Saturday, December 28, 2013

Better angels of our nature - Ode to 2014

The perfect way to start a new year is to take a big picture look at our future trajectory. For that, one book stands above all others - Steven Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature.

This summer I linked to a TED Talk by Pinker when I first described his work in my blog Rising above the swamp.

I've just re-read Better Angels and it's terrific. Pinker shines a beam of analysis through the dark media images of "breaking news exclusives" and instant access to every hell-in-a-hand-basket story in every corner of the globe. In doing so he reveals that violence world-wide is on the decline. Contrary to media stories, things are getting better, not worse!

Pinker is no slouch waxing eloquent. He is an award-winning, Harvard based, Canadian-born experimental and cognitive psychologist. Twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Time Magazine named him one of the world's 100 most influential scientists.

Peter Singer's review says it all:

"The central thesis of “Better Angels” is that our era is less violent, less cruel and more peaceful than any previous period of human existence. The decline in violence holds for violence in the family, in neighborhoods, between tribes and between states. "

Pinker's book Better Angels of Our Nature reexamines the history of violence

Enter the naysayers: Edward S. Herman and David Peterson's On The Alleged Decline of Violence.

First they say Pinker ventures too far outside his field of expertise. Now there's an irony-drenched slam (Herman is a professor of finance and Peterson a journalist).

Then they claim Pinker "completely ignores the kind of violence that is built into the structure of social relations and shows up…as unequal life chances…such as the savage global class war of the 1 percent against the other 99”.

Wandering so blithely onto the thin ice of political polemics, I wonder how long it would take their "savage global class war" to crash through the frozen pond of cultural relativism upon witnessing the bloody genocidal slaughter of the Mongol invasions or a half million murdered during the Christian Inquisitions?

Perhaps the long-term decline of violence will not persist. Perhaps war will break out over environmental collapse or an empty island in the East China Sea. There are plenty of problems to fix, especially the environment! And crime still persists.

But I'm a bit weary of the cynical, sky-is-falling crowd…when it isn't. Stewart Brand says "It is sometimes fashionable to despise modernity. A more appropriate response is gratitude." 

I agree.

A new year is upon us. Let's take a breath, appreciate our remarkable historical progress, and then reset our sights on our many remaining problems. Including crime.

Happy New Year!

We still allow places of high crime risk. We can do better.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A perfect storm for Christmas - cutting murders

Last week New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu announced early results from their homicide reduction program. Unknown at the conference, this creates a fantastic new opportunity. It all starts with the following hypothesis:

Neighborhoods infused with SafeGrowth will help violence reduction strategies like Ceasefire to cut crime more effectively and longer than neighborhoods without.

New Orleans homicide strategy includes the Chicago-style Interrupters, blight reduction and other SafeGrowth-like programs. It also includes David Kennedy's anti-gang violence program called Ceasefire. It's this latter program that caught my eye.

New Orleans' Hollygrove neighborhood - photo Megan Carr
For years I've been a supporter of David Kennedy's Ceasefire. And David is still on the job in places like New York. Ceasefire tackles neighborhoods wracked by violence by calling-in gang members and giving them a choice between arrest and targeted sanction or job training, counseling, housing, and social help.

The message to gang members: We care about you because you are part of our community, but the violence has to stop! As Mayor Landrieu said at the press conference, "the laws of engagement on the streets of New Orleans have changed."

He credits Ceasefire with a big reduction in homicides.


Here's the thing; New Orleans' Hollygrove neighborhood already had a huge decline in homicides when residents and AARP instituted SafeGrowth and other programs a few years ago. Murders declined from over 24 to less than 6 with no Ceasefire whatsoever.

That's not to slam Ceasefire - it's a good program. True, there has been some criticism that Ceasefire doesn't work or just fizzles out. But now we have the perfect storm for a researcher, an ideal opportunity to test the hypotheses that SafeGrowth creates conditions for programs like Ceasefire to sustain lower homicide rates longer than in other neighborhoods!

I gave up my own evaluation research years ago. Practitioner work takes too much time. But I always encourage researchers to dig in. This meets all the conditions for a natural experiment...a perfect holiday gift for an enterprising criminologist. It could help communities everywhere.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Visioning - the first step

Map showing assets in Christchurch neighborhood

Arriving in my email this week was the above asset map of a neighborhood in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was provided by a talented community development worker in a neighborhood embarking on a SafeGrowth program we started last month.

It portrays the positive assets in a place rather than the negative liabilities, like a crime hotspot map. What a great first step to a better future.

I'm always mystified when I watch a crime prevention or police problem solving strategy that starts out by outlining the dimensions of some problem but neglects the positive assets on those same streets.

It's not surprising. After all, that is how all scientific endeavors begin: observe the problem, hypothesize the cause, measure and test the data to prove or disprove the hypotheses. Very logical. It helps solve nagging problems so things can move forward.

Sadly, too often that approach doesn't really move things forward because that's not how a community grows and flourishes.


In neighborhood planning the first step for building or rebuilding a community is the visioning process, a kind of deep dive into the wishes and desires of residents for the future they want. How can a place move forward if it doesn't know where "forward" is? Asset maps are one way to get a concrete idea of all the positive things a place has to offer.

Another is a community visioning weekend workshop. The video below shows a Philadelphia neighborhood, led by the Philadelphia Local Initiative Support Corporation, and it reveals how communities can envision where they want to go in the years ahead.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Facing violence with native intelligence

Santa Martina, Chile - Latin America contains a half billion residents and some of the most beautiful geography anywhere - photo Roberto Contreras

Nowhere do lessons of urban safety, CPTED, and SafeGrowth apply more than to the half billion residents of Latin America. Amid one of the world's most dynamic and expanding regions, it has some of the most beautiful geography on the planet. It also contains three of the worlds most violent countries.

In September, International CPTED Association vice-president Macarena Rau-Vargas gave an impassioned presentation at the (now global) Ted Talk in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Students of Latin American culture know very well the long list of social reformers who have worked and written about positive change in that region over the decades. Macarena is the latest in that impressive progeny.

As her Ted Talk illustrates she is as imminently practical as she is unwavering, a fact she illustrates when she describes having a gun pointed at her head by a gang member.

Macarena's Ted Talk video is below (english captioning is available on the menu). I have worked alongside, and been impressed by, Macarena for years. I am also lucky to call her a friend. Watch the Ted Talk and you'll see why.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Restarting a city - New Zealand's Christchurch

185 seats, 185 dead - an earthquake memorial in Christchurch (note the small seats for  children who perished)
Date: Tues, Feb 22, 2011
Location: Christchurch, New Zealand's second largest city
Time: 12:51 pm
Event: 6.3 magnitude earthquake
Result: 185 dead, thousands injured, $40 billion damage, 80% downtown destroyed

Three years later Christchurch is still rebuilding and recharging. Emerging from the collapsed buildings, destroyed roads, ruined homes and considerable personal loss, the city is making some discoveries.

I spent the past week introducing SafeGrowth in this beautiful country with its magnificent countryside and easygoing people. Four teams from the Phillipstown neighborhood of Christchurch are the first to try it. Yesterday Christchurch TV covered the training in a newsclip.

Turns out they have a few cards up their sleeve.

Three aces

First, police use Neighborhood Policing Teams throughout the city with experience in CPTED. Clearly there are some progressive police leaders who see their value.

Second they are experimenting with innovations. One is hundreds of temporary shipping containers to house everything from banks and stores to offices and coffee shops. The containers are painted bright colors and positioned in interesting configurations. They are rarely vandalized.

Coffee shop showing storage containers with multiple temporary uses - photo Mateja Mihinjac
Their ace in hand is an outstanding CPTED planning team. Led by experienced CPTED practitioner Sue Ramsey, they are advised by renowned CPTED architect Frank Stoks. It was from Stoks' doctoral dissertation on rape in Seattle 30 years ago where the Toronto METRAC organization drew many of their survey questions for the famous Women's Safety Audit.

Sue described the work in Christchurch at the 2013 International CPTED Association conference. Christchurch is well positioned to start a whole new SafeGrowth transformation up from the rubble of disaster.

Shopping in the container village - color and innovation downtown - photo Sue Ramsey

Out of the Christchurch rubble emerges an new urban form - photo Mateja Mihinjac

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Boston Marathon and CCTV - Are we learning yet?

Minutes after the Boston Marathon bombing 7 months and 6 days ago
photo Aaron Tang, Wikimedia Commons 

I enjoy watching the fictional TV cop show NCIS where Gibbs and the gang use omni-present CCTV to catch crooks doing crime. What fun! What fantasy! I hated watching the Boston Marathon bombing where CCTV caught the real act, live.

For years I've been writing about CCTV in public places in the United States and in Britain. Never shy to adopt barely-studied methods elsewhere, Canada's now in on the act. Yesterday's Leader-Post reports that "downtown Regina will be protected by 33 closed circuit (CCTV) cameras" during the upcoming Canadian Grey cup football championship game.

Let's see if I remember… 

Seven months and 6 days ago the radicalized Tsarnaev brothers carried pressure cooker bombs in backpacks in plain view of CCTV along the route of the Boston Marathon. An hour after police swept the area for explosives, they blew up their bombs killing and injuring bystanders. The whole horrible thing was caught live on CCTV. 

For a decade UK has led the world with thousands of CCTV in public places. Now a recent UK government study tells us 80% of CCTV images are ineffective and that "cameras are mostly used to trap motorists rather than catch criminals."

I'm glad cops use CCTV to catch crooks after the fact. But keeping the Grey Cup festival safe? All I see here is journalistic Alzheimer's.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bad week for predictive policing - PredPol nightmare

Big data to the rescue - Does it work?
Last week was a very bad week for predictive policing, at least one version of it. It comes in the form of an article in the San Francisco Weekly News by investigative journalists Darwin Bond-Graham and Ali Winston. Their exposé, All Tomorrow's Crimes, reported on one company - PredPol - as it markets its computer software to police departments across the county.

It reads like a PR nightmare for PredPol.

It starts innocent enough: "PredPol, short for predictive policing, is riding this wave of techno-mania and capitalizing on the belief... that there's a killer app for everything, including crime-fighting."

I have written on this topic for years. My main worry has been cost and reliability. A year ago I wrote on the predictive model by IBM that Memphis Police call Blue Crush. Two years ago I wrote  The Precog Paradox and three years ago Solving the City With Math.

And now there is a killer app for predicting crime? 

But then the SF Weekly News article takes a darker turn:

"PredPol has required police departments that sign on to refer the company to other law enforcement agencies, and to appear in flashy press conferences, endorsing the software as a crime-reducer — despite the fact that its effectiveness hasn't yet been proven."


I have no idea if any of that is true. But it does show that too many police executives and press outlets are not doing their homework. Where is critical thinking when you need it?


A year ago a police executive posted on this blog. He is a critical thinker who we need more of in police leadership. This is what he said:

"I sat through a presentation yesterday involving an algorithm-based program that attempts to predict future crime… It could very well be one piece of the problem-solving puzzle. It's something that should not be dismissed. 

It doesn't take the place of a human crime analyst. It doesn't eliminate the need for problem solving. And it doesn't reduce the importance of collaborating with others. It's not cheap, and it could very well tempt agencies to divert funds away from more effective crime reduction strategies…

…only time will tell."

With this news article, it seems it has.

Below is a Ted Talk with a presenter whom the SF Weekly article identifies as a PredPol "lobbyist". It gives you an idea of the PredPol message.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Washington/BC murder mystery

Is more security cutting crime rates?
I cautiously stepped into a glass chamber at a recent security trade show to test a unique anti-burglary device. At the simulated moment of alarm activation I was blasted by a non-toxic, non-staining fog blanketing the chamber. I could see nothing. It's supposed to scare off burglars who cannot see their way to the loot. Devices like burglar foggers supposedly contributed to crime declines. So I'm told.

My last blog, Line on a Map, asked why the murder rate is so different in Washington State versus British Columbia (2.9 versus 1.5 per 100,000 - a ratio of 2:1).

The answer to that is buried somewhere in falling crime rates; falling under liberal and conservative governments, falling in peacetime and war. Until recently, falling like a stone in all but a few places.

Criminologists have multiple theories. Few agree.

Some say it is better security devices like burglar fogging or just more private security generally.

Unfortunately, while more security might explain some of that, the "better security devices" theory cannot explain declines in domestic violence, sexual assaults, and schoolyard bullying. Few of those victims are protected by better technical devices. Yet those rates too are also falling.


Some say it is more police per capita, new policing tactics like Compstat, stop-and-frisk, or stricter prison sentences?

During the 1990s, the first crime decline decade, those were American tactics. Canada had no changes in sentencing, no Compstat, no stop-and-frisk, and no more cops. Crime in Canada dropped just the same.


Aging population? That works better than other theories since older populations span most countries with crime declines. Since young males dominate prisons and court dockets, when they decline as a proportion of the whole population, crime drops. So the theory goes.

Yet none of that explains the Washington/BC gap until you factor that it is murder that is higher in Washington; property crime, especially burglary and theft, are not.


Then factor that most Washington murders involve handguns, in abundance in US cities and scarcer in Canada. True, crooks can always get guns on both sides and responsible gun owners don't leave their guns unsecured (gun rights folks…chill)!

Still, there are just more handguns around. For example, when a burglar breaks into a Washington home with a 1 in 20 chance of finding a handgun versus a 1 in 500 chance in BC, that handgun gets into more abundant criminal circulation. It then shows up more frequently during robberies and assaults. More shootings result in a much higher murder ratio in Washington vs BC - in this case a ratio of 2:1.  Gun advocates who think more guns will protect them are in a burglar fog. Look north for proof that they won't.

Nothing - not demographics, per capita police, economics, nor security devices - explain that difference better than handgun availability.

It truly is that straightforward. Solving it, sadly, isn't.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A line on a map

Seattle and Vancouver on the Pacific west coast - dueling cities
Years ago a police chief told me he planned to hire a renowned criminologist to compare the murder rate in Vancouver to Seattle. He was tired of hearing Vancouver was so much safer. He knew there was a gang war in Vancouver and didn't believe the numbers. Both cities are similar in size, economic wealth, relative policing strength, and age demographics. They are only a 3 hour drive apart.

A murder gap? No way.

That criminologist never showed. Depending on whose version of the story you believe, either the data wasn't available, the criminologist wasn't available, or the study was done but unavailable for public view.

I have a simpler explanation for the Vancouver-Is-Worse-Than-Seattle theory.

It isn't!

Nor is BC versus Washington State. British Columbia has a population of 4.6 million; Washington State 6.9 million. In 2012 BC suffered 71 murders (1.5 murders per 100,000 people) while Washington State suffered 203 murders (2.9 per 100,000, twice that of BC).

On the U.S. side of the border lies majestic snow capped Mount Baker. The view is magnificent from both Vancouver and Seattle. For hundreds of miles beyond the border posts, BC and Washington are separated by only the 49th Parallel - nothing more than a line on a map.Yet if you view Mount Baker from the U.S. the stats suggest your risk of being murdered doubles.


Washington State has a history of innovative prevention programs.
The Office of Crime Victims Advocacy and Community Mobilization Program (defunded next year due to cutbacks) are considerably more advanced than what BC offers by comparison.

True, BC's CPTED is deeper (Washington lags considerably) and BC's Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers receive more advanced basic training called problem-based learning.

But can that explain the homicide gap?

Next blog: Why the difference?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The mysterious case of a walk in the mist

Today banks of fog rolled in one after the other formed by moist fall-time air blowing over cold ocean currents out in the Straight. Echoing through the quiet streets of our neighborhood, a maritime foghorn accompanied our walk through the mist, no doubt replacing the clop clop of horses hooves on cobblestones as Sherlock Holmes raced off to solve yet another murder mystery…

At least that's the image our misty walk conjured in my mind. In all, it was a magical evening for a seaport town.

Obviously none of this is possible unless walking is made easy, fun and safe. And walkability is not only important for activating streets and keeping crime in check, it's a very big deal for quality of life too.

In Walkable City author Jeff Speck describes how some cities kill walkability. In such places fog is just a roadway hazard. Those cities rob their citizens of the interesting or necessary places to walk - a grocery, park, coffee shop, playground, or a corner store.

We've seen plenty of micro examples on how to improve walkability: lifestyle malls,  bright paint, better designed laneways, or planting strips along sidewalks. Speck reminds us there are macro lessons too.


To Speck urban density holds the key to a better quality of life. Low density cities breed less healthy people because they walk less and accumulate more health related ailments. For example, he says 14 people die for every 100,000 residents in low density Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's 23 in Orlando. But in high density cities like New York and Portland it is only 3.

Crime doesn't correlate so neatly, yet the walkability links on the right of this blog show street activation makes a difference.

Check out Jeff Speck and the Walkable City on this Ted Talk.

Friday, October 18, 2013

It was a dark and foggy night in the future

"It was a dark and foggy night in the neighborhood where nothing really happens…so there goes that drama". Caption from photographer Celine Chamberlin's photo

There is a TV show worth seeing and a book worth reading.

The TV show because it is excellent. The book because I think it's wrong but I also think it is excellent. It's an intelligent counterpoint to the depressing malaise in the US body politic, an aspirin to the headache that passed for Congressional politics this past week.

Controversial author and professor in urban development, Joel Kotkin, uses the suburb to tell the story of America in 2050. The Next Hundred Million describes the suburbs of the future. To Kotkin they are a place of hope.

Says Amazon:

"Suburbia is the future, but not the wasteful lonely suburbia of the 1950s. Instead we must fashion a new kind of suburban landscape, one that selectively borrows the successful and vital elements of big city life and uses them to make more vibrant small cities."


But what will happen with the increasing number of suburban poor, spikes in suburban crime, and the class gentrification in American downtowns?

A new TV show called Continuum points in another direction.

This new cop thriller is a well-acted and brilliantly made Canadian sci-fi (with outstanding FX) filmed in Vancouver (Showcase network in Canada and the SyFy channel in the US and UK).

The Continuum storyline pushes Occupy Wall Street, government shutdowns, and corporate greed to a very different place than Kotkin.

Check them both out. Knowing different futures helps us choose more wisely.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Back to the future - POP in 2014?

Photo from 2013 Goldstein Award Winners, Enfield school robbery POP project report -  Sandeep Broca and Ian Agar, London UK

This week I attended the 24th annual International Problem Oriented Policing (POP) conference in Dayton, Ohio run by the POP Center. After depressing news last blog about funding cuts in UK crime prevention there is good news from London.

The POP conference is flagship for the best community policing in the world. It features finalists in the Goldstein POP Award program. I've blogged on previous winners. This year the slate was impressive:

  • Citrus Heights police in California helped trigger revitalization of a crime-ridden street
  • Houston police cut robberies in convenience stores
  • Dayton and Milwaukee police reduced prostitution and help get streetwalkers off the street; 
  • New Zealand police reduced youth crime, and 
  • Hamilton police in Canada cooled violent hotspots downtown.

The 2013 winner of the International Herman Goldstein POP award was from police in the London UK borough of Enfield. Their community safety partnership tackled a worrisome increase in youth robberies around schools.

Enfield crime map on robbery hotspots around 3 schools helped target efforts - Sandeep Broca and Iain Agar, Enfield POP Project report
The Enfield team worked in schools (mentoring, anti-bullying), applied CPTED (after-class dispersal zones, staggered school closing times) and used enforcement (disrupting stolen goods markets, targeted patrols). Their efforts reduced street crime, increased drug treatment access for offenders, and cut robberies in half.

I watched as Enfield and the other finalists received their well-deserved awards. I was impressed with them and all the exceptional project teams. It's heartening to see police and community partners using  POP and CPTED as paths to a better future.

Then it dawned on me - last year the COPS Office at the US Department of Justice de-funded the POP Center. Efforts are now underway to avoid shutdown, but the POP Center and POP conference may be history. I wonder if this forebodes more combat policing and crime prevention defunding?

After decades of documented police innovation carrying us forward into the 21st Century are we now de-evolving back to the 20th?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The decline of crime prevention

Curtailing UK crime prevention funding - photo by IgnisFatus, Creative Commons

Calvin Beckford is one of the founder members of the UKs Designing Out Crime Association. He joined the London Metropolitan Police Service in 1978. He was one of the UK representatives for a European project on good practice models of crime prevention across Europe. In 2005 he joined ACPO Secured by Design, a police initiative for designing out crime. He currently runs The Crime Prevention Website.


The Metropolitan London police now employs 32 Crime Prevention Design Advisers, one per London Borough, and there are perhaps 6 or 7 'old fashioned' Crime Prevention Officers left. Crime prevention advice is now delivered by way of leaflet, website (including mine as they link to it) and by a visit from a Police Community Support Officer, who try their best, but are largely untrained.

The economic depression, I think, simply speeded up the process of downsizing the police crime prevention service here, but I'm still not entirely sure why it's happened.

My own experience seems to have been different from my contemporaries insomuch that I had tremendous support from my Commanders and essentially became one of the 'right-hand men'; especially in respect to partnership working with local authorities and other partners.


The rot really started during my 5 years working for ACPO's Secured by Design (2004 - 10).  During that period most of our supportive senior commanders across the country began to retire and the ones coming up behind seemed to know next to nothing about the positive effects of CPTED or even good old fashioned Situational CP.

Then the depression hit and then we had a change in government to a Conservative led coalition who don't like anything to stand in the way of making money.

For example, in spite of our efforts and evidence that building secure (SBD) homes was profitable they only see SBD as an obstruction to house building and have been less than supportive. They got rid of a raft of planing guidance (which included our CP stuff) and I know that SBD are fighting a rear guard action to keep crime prevention on the agenda.


While this was going on the Community Safety Departments at our Local Authorities have been stripped to the bone. When I worked in Camden in central London I had two planning officers assigned by the local authority to help me 'design out crime' across the Borough - we did a huge amount of work, which i know has prevented a lot of crime.  These positions are long-gone.

How can our government do this?  Well they have the current luxury of falling crime figures, which I am sure has a lot to do with reduced opportunity, so this is the very moment they can do these things.

These are difficult times.

Monday, September 30, 2013

CPTED on TED.Talk & Magnificent Santiago

Santiago city lights by photographer extraordinaire Roberto Contreras

Santiago, Chile is enticingly filled with contrasts fair and foul. During my visit here this week I feasted on a buffet of visual and cultural treats foremost of which was a growing CPTED movement.

Like any 6-million person metropolis, Santiago struggles with air pollution. Winter-time temperature inversions from the surrounding Andes mountains make matters worse. Yet those same mountains offer world-class skiing and snow capped vistas. Driving in from the airport, roads are lined with garbage strewn shanties. Yet elsewhere the city is clean, modern and exciting.

Security fencing is everywhere in residential neighborhoods
Oddly, residential areas are lined with security fences, razor wire and cameras. For a country with the lowest crime rates in the region, that is a mystery. Aside from reports of some gang-run pockets in the city, Santiago is one of the safest cities in Latin America. It's homicide rate is far lower than most American cities.


In Chile and other parts of Latin America, CPTED has been led by Macarena Rau and her dynamic team at PBK Consulting. Macarena is Vice President of ICA and chair of the Latin American Chapter of the International CPTED Association.

Macarena Rau delivering the first-ever CPTED presentation at TED Talks
Yesterday Macarena delivered her amazing story at a talk in Argentina - the second-ever CPTED practitioner to describe CPTED on the world stage, the first being defensible space guru Oscar Newman at the inaugural UN Habitat conference in 1976 Vancouver (technically he didn't discuss CPTED but rather declining urban conditions which is more SafeGrowth than CPTED. I digress.)

That's quite a feat!

I have admired Macarena for years. This week we presented at CPTED conferences and seminars in Santiago delivering the South American model of CPTED, a holistic and community-based version of CPTED.

I suspect holistic 2nd Generation CPTED is easier in a culture already rife with interesting urban innovations.


Activating neighborhood streets with movable flower shops
Consider this...

A program to rent street corners to confectionary and flower vendors. Each vendor determines the fiscal viability of corners. They then rent an attractive flower kiosk predesigned by municipal architects (to control the quality of the neighborhood image). Since the kiosks are easily moved, if the economics of the corner don't work the kiosk is moved.

The vendors add a valuable service to the neighborhood and they are in demand. They also add to land values and safety by locating more legitimate eyes on the street. It's private sector entrepreneurial savvy matched with public sector quality control to improve neighborhoods.

Remember the old Mayberry vision of Mom and Pop corner stores in the neighborhood? It seems the Santiaguinos have figured how to revise, beautify and activate that vision and provide jobs at the same time. Also quite a feat.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Magic sidewalk gardens

Sidewalk gardens in Portland, Oregon - an alternative to bland grass strips

I hate those strips of grass near sidewalks when they are festooned with the foul fecal offering of a wandering canine (I blame mindless dog owners). Too often those strips are neglected, littered and ignored. They detract from neighborhood aesthetics and make it look like no one cares.

This blog has talked about parking lot design, bike trail safety, and redesigned alleys. Yet somehow those odd strips of grass escape our notice.

Overflowing tall grasses block a few sightlines but still add character
Technically we're talking about sidewalk buffers called planting strips but they have many names; tree lawns, rights-of-way, boulevards (in Canada), and verges (in the UK). Street ecologists call them planting strip gardens or just sidewalk gardens.

Think about it. If residents can take them over and use them for flowers and food, planting strips become one of the simplest fixes to create local pride.

It's the perfect opportunity to activate a boring or dying street. In CPTED terminology planting strips can extend territorial control by residents into the public domain of their street.

I found some interesting samples in Portland, Oregon recently. Check them out.

Short walkways direct pedestrians to cars
Functional gardens provide food and buffers to prevent toddlers from darting onto streets

Monday, September 9, 2013

They just won't get involved - part 2

In Philadelphia they show free movie nights to activate neighborhood handball courts - photo Handball Court team report,  2010 SafeGrowth Training 

by Gregory Saville

Judging by recent e-traffic, my last blog struck a chord! Especially the contention that community engagement in policing has been a dreary failure. I conclude that, except in problem-oriented policing or when mentored by non-profits (see below), it seems a lost cause.

Truth is, aside from trite historical footnotes (“the police are the public, the public are the police”) most police-community engagement today is little more than political optics. Of course, as in all polemics, that isn’t true everywhere.

I was impressed to discover the Dallas Police Community Engagement Unit. Then I read it is three policing teams who do evidence-based analysis, work with apartment owners to deal with crooks, and attend community meetings where they "gather information first-hand that can be relayed to other teams in the department."


There’s nothing wrong with asking the community for information on criminals. That’s good police work. But let’s not pretend it is community engagement.

Ultimately I don’t think any of this explains our engagement flop, at least not the version where residents take an active role in planning and working toward their own public safety. Perhaps the police are not the best agency to do that anyway.

Governments hardly do any better. National Crime Prevention Councils rely on national "night outs", neighborhood watch schemes, or education about existing crime prevention programs. In other words, walk around at night, watch out for crooks, and call the cops.

I know I’m simplifying and yet a critical thinker must ask, Who is really "engaged" when that engagement amounts to little more than walking around, calling the cops, or going to meetings?

CPTED history offers some hope. Consider Oscar Newman’s dictum in Creating Defensible Space; Always include grassroots participation in prevention planning!

We use a similar approach in SafeGrowth though our message is conveyed in a different way. For example, one lighthouse shining brightly on community-policing partnerships is the LISC - CSI  SafeGrowth programs.

Residents and police conducting nighttime safety audits in Milwaukee
- photo Sam Carlsen


When the message is engagement we need a messenger who is appropriately staffed, resourced and most of all, trained in engagement tactics. The last time I checked the Engagement Toolkit I counted over 60 tactics. That messenger must master them all.

Who is that messenger? Probably a non-profit like LISC or AARP, a philanthropic organization, a municipal planning department (as in Saskatoon), and an active community association. It will require municipal executives, particularly police chiefs and city managers, who know how to advocate for and implement such a model. They must be properly trained on how to do that.

Every time I’ve seen successful engagement in places like San Diego, Milwaukee, Saskatoon, and Philadelphia I get the feeling that is the shape of the future. At least I hope it is.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

They just won't get involved...

Authentic engagement rarely emerges from community meetings or town halls! 

by Gregory Saville

An email showed up this week from a crime prevention colleague in a far-away city.

“Not sure if it's a sign of the times or just the fast pace, long work hours, and long bus commutes…but it’s a bit of an uphill struggle to get some communities to take ownership of their neighborhood issues.”

It’s a theme I’ve heard over and over - getting residents, shop-owners and locals out of their homes, away from TV to “do” crime prevention. Setting aside their boredom (or their fears) and working together in common cause. That theme hovers raptor-like over work that depends on building community. Sometimes called capacity building, or in the latest sociological parlance collective efficacy, this is the idea of community engagement.

Engagement is the road kill of community crime prevention, in one moment obvious and in another impossible. Academics study it, policy wonks insist on it and social workers claim it brings meaning to neighborhood life. Yet none of them tell us exactly how to do it, how to get people outside and “engaged”.

In criminology the grandest experiment in community engagement was the juvenile delinquency work in the famous Chicago Area Project back in the 1930s and 1940s (still going on). Even today strains of that work echo in studies about cutting youth violence with community engagement. 


Police too did their bit during the community policing era with community engagement strategies, though they were usually limited to those monstrosities where cops sat up front in some hall to "engage" the community (sort of) in community meetings.

There were experiments with neighborhood substations, now long gone (closed in the name of funding cuts as expenditures turned instead to fancy computer programs, night-vision goggles, and new military equipment). In most cities, all that remains is the police/community meeting room (usually adjacent to the front foyer at HQ). And still, none of that tells us anything about the simplest question: How do we get neighborhood dwellers engaged and into the public realm – their streets, parks, community halls – where their lives intersect in a real way? 


Then I remembered this lovely, formally adorned, Muslim mother at a SafeGrowth training in San Diego a few years ago. She came up to me and said quietly, “You know, in the Muslim community engagement in daily life starts with great meals and tasty food. Celebration starts in the stomach.” Actually, I thought, it does for everyone! Potlucks, barbeques, corn and hotdog roasts, and lemonade stands!  

Interesting, isn’t it! It is the fun and joyful things of community life like food, music, and play that draw people out. It's those times when they meet and share in each other's lives in a gradual and ‘smell-the-roses’ kind of way. Less community organizer and more community jester.

Kinetic sculpture race down the street - bathtub boats on steroids

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Getting it right - Journalism that works

Cover page of Team 4's exceptional SafeGrowth Plan from the Milwaukee training
Trashing media crime reporting is my past-time of late. I've complained how difficult it is to find articles that resist racing to the bottom of the sensationalism pool. One exception from an earlier blog: Joe Schleshinger's writing on the decline of violence.

As if on cue (and dishing me up a welcome plate of humble pie), I've just received two more examples of great journalism - a news article by reporter Ashley Luthern and an opinion piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel following our SafeGrowth LISC - CSI training.

The opinion piece titled "Hiring 100 more police officers will help, but more is needed" concludes, "hiring 100 more police officers in Milwaukee won't by itself curb crime…[they] have to be part of a smart strategy…"

Exactly right!

Suppressing any self-respecting humility, I admit my favorite part is the final paragraph:

"The SafeGrowth Initiative, aimed at creating neighborhood solutions to crime, can help, too. Sponsored by the Milwaukee branch of the Local Initiatives Support Group, SafeGrowth participants have come up with ideas for fighting crime in such places as a residential block, a parking lot frequented by drug dealers and a commercial corridor with a rarely used park and a troublesome tavern. One proposal was to create a better way for police to work with taverns during the design and permitting process to create a safer environment."

Could not have said it better!

Even more important is their suggestion for moving forward.

Milwaukee SafeGrowth team 4 asset map

A prevention strategy in 4 parts

The Journal Sentinal opinion piece suggested 4 strategies for prevention:

1. Deploy cops strategically
2. Neighborhood activation
3. Municipal and grass-roots leadership

That 3rd one is key. In fact (DISCLAIMER: humility suppression alert) teaching city executives how to activate grass-roots leadership is exactly why we developed our new program - Citizen Cities.

The only slip I see is their 4th strategy: "Bring in more help from the state".

True, government has an important role. Funds may be useful to purchase new (and proven) technologies and that can help. But new technologies and tactics hack at the branches, they don't dig at the roots. Plus, government funds come with strings, politics, and snags. Not to mention the risk of funding-addiction - when the money dries up, as it often does, so does the program.

Much better to work with governments, launch an initiative with a police/community angle and then use a portion of those funds to help local groups organize their own independent funding.

Aside from that, the article and the opinion piece are journalistic gems. Best humble pie I've tasted in ages. To Ashley and the Journal Sentinel…well done!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Porch squatting in Milwaukee

Milwaukee - photo by Dori at Creative Commons
In Clint Eastwood's film Gran Torino, a widowed and bitter Walt Kowalski, Korean War veteran, watches street life from his Detroit porch as his Hmong immigrant neighbors become the victims of gang persecution. Confounded by the fearful Hmong's unwillingness to help police, Kowalski confronts the baddies, unites the Hmong against the gangs and ends up dead.

It's the classic story of a declining hero who fights injustice, in this case from that very American security blanket - the porch. Our fading hero might be a worn metaphor, but how can you not love the odd pairing of ancient Greek tragedy with Clint's stellar film direction?

This week, during my Milwaukee SafeGrowth class, I saw Gran Torino come to life (sort of) only in reverse. Embedded within the remarkable and successful projects from team members there was a story of young men hanging out on neighborhood porches, drinking beer and smoking dope. Nothing strange in that except these porches did not belong to those young men. They just picked a porch somewhere on the street (where they may or may not live) and then just took it over.


Sometimes those homes were abandoned, sometimes not. As in Gran Torino, residents often don't ask the squatters to leave, presumably due to fear! Residents seldom call the police. Police have made arrests and cracked down but the problem continues. I'm told it has been ongoing for years.

It is Gran Torino in reverse.

SafeGrowth team members didn't think the squatters were gang members or drug dealers (my first thought), but they were not sure. Squatters didn't move into those abandoned homes nor ask residents to join them on the porch. They simply picked a porch and hung out.

I know of dealers who launch open air drug markets and take over abandoned buildings. I know gang members intimidate neighbors by claiming porch turf. But SafeGrowth team members didn't think any of that was the case here.

Why don't squatters stay on their own porches (they were not homeless)? No one knew. A few team members thought this was common across Milwaukee. Others disagreed. Another thought this was common in all low income, troubled neighborhoods. I could not think of any other community with such random, and obnoxious, porch squatting. In CPTED this is what Randy Atlas calls offensible space.

We will never reclaim neighborhoods and prevent crime unless we can mobilize legitimate behavior. Porch squatting is not legitimate behavior! And there is no Clint Eastwood coming to the rescue.

The good news? Based on the high quality SafeGrowth projects and the exceptional team-work I saw this week in Milwaukee, we won't need him.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Subtopia rising from the ashes

Urban apocalyptos - collapsing suburban strip malls and abandoned regional malls
The phrase urban apocalyptos came to mind this week - those activists who write about collapsing neighborhoods and make their living by hollering Armageddon. Consider those decay-chic writers who feed on the coolness of reporting blight, gang infestations and acres of abandoned houses. Existential nihilism gone amok!

Of course, sometimes they were (and are) right.

Remember those Michael Moore documentaries on corporate corruption, public fear and government inaction? He was probably right on many points especially the gun-ownership mess and the national health-care travesty (it helped Moore trigger an American renaissance in independent social cause films).

My personal favorite was Roger and Me describing the decline of Flint, Michigan. He targets Big Auto and claims they did little to save their cities, especially General Motors. He seeks out GM CEO Roger Smith to ask why. Against that backdrop Detroit's recent bankruptcy, the largest in US history, is a poignant reminder of Moore's message.

Subtopia - the good news

Subtopia was a term originally coined by UK urbanist Ian Nairn, (and later commandeered in eclectic music videos and by European apocalyptos).

The new subtopia arises phoenix-like from the ashes of the Great Recession. It is an idea similar to Capitalism 3.0, a book about a new economics where citizen-owned, market-based commons trusts purchase back their city.

Subtopia offers a way to rethink dying cities, a kind of survival-through-planned-shrinkage. While New Urbanists return to Mayberry, the Subtopians turn abandoned properties and buildings into community land banks. Fed up with slumlords who let empty homes sit and rot for years, they shut down entire neighborhoods of abandoned homes.

The posterchild for subtopian land use experimentation is Flint, Michigan (Moore's hometown). The hope is they will ignite a renaissance to revitalize blight.

Says the New York TimesThe population would be condensed into a few viable areas. So would stores and services. A city built to manufacture cars would be returned in large measure to the forest primeval.

This came to mind as I read a national plan to bulldoze acres of urban rot and decapitate what was once urban life. Subtopia is an interesting twist with all sorts of possibilities like Karen Dybis's story Designing a Better Detroit.

Is it possible that out of this crisis new ideas will emerge for rebirth?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Rising above the swamp

Nobel-prize laureate Malala Yousufzai - Photo Creative Commons by Southbank Center
This week I watched Malala Yousufzai speaking to the United Nations, the brave 16-year old Pakistani student whom the Taliban attempted to murder because she promoted education for girls. She is inspirational and, though a victim of violence, offers welcome respite from news of violence.

Whether Islamist fanatics killing young Muslim girls or fundamentalist Christian ideologues attacking abortion clinics, Malala Yousufzai reminds us political nutcases will always surface. Tragic also is how they are sensationalized in the putrid swamp that passes for contemporary news reporting. That may be as much the fault the media as it is the fault of the extremists themselves.

News reports of violence

The same can be said for stories of murder, rape and violence that find their way into headlines. Is there validity to the claim that by airing such atrocities we raise alarm, show disgust, and shame local authorities into taking action? Does media attention allow us to hear the Yousufzai’s of the world?


Putting aside for a moment recent blips in crime trends of a few cities, (possibly due to the Recession) new research suggests the trend for worldwide murder, mayhem and violence is actually on the decrease. Yes, things are getting better (though you wouldn't know it from the media)!

This according to a number of respected journalists who rise above the putrid smell of info-tainment, for example Joe Schlesinger’s recent article on CBC titled You do know, right, that the world is getting better?

Steven Pinkers 2007 presentation “The Decline of Violence”

Schleshinger cites Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker reveals a dramatic decline in violence rates around the world. The Middle Ages - the so-called Dark Ages - were particularly brutal and violent says Pinker.

He should know. Ever since criminologist Ted Robert Gurr wrote the historical classic Rogues, Rebels and Reformers in the 1970s (showing the same downward trend from ancient times until the crime explosions in the 1960s), few historians have looked so exhaustively at the topic. Pinker has compiled the most comprehensive historical data on homicide to date.

"Even for the 20th century as a whole, with its two world wars, revolutions, genocides and man-made famines, the violent death rate was down to 3 percent…a marked decline from the 15 and 10 percent rates that he documents for prehistoric times and the Middle Ages." 

It is left to Malala Yousufzai, a victim of violence, to show us that even in a swamp there are flowers.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Policing Detroit 2023 - ED Series 209 versus G3.mp4

The latest police vehicle in the fleet - the G3.mp4 - top-of-the-line

Consider the AC/DC lyrics in the above advertisement for the Lenco Bearcat G3.mp4 police vehicle:

I was caught
In the middle of a railroad track 
I looked 'round,
And I knew there was no turning back
My mind raced
And I thought what could I do? 
And I knew
There was no help, no help from you

An omen perhaps of a possible future?

I'm thinking of our LISC friends in Detroit this week as I watch with sadness the news of that city's bankruptcy. On the heels of a number of other Great Recession city bankruptcies, this is the largest in US history.

Just imagine broken police cars with no fuel, employee payrolls empty, acres of abandoned homes! Is there any doubt this is Toffler's hinge in history?  I wonder what future that hinge will open?

Today the Wall Street Journal, that staid fixture not known for radical thought, foreshadowed one future in Risk of the Warrior Cop.

It describes the increasing militarization of American policing. Those familiar with SafeGrowth may remember my blogs on combat policing and warrior cops. Some say my combat cop versus community cop dichotomy is unfair. Both are needed, right?

Maybe. But one wonders why the Cobb County Police require an amphibious military tank? Perhaps "tank" overstates. (How about military-grade, turbo-charged, armored personnel carrier with thermal imaging and tear gas grenade launchers?) Or why does the Richland County Sheriff require, "a machine-gun equipped armored personnel carrier that he nicknamed The Peacemaker."

Fueling this trend, in 2011 the Department of Defense gave away almost $500 million worth of military equipment to police.

Former Kansas City police chief Joseph McNamara warns police militarization is risky and counterproductive. "It's totally contrary to what we think is good policing, which is community policing".

With apologies to Detroit, all this domestic militarization brought to mind a future portrayed in a 1987 film. Then it dawned on me! (Cue sarcastic tone). I know exactly what law enforcement needs... The Enforcement Droid series 209, programmed of course for urban pacification.

If it wasn't so possible, it would be funny.

Monday, July 15, 2013

I am the crucible of the future

Social media = social cohesion? Today during the LISC sponsored Twin Cities SafeGrowth training we heard some terrific planning projects to enhance safety on the new light rail Transit Oriented Development in St. Paul.

Among the presentations was an idea to incorporate social media and Facebook into one of the neighborhoods as a 2nd Generation community cohesion strategy. Cool.

Then I came across this: The City 2.0 crowdsourcing project from the 2012 TED Prize.

It's a new website with a platform to "surface the myriad stories and collective actions being taken by citizens around the world. We draw on the best of what is already being discovered by urban advocates and add grassroots movers and shakers into the mix."

I especially found the City 2.0 Safety part of the website fascinating. It expands to show Gallup's new poll on quality of life  conducted over the past 3 years and mapped with categories like nighttime safety, community satisfaction, and stress.

The future is being written as we speak.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Slutwalks and risky behavior

Walking and texting late at night in a Calgary alleyway - photo Randall Atlas

Strolling downtown late at night after Calgary's ICA CPTED conference we came across this young woman walking by herself in an alleyway. What struck us was not how she was dressed or that she was alone or that the alley was well lit. What amazed us was that she texted the entire time as she walked down an isolated alley quite oblivious to her environment.

It seemed risky.

Then I thought about the Slutwalk phenomenon launched after the victim-blaming remarks by Toronto police constable during a 2011 crime prevention presentation.

"I've been told I'm not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized," the constable commented to a group of women at York University.

He later apologized for his remarks but they led to city-wide (and later world-wide) annual Slutwalks.

The phenomenon has been both lauded and criticized by others, including feminists.

One motive for Slutwalks is the persistent and idiotic views on the topic. According to Huffington Post one Manitoba judge "condemned a rape survivor for wearing a tube top, no bra, high heels and makeup which he implied led her to sexual assault." The judge also implied "the assailant had succumbed to inviting circumstances."

That thinking is absurd. It is also still alive and well.

None of which changes the fact that mindless oblivion while texting late at night in an isolated alleyway is just not a good idea.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

CPTED Conference follows historic floods

This blog often ponders a future with eco-friendly, green technologies to create safer communities. Consider anti-graffiti moss, Saint Paul's transit-oriented development, last year's Rio + 20 environment conference and last week's blog on 3rd Generation CPTED.

Given catastrophe's from global warming these past few years, it's remarkable doubters still deny human-created climate change. I suppose some will always bypass science and spin alternate histories of a wishful and more stable past.

Even those riding the wayback machine cannot spin recent weather tragedies like the terrible Calgary floods last week. Like it or not, climate change is here to stay and every profession and community is affected. (Prior to 1990 only 3 disasters in Canadian history topped a half billion dollars in damages. In the past decade alone there have been 9).

It is ironic, yet sad, that next week's International CPTED Association conference will follow the 2013 Alberta Floods. That tragedy saw 100,000 residents evacuated, 4 deaths and $3 billion in damages. Thankfully the floods have subsided and the 2013 ICA conference is proceeding.

Calgary residents have done a remarkable job of recovery. The YouTube below tells their story.

The ICA conference carries the title: Creating Safer Communities - More Than Design. Nowhere is there a better time and place to consider the reality of that title and rethink our urban design and safety options in the years ahead.

Monday, June 24, 2013

3rd Generation CPTED and the eco-friendly city

A new design for wiring public transit stops to the net - New Energy report

At an ICA CPTED conference last year in Mexico City I introduced a paper from the SENSEable City Lab at the famed MIT sent to me just before the conference. It was fascinating. Published through the UN, it is titled; New Energy for Urban Security: Improving Urban Security Through Green Environmental Design. As both a thought piece and a white paper, New Energy is a curious read, especially their ideas for a 3rd Generation CPTED.

To some CPTED traditionalists, 3rd Generation CPTED will be heresy! When Gerry Cleveland and I introduced 2nd Generation CPTED in 1997, with its focus on neighborhood social dynamics, we too were met by gasps or yawns.
"No, no…" gasped those incredulous with what they saw as the imponderable, "That's not CPTED! CPTED is only about physical modifications for reducing crime opportunity."

Yawned others, "We've been doing that all along," (in spite of a lack of data recording where and no published training details on how).


Ever so gently (okay, maybe not so gently at times) we reminded them of the original writings of CPTED, laden with concepts like communities of interest and neighborliness and written by pioneers like Jacobs, Newman, Jeffery, Angel, Wood, and Gardiner. The naysayers parked their gasps and yawns and retreated to the comfort of their target hardened forts to snipe from the ramparts (I admit some bias in this affair).

Dare I say that 2nd Generation CPTED nowadays is a staple in training and practice? (Even if some trainers still mistakenly believe it's just a fancy name for activity support.) Thus is the nature of theory growth!

Now we approach another watershed.

The MIT folks propose integrating eco-sensibilities into CPTED with what they call 3rd Generation CPTED. The gist of their aim is to activate public dead spaces so they are more defensible, but doing so using green technology. "A green and digitally enhanced environmental design that addresses the concerns of cities."

Can't argue with that.

But is that really CPTED (gasp)? Aren't advanced designers already doing that (yawn)? Consider the eco-designs of Portland's City Repair program, founded by the keynote speaker at next week's ICA CPTED conference in Calgary.

Fearful of becoming my own nemesis, I read New Energy with gusto and discovered it was refreshing and exciting. Perhaps having a name for all this work isn't such a bad thing.


The coolest parts in the report are the eco-high-tech solutions: multi-functional and eco-friendly urban furniture that is crime safe; interactive urban art in public spaces to improve perceptions of safety (recall examples from Milan and Minneapolis I posted a few months ago).

Pretty cool stuff. My favorite? Wireless networks across the city made available on street furniture. Imagine video-based, touch screens on transit stops (see photo above) with real-time information on alternate routes during delays or Google Earth safe alternate routes home.

A bit Bladerunner-like…but still, pretty cool.

Interactive public art to activate public spaces - New Energy report