Monday, December 31, 2012

Target hardening, ballistic glass and the God Particle

Today ends an AaaHaa year for scientific discovery. The pinnacle was the Higgs-Boson subatomic particle discovery - the so-called God Particle - at the LHC particle accelerator in Switzerland.

What does it mean? I have no idea. But my science friends tell me the discovery is a very big deal; it confirms the standard model of physics. That will keep future theory on track so our descendants end up with better supercomputers, new kinds of energy, interstellar space flight…whatever. In any event, it does sound cool.

Why does this matter in CPTED - crime prevention through environmental design? It matters because it shows how testing and staying true to a theory keeps practice pointed in the right direction.


The past few weeks I've been studying ballistic glazing and glass-clad polycarbonates for high-rise towers - to the non-engineers that's window target hardening for bombs and guns, the comfort food of security. Target hardening is important for my client. It keeps vulnerable assets safe and that's a good thing.

After Oklahoma City, glass curtain walls are often target hardened
Despite that we should never confuse target hardening with CPTED. To do so distorts the intention of the theory and we don't have social particle accelerators to get us back on track.

The early CPTED literature has no reference to target hardening. Read Elisabeth Wood, Schlomo Angel, Jane Jacobs, Oscar Newman, and C. Ray Jeffery. It's not there. True, there were some government funders back then who insisted target hardening be included in grant proposals for some early evaluations. That's probably where the theory distortion began.

Today that myth persists. I hear it described as a CPTED strategy for controlling access through mechanical means. I see it in calls for ballistic glass and guns to protect our schools or chain-link fences to protect front lawns. I see it in all kinds of bunker-building designs ascribed to CPTED.

Target hardening is fine for security work and cutting crime opportunities. Also, there are some great websites with excellent advice. However it comes at a social and financial cost. CPTED guru Tom MacKay calls it the target hardening trap.

An early model of CPTED incorporating target hardening. The "myth" begins! 
If CPTED theory has morphed to include target hardening then obviously there has been too much wallowing in shallow thought pools. We need to get past these bunker-building distortions.


Howbeit we make the following New Year's Resolution: We reaffirm the original community-building intention of CPTED theory by those who created it. We go to the source:

C. Ray Jeffery: "Loneliness and alienation need not characterize our urban life. Cities can also be designed so as to increase human contact of an intimate nature." (CPTED, 1971)

Oscar Newman: "This book is an effort to formulate a new concept for geographic communities which reflect…the bringing together of separate communities to refashion urban environments [and] stabilize threatened neighborhoods." (Communities of Interest, 1980)

Elisabeth Wood: "In the long run there is no substitute for the contributions that the tenants make to the welfare and economical management of a project…design can facilitate the social fabric out of which a tenant organization grows and by means of it can be effective." (Housing Design, 1961)

Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Beating the Apocalypse - A collective mind?

12:01 am, December 22, 2012.

Made it. Whew!

Yesterday we were told horrible things would happen to the world because the Mayan calendar corresponded with a 26,000 year alignment of the center of our galaxy. We were told it corresponds to a 26,000 year alignment with the central star of the Pleiades constellation. All of this, NASA says, is an astronomical impossibility and, in any event, utterly irrelevant. Sure enough, here we are.

Aside from the apocalyptic hucksters making a buck from the gullible, why do people believe in end-of-world myths?

Is there really is a subtle, yet real, shared consciousness - or perhaps collective experience - that connects us? The doom-and-gloom crowd tap into it whenever a Mayan type event shows up.

After years working in neighborhoods, especially with groups who share a vision for a safer future, I believe such a thing exists. I don't know if it is psychological, spiritual, or political. But it can work in our favor as much as it can convince people of the Apocalypse.

The video above is an example. May we use it for positive things in 2013. Happy holidays.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Connecticut horror, personal shame

Gilligan's brilliant book offers the best understanding of violence to date 

Yesterday 20 young children under 10 years old and 7 adults were murdered in a Newtown, Connecticut grade school.

Nationwide the statistics are cold and bleak: Since the Littleton CO school slaughter there have been 13 mass murder tragedies claiming over 150 victims; all but 3 killers committed suicide; most were mentally ill or motivated by political/religious fanaticism. In every case victims were killed by effortlessly obtained handguns and assault rifles.

Even more deplorable some states have multiple cases of mass murder. In 2010 there was another Connecticut mass murder. And today none of this matters to parents of 20 murdered children or the family members of 7 others.


As I reflect on yesterday's horror I am ashamed to say I'm thinking of myself. A decade ago I ran a crime prevention research center at the University of New Haven. Our team developed an innovative violence prevention program called School-Safe. This was a few years before SafeGrowth but it deployed many of the same tactics. It was designed for schools. Some of our ideas were similar to those promoted in James Gilligen's Preventing Violence.

We were quite proud of ourselves and excited for the potential of our program. Such hubris! We sent notices to school principals. We ran a workshop to promote it. World-renown forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee generously provided our introductory keynote address and encouraged school leaders to try it out.

Of the few school leaders who showed up, none showed interest in trying it. It's now long gone.

Today I know I should be thinking of young victims in Connecticut, not of myself. But that shame doesn't tamp down the fire of some burning questions: Should I have done more to convince school leaders? What could I have done different to explain the program? Might School-Safe have saved young lives in Newtown, Connecticut? I'll never know.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The end of the world as we know it

The magazine Popular Mechanics calls end of the world predictions "a fools errand"

With apologies, I lifted that title from the rock group REM and their great song "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)".

Tonight I walked a trail in San Mateo, California and saw an intensely lit warehouse wall covered in graffiti. Over the years I've been told lighting stops crime. I've been told if you cut robbery here, it just moves there. I've been told more cops means less crime.

These are myths disproven by scientific evidence. They lack diagnosis and proof. Proof doesn't matter to myth-makers and myth-believers. It's not truth they seek, but fantasy.

Myths have power because, like all matters of blind faith, they rely on looking the other way when evidence intervenes. They rely on blindness.

My favorite? End-of-the-world myths. I have no doubt the world will end, probably in a billion or so years when the sun runs out. But the Mayan calendar, so we're told, prophesizes our doom this year on December 21. We have until December 21 to tie up loose ends and say goodbye. How will this happen? By a comet (that doesn't exist), by a rogue planet (that hasn't been found)...whatever.

In response to the witchy-woo-woo crackpots the real Mayan descendants are outraged by the hype. "We are speaking out against deceit, lies and twisting of the truth, and turning us into folklore-for-profit" says one.

NASA has systematically debunked Mayan apocalypse myths. "For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, where is the science? There is none."

The best debunker is the Australian Prime Minister who spoofed apocalypse stories with her news announcement to say goodbye. I love a politician with a sense of humor.

See you on the 22nd.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Culture jamming from Montreal to Mexico City

Montreal or Mexico City? Who can tell?
From the streets of Mexico City to the streets of Montreal. A modern megalopolis sprawling on the plain of an ancient volcano that, a millennia ago, held a population larger than Imperial Rome. A beautiful island city larger than Manhattan and nestled in the St. Lawrence River, re-settled by Samuel de Champlain in 1611 from the original native inhabitants.

There's nothing quite so jarring as culture-jamming from one country to another, the biggest shock being the weather; cool, mild evenings in one, winter's first snow in the other.

One day I watched 1,000 demonstrators protesting working conditions in Mexico City. A few days later I watched 20,000 students protesting tuition hikes in Montreal. They are a world apart in sensibility and logic.

Then there's crime. Both cities have pernicious corruption epidemics, though lately Montreal's mob penetration of the construction industry probably tops Mexico City. Murder rates are similar, slightly higher in Mexico City with over 2 per 100,000 compared to just under 2 in Montreal. Taxis are riskier and poverty much more prevalent in Mexico City. Drivers, in both, are crazy.

In spite of the differences these cities prove that vast differences in demographics and urban form cannot determine, or prevent, success. Both have lively, exciting and safe downtowns, streets teeming with young and attractive fashionistas, cell phones growing from their ears as they bleat Spanish or French versions of "what...ever".

City culture, it seems, can pacify and amuse even the most skeptical observer - me being the perfect example.

Water, not ice. Dead give-away for Mexico City's traffic circles