Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cutting crime in Connecticut - SafeGrowth's latest launch

3-D mural, an optical illusion in New Haven alleyway. Look carefully - no photoshop

The folks at the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) just launched our latest SafeGrowth training, this one in Connecticut. New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman gave the introductory remarks and reminded us how today's world is primarily an urban place. Cities are the thing and we better get them right.

It could have been Jane Jacobs talking!

Before the training I spent time revisiting old haunts in New Haven, including a peek at my old neighborhood in Westville (still vibrant, still thriving).

Then the training. This week four teams of class participants have begun fanning out in three different Connecticut cities to start the hard work of creating safer spaces where there is none. In 6 weeks they will put together their preliminary plans which we assess in November. Exciting times.

New Website

While there I learned my talented friends at LISC's Community Safety Initiative have created an exceptional tool for practitioners - a new SafeGrowth/CPTED website.

After leading SafeGrowth initiatives and training in a dozen cities over the past five years, LISC-CSI has again outdone themselves. Have a look.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Children in the city - winning the public realm

Greentopia film on Rochester's El Camino trail

"...the true community is the children..."

More good news from Rochester.

A few months ago I reported on the cool BoulevArt project in Rochester following our SafeGrowth training this spring. I also described the streetscaping and outdoor art along University Avenue.

Community organizer Rachel Pickering just now sent this latest video updating progress on the El Camino trail project, one of the SafeGrowth projects during the training. The news is serendipitous given my recent work on urban bike trails.

El Camino used intensive programming to win the public realm. My favorite take-away: Discovering the critical role children play in success!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The devil is in the details - Bike trails and crime

Rails to Trails Conservatory "Is It Safe" video on bike trail safety

This past week I worked on a bike trail and crime project. Reflecting on my last blog, some old questions resurfaced: What is it about bike trails that trigger fears? Do bike trails suffer crime? Absolutely! Are they a necessary asset for cities? Absolutely!

How can we build bike and walking trails to promote safety?

I've blogged on trails before; Florida's famous Pinellas Trail, Eugene, Oregon's extensive urban bike trails, and BC's Gabriola Island.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy/National Parks Service commissioned a study on bike trail safety in 1998. Unsurprisingly they offer a typical CPTED buffet: trim vegetation, minimizing hiding spaces, lighting, emergency phones, patrols, access for emergency vehicles, and maintenance.

CPTED prescriptions like that are fine. But prescriptions without the diagnosis are like a buffet without vegetables - tasty but not terribly healthy. And none of it guarantees anything.

Crime can and still does happen on bike trails.

Seattle KOMO News 4 newsclip of bike trail through "the Jungle"

What do we actually know? 

In 1987 one of the first-ever studies on bike trail crime reported a remarkably low crime rate near and on bike trails in Eugene, Oregon. It also shocked detractors by reporting increased property values for adjacent trail properties.

A decade later the same results were reported in a study in Omaha, Nebraska and again in 2000 another Rails to Trails study confirmed those results. What all these studies show is less than 5% of all residents living adjacent to trails reported crime or burglary. In the Rails to Trails study only 3% of 373 trails surveyed reported major crimes.

But, as they say, the devil is in the details. There are ways to design bike trails that simply displace troubles from one place to another. The Seattle news video above suggests exactly this problem in a new bike trail running through "the Jungle".

Beelzebub, it seems, has made an appearance.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

In the eye of the beholder

Fear and risk are two very different things. Solving one does not always solve the other.

I live in one of the most livable towns in the country. It has a variety of bookstores, an active and safe teen skate park, accommodation for the elderly, alternative housing options like cohousing, and two local industries.

There are over 40 restaurants for just 8,000 people (obviously a tourist town) and a festival every weekend from spring till winter. It has one of the most successful farmers markets and a vibrant and architecturally interesting downtown.

There hasn't been a murder in the city for decades and last year there were 52 violent crimes (mostly minor assaults) in the county with about 29,000 residents producing a county violence rate of 17 violent incidents per 100,000 residents.

In short, it is safe and vibrant.

Gotham City crime

New York City is also one of the most vibrant cities in the country and by every meaningful measure, it dwarfs my town. It has thousands of restaurants, bookstores, festivals, and every other amenity imaginable serving a city of over 8 million. It has a lower crime rate than most large cities. Yet, in comparison to my town the violent crime rate last year in NYC was 55 violent crimes per 100,000 residents.

In other words, the violent crime rate there was three times higher than here.

Yet a former neighbor, a young woman who lived in New York until recently, describes feeling much safer on New York streets than here. She is more concerned about walking home in the dark here than walking there even though her actual risk is 3 times higher (To be fair I doubt she knew the different rates, only how she felt).


The Truth about Risk

Perception and risk are two entirely different animals. I have spent many years working in high crime places. I learn about the cues of environment, attitude of the locals, and actual crime risks. My first lesson - we may feel safe but not be so.

This week I read a great blog about crime risk by Sam Harris titled The Truth about Violence. He cites four basic safety principles including how to avoid dangerous places and people.

Harris also describes a truism about us: It is unpleasant to study the details of crime and violence—and for this reason many of us never do. I am convinced, however, that some planning and preparation can greatly reduce a person’s risk.

I agree.

Read Harris's blog. It's worthwhile.