Monday, July 30, 2012

Spreading good ideas - BoulveArt in Rochester

The BoulevArt project happening across Rochester [photo Michael E. Tomb]

A few months ago we completed SafeGrowth training in Rochester. Many of those projects are still underway.

During our training we describe the importance of community art, what planners call place-making, as one step for creating positive neighborhood culture. We highlight Portland's famous Intersection Repair project that I blogged about a few years ago.

One of the exceptional SafeGrowther's in Rochester, Rachel Pickering, just sent me this fascinating link to the BoulveArt project now happening across Rochester.

Photo: Michael E. Tomb
Painting an intersection is so simple, colorful, and remarkably fun, it's a wonder it doesn't happen everywhere. I'm told it is a daunting process to organize it and sell it to the city. That's not the case in Rochester, who actually host this site.

Good ideas, apparently, can spread.

Photo: Michael E. Tomb

Monday, July 23, 2012

A thousand small sanities

 NYPD's hotspot tactics & Compstat are controversial - but effective
[Photo: Ianqui Doodle/Flickr]
Readers of SafeGrowth know certain high crime properties are incubators for gangs and violence. That isn't destiny, it's reality. If SafeGrowth (and approaches like it) prove anything, it proves residents are not doomed to a life of mayhem. Environment can be changed and streets transformed.  

It also proves we can do it with coherent planning, mobilized neighborhoods and intelligent anticrime strategies like hotspot policing.

Case in point: crime declines in New York.

I recently read Frank Zimring in the New York Times:  "The 40% drop in crime that occurred across the U.S. from 1991 to 2000 largely remains an unsolved mystery. Even more puzzling then is the crime rate drop in New York City, which lasted twice long and was twice as large. This 80% drop in crime over nineteen years represents the largest crime decline on record."

Zimring studies New York's crime declines - A book worth reading.
A mystery?

I'm not big on mysteries that aren't. It's like watching a Hollywood flick and expecting some magical, non-formulaic finale. Not going to happen!

That 40% drop nation-wide followed a decades-long demographic metamorphosis that swept North America more than anywhere else since WW2. Since the 1990s crime-prone cohorts aged out of crime in record numbers. Those crime declines continue today.                                                          
Then New York built on that perfect demographic storm as NYPD added crime suppression tactics like proactive street stops and controversial (but clearly effective) quality-of-life enforcement.               
Intensive street stops increased the risk of getting caught with an illegal gun. That led to a 39% drop in gun toting criminals from 1993-1995. Is it really a mystery that kind of informal gun control cut violence?


It's what Greg Bergman calls A Thousand Small Sanities (another excellent read).

During the peak crime declines fewer arrestees went to prison. Why? Bergman describes the vast network of incarceration alternatives evolved in New York - drug courts, mental health courts and community courts providing meaningful community alternatives like drug treatment and restorative justice.

Says Bergman "there needs to be a continuum of non-incarcerative interventions for offenders with the most intensive options reserved for populations that are both high risk and high-need."

Hotspot policing, neighborhood justice courts, and targeted suppression. Anchor that with permanent SafeGrowth planning and neighborhood capacity building and voila -  a finale that makes sense.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Anti-crime and government cash

A hot and muggy Toronto summer night. Crime in the city.
I'm back in Toronto this week pondering recent shootings and how things have changed in this city. Like everywhere, crime is down here too. Is shifting demographics or the economy the cause? Better policing? Crime prevention?

In 2005 Toronto experienced the "summer of the gun" - rampant shootings and gang killings. The government responded with a $200 million social development program, the so-called neighborhoods strategy. From what I can see it was implemented on a wide range of social programs, focused on high crime hotspots. No doubt some great individual stories and anecdotes arose.

Today a Toronto Star news article reports the program is running out of government cash. So local politicians just decided to refund it. Incidentally, without hard evidence.

That's right: After 7 years of operation the Toronto Star says "hard data on the campaign’s impact does not exist...They are working on a plan to track progress this time around."

What? Almost a quarter billion dollars and no hard evidence? It took them 7 years to figure out evidence is not a trivial matter?


Ironically (or more to the point, intentionally) our 2000 - 2011 San Romanoway SafeGrowth project in that same city was intensely researched and tracked.

We saw crime declines, minimal displacement, and neighborhood capacity building. Results were published in scholarly journals and released for scrutiny. Now 12 years later, residents there run and fund programs themselves.

Yet, in the same city a few miles away no one thought to track nearly a quarter billion dollars for a 2005 anti-crime social program?

Next blog: A better way. Frank Zimring's book "New York's Lessons for Crime and it's Control."

Monday, July 9, 2012

SafeGrowth in San Diego

SafeGrowth team member and local resident John Thurston
took this photo of Fairmont Village [Photo John Thurston Photography]

A year ago we completed SafeGrowth training in Fairmont Village, a neighborhood in San Diego. We set up neighborhood leadership teams to tackle neighborhood problems. I'm thrilled to say they're still at it! 

Coordinated by Jessica Robinson from San Diego State University's Consensus Organizing Center and assisted by nationally renown crime analyst Julie Wartell, project team members are still doing the hard work to make their neighborhood a better place to live. 

Project sponsor, Price Charities has a long history of neighborhood philanthropy involving revitalization and safety in the larger area called City Heights, the region encompassing Fairmont Village.

City Heights has overcrowded schools, parks and streets in disrepair, and 37% of residents below the poverty line. In the 3 years prior to 2010, Fairmont Village suffered 63 robberies and 94 burglaries. 

Housing in City Heights [Photo John Thurston Photography]
CPTED theory predicts robbers and burglars are emboldened when streets are empty and neighborhoods in disarray. The SafeGrowth leadership teams tackled those concerns. Their SafeGrowth projects reflected that:
  • fixing a troubled street plaza
  • CPTED in schools 
  • an "adopt a trash can" image and maintenance project, and 
  • improved walkability through pedestrian safety.                                                                       
They were able to enhance city development work that spruced up the business area and revamped a local school. Leadership teams extended that into livability and walkability.

In fact Price Charities has now hired a full-time crime prevention coordinator and Jessica continues to help organize. She has created a great new website to describe the initiative. Check out their City Heights Safety Initiative website.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Happy Birthday Canada

Combined Canada Day and Gay Pride Parade celebrations, Toronto (Reuter's photo)

Neighborhoods of excellence and safety grow from tolerance for differences. That old message emerges from urban gurus like Jane Jacobs. Nowhere is the celebration of diversity better illustrated than in parades and festivals.

This year Toronto has accomplished what few other places in the world can claim - a successful pairing of a gay pride parade with the nation's birthday celebrations. I watched that odd spectacle on July 1 when Toronto's annual Pride Parade was intentionally combined with the nation's birthday celebrations on Canada Day.

For many citizens tolerance is no doubt tested in such a pairing. As well, Toronto's Pride parade is not without controversy (the mayor didn't attend). Further, some hate this unique pairing. Then again, hatred is precisely the point.

From what I saw, 100,000 combined Pride Parade and Canada Day revelers had few problems proving that tolerance isn't just acceptable, it is the very definition of diversity.

Pride and Police - waiting for the parade to arrive

Peeking over the heads of thousands lining the parade route