Saturday, October 31, 2015

Nightmare on Elm Street - CPTED and displacement

Halloween front yard spookiness - harmless fun in the neighborhood
Tonight is Halloween - that ancient Celtic harvest festival where children turn into goblins and threaten mere mortals with tricks or treats. Not really the stuff of serious nightmares, more the frivolities of fun.

Last week the International CPTED Association ran another successful conference with exceptional speakers from around the world. Presentations are online at the ICA website.

Saskatoon planner Elisabeth Miller, criminologist Tarah Hodgkinson and myself delivered our research on something that represents a real nightmare for 1st Generation CPTED practitioners – the return of displacement.


Displacement is an old enemy of 1st Generation CPTED. Moving crime from one  place to another violates ethical practice and the promise every crime prevention practitioner should make to do no harm.

Over the years a body of mainstream research has grown up around the idea that displacement isn’t inevitable and that crime levels are cut through displacement.

Research by Catherine Phillips at the Nottingham Trent University questions the orthodox view.

This year Elisabeth, Tarah and myself were able to test this for real. We examined a well-known disorder hotspot at a fast food restaurant in downtown Saskatoon. We were able to track disorder in years before and after the restaurant was demolished.

This is where a real-life nightmare begins.

Spiders target opportunities where-ever they arise - Offenders do the same

The mapping results suggested displacement to a nearby homeless shelter. Street interviews confirmed many of the same offenders moved there. But then results got scary.

While calls for police service declined throughout the area, this particular displacement did not seem to reduce calls nor create benefits. Instead it appears to have triggered an eruption. The homeless shelter calls increased nine-fold!

If our further research bears this out, displacement research will need a re-think because our findings suggest something very scary. Not the frivolities of Halloween fun but the stuff of serious nightmares.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The carless city

1903 - streets for people - photo by shopy

It felt strange looking at a faded, black and white wall photo of a downtown street from 1900. No expressways. No cars. Only horses, buggies and Victorian dressed pedestrians. The Model T Ford was eight years away.

I wonder if those pedestrians had the foggiest notion of the transport tsunami that would befall their children a few decades forward?

Expressways and cars changed everything. Horses and buggies vanished. Expressways depleted cities of the middle class and led to deserted high crime downtowns. They triggered sprawl and, along with vanishing streetcar lines, the decline of urban villages. In return cars offered individual freedom to roam and opportunity to escape congestion and crime in congested downtowns.


Last week another mobility tsunami emerged - car free cities! Norway announced that the central area of the capital city Oslo will be car-free in 4 years. The Oslo council plans to permanently ban vehicles from their central city.

It’s hard to argue the plan isn't futuristic. SafeGrowth blogs in the past describe similar visions, a theoretical design called The Venus Project and an urban experiment called Masdar City, currently under construction.

Oslo, however, is the first existing major city with over a half million residents to attempt it for real. It is unclear how 60 kilometers of new bike lanes will help residents navigate Oslo’s -5C, snowy winters. Horse buggies perhaps? Yet their plan to create a carless city heralds a truly visionary future.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lights on, lights off

Front entrance to a Boulder neighborhood high school
Boulder, Colorado is a small and dynamic city at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains north of Denver. It is walkable, interesting, and generally safe for most residents.

Sauntering through a neighborhood one evening last week I photographed the high school pictured in these photos. High pressure sodium, it seems, is the lighting of choice. I have written about the visual appeal of sodium lights when bounced off brick walls. While lighting at this school was uneven with blind spots, it did allow nearby residents and strollers to view the school. The warm color was attractive for evening walkers.

This lights-on approach is popular in many schools.

Brick color shows well with sodium lighting, but uneven spread increases blind spots
One Handbook for School Safety and Security describes how schools should light up the entire school perimeter at night with enough illumination to detect movement at 100 yards.

Cringing at that, the Dark Sky Society argues for lights-off citing how some schools reduce crime at schools by turning lights out.

Lights-off also shows up in a booklet on CPTED Fundamentals for Schools by CPTED expert Tod Schneider. Tod writes:
Sometimes good lighting attracts misbehavior, while darkness drives people away. Many schools have gone to darkened campuses for this reason. School resource officers have found that good lighting made schools ideal hangouts after hours, while darkness discouraged kids from congregating

To light or not to light?
Lights-off is supported by at least one rigorous study, the Chicago Alley Lighting Project. That study uncovered an increase in crime after installation of lights. But the authors admit that may have masked the real results – better lighting means more residents can see, and report, more crime.

Ultimately, lights-on or lights-off depends on neighborhood context because the by-stander effect may make all the difference. Some neighborhoods are just not that connected to their schools and residents are unlikely to walk by, or look at, a well lit school.

Though I wonder, isn't that less about lighting and more about neighborhood culture?