are filled with young men. Make more arrests and prisons will fill up with them. Last blog David Kennedy's new book Don't Shoot described his anti-gang/drug dealer programs (gangs comprising, at least initially, young men).

Why young men?

Philip Zimbardo is one of my favorite living psychologists. He makes simple the complex world of behavioral research. He's no intellectual slouch - Stanford professor, author of the PBS film Discovering Psychology, former chair of the American Psychology Association.

In his latest TED talk last month he says growing numbers of young men are joining the military, watching TV sports, obsessing on events like Superbowl Sunday, and hanging out with each other in pubs. Of course men have always done that, just not to such an extent.

Ironically, for all their macho bluster about women, Zimbardo says young guys end up preferring male bonding to female mating. He thinks excessive video gaming, Internet porning, and explicitly male media obsessions are a major reason why.

I'm unsure how much of this holds up to evidence. I’m unsure how many of those Millennial malcontents end up in gangs or doing crime.

I am sure his talk called The Demise of Guys is well worth 5 minutes of your time to find out.