Monday, January 28, 2013

Changing the world by activating the street

French street artist "JR" tells his TED Prize story on

On a creativity roll the past few weeks and the ride feels great. So often we hear crime and disorder have deep roots and digging them out strains our patience and resources.

The last few posts - guerilla classrooms, soundscapes, bubble wrap -  provide elegantly simple solutions how to activate a street to make it safer. In science the elegant and simple theory is called parsimonious. In neighborhood safety it seems to go hand in hand with creativity.

The video below shows JR, a French street artist who created a new kind of street art. He not only activates the street; he travels to distant, sometimes dangerous, countries to tell the story of the unseen.

This is social action at its most elegant, simple, and creative. Parsimony par excellence.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Guerilla classrooms and bubble wrap

Guerilla classrooms for kids on a public bus

Seizing on the creativity buzz from last blog, I got stoked about some creative outdoor spaces worth applauding. One is the guerilla classrooms in Milwaukee shown in the video above.

My favorite is the low-tech bubble wrap experiment underway in Milan, Italy to bring fun to transit stops. If you're wondering how that is creative, think; Have you ever known anyone who could resist popping bubble wrap?

Bubblewrap as transit stop de-stressers in Milan - photo Fra Biancoshock
Waitin' and Chillin' in Milan - photo by Fra Biancoshock

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Soundscapes for street safety

I just finished the latest edits to the upcoming CPTED Perspective newsletter and there is a fantastic UK article about soundscapes to prevent crime. How creative!

Whenever I hear theories about defensible space I am struck by how shackled we are to obsolete design doctrines. Activating public spaces need not be doctrinaire. Yet everywhere we act otherwise; we treat setbacks like they were written in stone and we keep homeless off park benches with dividers. We light streets up like stadiums and we argue over parallel parking spots, yet provide zero for bicycles.

Creative design means none of those things. Creativity has a quality all its own.  Creative design has made appearances in this blog. Consider intersection art,  parking lots, tech gizmos, and laneways.

The Montreal swings in the video above are another great example.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Safe Alex - 21st Century Lighthouse

Prevention will not take root without a holistic approach.
A recent newspaper article suggests Safe Alex is impacting crime

Jacques Roy is the Mayor of Alexandria, Louisiana. In 2010-2011, Mayor Roy and staffers Lamar White and Daniel Smith began working with SafeGrowth. Following the staffers attendance at a SafeGrowth workshop they brought concepts back to Alexandria. Later in the year I presented SafeGrowth at a development summit and was asked to tailor a program with the Alexandria administration. This became the Safe Alex initiative. In this guest blog Mayor Roy offers thoughts about where SafeAlex is today.

Neighborhoods are the lynchpin for sustainable success in preventing crime and tackling blight. A few years ago, a bold editorial in a local paper declared that our SafeAlex program would not take root unless it was police led and police dominated.

While I do not want to simplify this complex issue to an absurdity or add meaningless clich├ęs, holistic approaches that make communities take responsibility, I suspect, will beat out the belief that some single government organization or actor can provide all the answers.

The idea that someone else must resolve “my problem” is dangerous on many levels. It is counter to everything we teach kids about self-reliance and how to sustain a successful marriage, job, family, and life. Indeed, society’s overweening belief in “Minority Report,” “Robocop,” and “Judge Dredd,” as what we seek from governments is misplaced. I am not even sure it should be desired.
Downtown Alexandria, LA 

Reactive enforcement, saturation, and plain old boots-on-the-ground — to be sure — have a place. Crime is multi-faceted and its reduction, roots, sentinel causes, and its responses seem to work one day and then become inexplicably unresponsive the next. Holistic, neighborhood-based programs, supported by police and city departments, are the way forward. This is the essence of SafeAlex, which not only has taken root, but is showing reduction in several benchmark categories. We are now expanding the program.

The newspaper editorial said: “The idea is laudable, but it will not take root under current conditions. When a house is on fire, you call firefighters and pump water until it’s out. The police should lead the crime prevention effort, not the community.”

Yes, you do. But, when you want to teach fire prevention, you use neighborhood meeting halls and senior organizations to explain the dangers of unmonitored space heaters in older homes. You educate citizens about checking on their elderly family members in cold winter months. You create a strong neighborhood because the fireman cannot be at every house, every minute.

Work still to be done in city neighborhoods
I am a pragmatist; I am suspicious of programming unless you can reproduce results and attach metrics that are reliable. We are doing this right now. As with many of our programs, this was born of necessity, the mother of invention. During the summer of 2009, the city saw six shootings on a particular street (a lot for my city).


The program started with two very bright assistants, Lamar White Jr. and Daniel Smith, and me wanting to address development and knowing we had to address obstacles to development in these areas. That “hot summer” just gnawed at the staff. I met with those two assistants often to discuss new policy formulation, and then we rolled into a planning and develop summit, SPARC, in December of 2010. By that time, we were working with CPTED and SafeGrowth concepts.

Our policy statement remains the position of the Administration: confronting and reducing crime requires difficult decisions, bold action, and challenging many of our preconceived notions and practices. It requires us to confront some hard truths, not only about the efficacy of law enforcement practices, but also about the responsibilities of parents; the role of teachers, schools, churches, and the courts; and the effectiveness of neighborhood watch groups and other community organizations.

We invite other communities to have a look at what we’ve done. We believe this could be tweaked and used in other communities and we believe your experiences will help all of us promote evidence-based programming in our cities.  We can be a lighthouse for 21st Century American cities.

Program steps on the Safe Alex website