Sunday, December 31, 2017

Hope for 2018 - Ode to fallen friends

Littleton, Colorado apartments where 5 officers were shot this morning
- photo GoogleEarth
by Greg Saville

Year-end SafeGrowth blogs often reflect the year ahead, the kind of future we want to build, and the successes we’ve made in the past year. This year there was plenty to report! But at this moment I find that impossible to think about. Only hours ago there was yet another mass shooting in Denver, Colorado, this one in a townhouse apartment project about 30 miles south of where I’m now writing this blog.

What does one say when officers respond to a domestic situation that turns into an ambush by a well-armed assailant? How does one respond to the fact that five sheriff deputies were downed on arrival, one fatally, and another two residents were also shot (but thankfully, survived), before the gunman was killed by police. Three shot citizens, four injured officers, one officer dead! Terrible...

I have been personally involved in police fatalities with officers I worked alongside. I know the consequence of emotions in the aftermath. I know the shock and raw thirst for vengeance, and the frustration at having no one alive to hold accountable (and the inevitable search to hold someone, or something, accountable).

It’s a helluva way to end the year!


First, we must ensure there are heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the slain and injured officers, and to the residents shot in this tragedy. Their lives will never be the same. Then we need time for grieving and eventually an inquiry into how, and why, this happened. Steps for prevention and safety must follow.

But when all that is done, when it is time to move on, there is one lasting thing that we must retain, or reclaim...Hope! That is not a small line item from our emotional ledger; it is the most important one!

It is not the easy kind of optimistic hope that blinds us to the realities of obstacles along the way, like the reality of mental instability, substance abuse, too many weapons too easily obtained, or the vicissitudes of risk in an unpredictable job.

"Only in the darkness can you see the stars" - Martin Luther King Jr. 
Rather it is the kind of hope that provides us with the resilience to overcome obstacles. That is the kind of hope I’ve seen in all the successful SafeGrowth practitioners over the past year (the most recent being Herb Sutton from the last blog). It’s also the kind of hope that we need to share with our fellow citizens in troubled communities as we develop new ways to tackle the problems of our day - homelessness, substance abuse, and acts of violence like those we saw this morning.

Hope and optimism! That is what is needed to move forward and build a better future. That is difficult to see when faced with the darkness of violence. But hope provides a candle in that darkness. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

Our sincere condolences to all victims of violence this past year. In their memory, may we dedicate ourselves to making our communities safer in 2018.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

No dress rehearsal - the North Battleford story

Intersection Repair...North Battleford style - photo Herb Sutton 

by Greg Saville

Sometimes it is in smaller cities where seeds of innovation germinate and when that happens it is usually due to a few local champions. Those champions almost always credit others. In my view, they are the unsung heroes of the SafeGrowth and community development story.

I have lauded local champions over the years: Cincinnati's’s Sarah Buffie in 2009, the late Andy Mackie from Port Townsend, Washington in 2012, and Philadelphia’s Amelia Price in 2015. This year I met more but I want to applaud one: Herb Sutton.

Herb is the crime prevention coordinator from North Battleford, a small city of about 20,000 population in central Saskatchewan, Canada. For years North Battleford held the title of the highest crime severity rating of any Canadian community with a population of at least 10,000 people.

Herb Sutton - North Battleford crime prevention coordinator and
newest ICA board member

Elisabeth Miller and I taught SafeGrowth and CPTED to Herb two years ago and then last year ran a training in North Battleford. Herb’s team project for the 2015 SafeGrowth training was building a community garden next to a new homeless shelter to break down some stereotypes and decrease disorder problems.

A summary of that project concluded: "This project …provided opportunities for business owners, employees, and their families to meet [shelter] staff and some of the clients, as well as clean up the area. It was through planned and intentional efforts to build relationships that we were able to reduce the NIMBYism and fear of crime.” 


Since then Herb and his colleagues have moved forward and this month’s issue of Canada’s national magazine, Maclean's featured that work. Maclean's showcased both the success and the challenges of programming in North Battleford. Like much crime prevention in troubled places, progress is slow. Yet to date it is impressive: regular team meetings on CPTED and problem-solving, town hall meetings on safety, a new CPTED review committee, downtown art, block parties, and safety audits.

Community building and intersection painting to build community cohesion
- photo Herb Sutton

It has produced early results. While crime rates in Saskatchewan increased 9%, this past year crime severity in North Battleford declined 8%. But all this is not without setbacks. Chronic underfunding continues and recent spurts in gun violence from gang activity persist. But so too does the work of Herb and his colleagues.

In a way, that demonstrates the seriousness and leadership of a remarkable champion. As Canadian rocker Gordon Downie from The Tragically Hip once lyricized,

With illusions of someday 
Cast in a golden light. 
No dress rehearsal 
This is our life.

That seriousness and persistence is, ultimately, our life. It is the only way forward. Thanks, Herb, for the inspiration.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Rise of the robots, Revenge of the Homeless

Security robot on patrol - Video Washington Post
Luddite: (adjective) one of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying laborsaving machinery as a protest; broadly: one who is opposed to especially technological change - Merriam-Webster

by Greg Saville

The story of the Luddite resonated last week with word from San Francisco about a controversy surrounding the  K-5 Security Robot. We blogged on the K-5 a few years ago - On the threshold of a robotics revolution.

Since then the journey of the security robot has not been straight; it has been drowned in a Washington DC fountain and it has mistakenly run over a toddler's leg at a Palo Alto shopping center.

And last week, according to Newsweek, the security robot was removed from duty after deterring homeless encampments near the San Francisco SPCA. Apparently homeless people vandalized the SPCA robot, angry about being singled out by the SPCA and the security robot.


The issue is layered. On one hand, security robots are the latest technology and like all new technologies, they can be applied in ways both sacred and profane. There are places, such as underground parking lots, where an automated security patroller with surveillance tools can keep watch and help make isolated places safer.

In the San Francisco case, SPCA representative Krista Maloney says“staff wasn't able to safely use the sidewalks at times because of the encampments… since the SPCA started guarding its facilities with the robot (known as K9) a month ago, the homeless encampments have dwindled and there have been fewer car break-ins.”

But beneath the surface lurks a darker story.

There must be a better way. Photo Wikimedia Commons


This blog has reported on the so-called hostile architecture movement, especially CPTED tactics used to dehumanize places to exclude certain groups over other groups. Dealing with homeless encampments, which by definition means dealing with homeless people, with a security robot, is a questionable tactic. And the homeless have been outraged. Since the security robot began patrolling in front of the SPCA, the Washington Post claims it has been "allegedly smeared with feces, covered by a tarp and nearly toppled by an attacker."

Are there better, more humane, solutions? In some communities, Housing First programs seem to work. In fact, the Canadian city of Medicine Hat, population 65,000, claims to have eliminated homelessness with the Housing First strategy. Why isn’t San Francisco helping the SPCA and the homeless with such a program?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

When walls speak - Socio-political graffiti in Ljubljana

STOP ISLAMOPHOBIA - A negative graffiti tag transformed into a positive message

by Mateja Mihinjac

Many walls and underpasses in the city of Ljubljana are covered with graffiti. A great number of these are considered non-artistic forms of graffiti or tagging. But there is another perspective worth considering.

Crime prevention and CPTED thinking teaches us that graffitied walls signify poor maintenance and lack of ownership thus contributing to crime and fear. In many western cities, authorities counteract this by legitimising the visually appealing forms of graffiti and containing them to particular areas of cities.

However, while the question of vandalism versus art has received much traction, the intended messaging behind graffiti has been neglected or discredited as acts of vandalism and youth misconduct.

Ljubljana graffiti with political message for social equality 


Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, has had a long history of walls covered in socio-political messages. Following the 2nd World War, graffiti has been used as an important avenue for sharing political views and resistance to occupational rule. Today, graffiti is still used as an important medium for expressing dissatisfaction with the current system, and as a form of political activism calling for public protest and social justice.

As a bottom-up form of political activism, some scholars consider graffiti the most democratic medium for expressing personal opinions publicly. Graffiti can express values while at the same time encourage a dialogue about conflicting social issues. This has been especially popularised in the work of the famous British graffiti artist Banksy.

Social justice graffiti with a message

Through graffiti, young people can also become more active in expressing their political opinions while marginalized groups use it to publicly voice their concerns and respond to criticisms. Despite the view of law and society, graffiti can be one of the most inclusive mediums of public discourse.


The messaging behind graffiti in Ljubljana demonstrates these points. It communicates several contentious public issues, for example, some graffiti expresses dissatisfaction with the political system and government decisions appearing during the 2007/2008 financial crisis. Graffiti were used throughout the city to call for social change and entice civic organisation to join the protests to preserve social protections threatened by reforms. Graffiti were a form of resistance calling for collective social action.

More recent graffiti reflect an increase in homophobic messages regarding a same-sex marriage referendum and also ethnic-nationalist sentiments concerning the European refugee crisis. This graffiti appeared in response to unfounded community concerns.

Realising the powerful effect of forming public opinion through graffiti, graffiti activists have found a way to transform these hate messages. Graffitists do this by rewriting over an existing message or adding to it thus neutralizing negative messaging or transforming it into a positive public debate. This type of graffiti promotes tolerance and counteracts the damage that intolerant messages have on society.

REFUGEES WELCOME - Fighting anti-immigrant bigotry with positive messaging


Finding the consensus between graffiti legality and alternative democratic expression is not straightforward. In SafeGrowth we encourage resident empowerment, caring for neighbors, and active citizenship. Such empowered citizens, especially when marginalized, need a suitable medium for expression. Until they find a better solution, they will continue to use walls to speak up.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Pop-up placemaking - activating spaces with locals

SafeGrowth's Brad Vassallo demonstrating how to create pop-up placemaking
near Penn Station, New York
by Greg Saville

We are frequently asked in our seminars how to activate unsafe places with fun, lively and safe activities. In CPTED the generic term used for this is called ‘activity generation’, but that term hardly describes it nor what works in one place over another. For years our SafeGrowth programs have turned to urban placemaking for answers.

Placemaking began, some claim, with the 1970s research of William H. Whyte, especially his book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.

It was Whyte who inspired the development of New York’s PPS - the Project for Public Spaces - still an active placemaking group today. A few years ago we worked alongside PPS in New Jersey and found placemaking directly relevant to CPTED, particularly 2nd Generation CPTED.

More recently our friends at Portland’s City Repair movement have been an inspiration. Members of City Repair attended our first SafeGrowth Summit two years ago and we often feature their guerrilla architecture on this blog.


This week we conducted training for community leaders in New York. SafeGrowth Advocate Brad Vassallo joined our training team and ran a terrific session during our training called POP-up placemaking, which is the process of directly engaging local residents and passers-by at a public spot where place activation may help.

Once one team started unpacking supplies, dozens of passers-by began joining with
their POP-up theme, What are you thankful for?

The public quickly contributed comments both candid and profound

POP-up placemaking has the advantage of requiring few funds and simple planning. Because it will not last long, it may have only short-term impact. However, a regular program of POP-ups may well provide a planner or community practitioner a great tactic to engage locals in a fun and easy way to start the long process of building relationships and reducing fear.

On the streets outside Penn Station in New York, our 4 teams spoke to dozens of New Yorkers, enticed them to use simple materials (blue interlocking rubber tiles, tape, chalk, colored string), and construct some simple and fun placemaking activities. Within minutes people stopped to participate, write, dance, talk, laugh, and co-create spaces around a bus stop, a subway stairway entrance, and along a public wall.

It took less than 30 minutes to complete the entire activity using about $100 of material. Obviously, space activation need not be complicated, expensive, or permanent. In a class exercise, this was simple enough. In a real-life community project, this can launch a transformation. 

One team discovered the simple act of taking out the material and starting to build
was enough to attract passers-by to stop and begin chatting

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Thoughts on researching police

Photo by Oppaints at English Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

by Tarah Hodgkinson

It is difficult to discuss community safety without discussing the police. That means we need unbiased research about how they operate. For example, Jerome Skolnick’s book Justice Without Trial (1966) and William Westley’s 1950s research looked inside the police blue wall. They spent months studying officers as they did their jobs, observing them where they worked and interviewing them in the field - a rare style of research called ethnography.

While much research exists on policing in North America, there are few in-depth ethnographic studies. This is happening at a time when, as police scholar Monique Marks suggests, large scale changes in policing demands in-depth and objective knowledge on how this change is occurring and where it should be headed. She reminds us that most of our understanding of the underlying processes in these organizations relies on out-dated studies.


Why do so few take on ethnographic policing research? This is largely a result of university research budget constraints and the pressure to publish in academia. Ethnographic studies take a significant amount of time and resources, and may only result in a few publications. There is also a concern that police organizations are not open to research, a perception not completely unfounded. However, in my PhD research, that has not been my experience.

Most police organizations I researched rolled out the welcome mat. I was brought in by all levels of management with varying levels of experience. They were eager to hear about my research goals, connect potential research participants and even come in during their vacation to participate.

Toronto bicycle police officers in Yonge Dundas Square, Toronto.
Photo by Ian Muttoo (Creative Commons)

Perhaps the world of policing is changing and with it the players? Police leaders are more educated than ever before and increasingly understand and value the research skills outsiders offer. But it may also be because my research goals appear relatively benign.


In fact, some police organizations are less open to certain kinds of research. One obvious example is research that has potential to investigate problematic behaviour or portray police in a negative light. Unsurprisingly, officers continue to be reluctant to disclose everything to an outside researcher. As one constable stated “We are going to hold things back. If we don’t know you, we aren’t going to spill our guts on the first round. We need to know we can trust you.” 

Trust is essential in the policing world, as characterized by another interviewee who said “you get lied to constantly. Every day! Multiple times a day. You learn to hold back and question everything.”

This openness to research, but only certain types of research, often results in simple and descriptive conclusions that fail to critique or innovate. Much more interesting, and promising, are those able to spend time to build the trust necessary to see behind the curtain of the policing world – and not lose their objectivity in the process.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Integrative crime prevention - treating social ills

The physical sciences break down parts of the world
into small bits for experimentation
by Mateja Mihinjac

Criminologists like to compare crime prevention to disease treatment. The evidence-based proponents, specifically, point out that by failing to adopt the same rigorous scientific method used in medicine to inform policy and practice, criminology lags 150 years behind medical science. However, what these proponents miss is that advances in preventive medicine have moved beyond the traditional understanding of causes and treatment of diseases, also known as allopathic medicine. Today many forms of medical practice are evolving into integrative medicine.


Prior blogs on ethics and going to the doctor have discussed the poor suitability of methods from physics for studying a complex social phenomena such as crime. This issue is further exacerbated by research that breaks problems into small bits for study – the reductionist approach – and attempts to generalize from those isolated findings.

Generalising from reductionist studies is even more problematic given that the complex environments where crime flourishes tend to mediate the impact of prevention outcomes. For this reason, artificial intelligence expert Jim Manzi is skeptical that an experimental revolution in social science will prove fruitful in addressing intricate social issues.


With little success in treating chronic and complicated diseases using the allopathic model, integrative medicine emerged. Integrative medicine goes beyond simply treating symptoms, but rather deals with underlying factors in a holistic and partnership fashion. Patients assume ownership of their health while under the guidance and support of a health practitioner. Together they devise individualized treatment from a wide range of approaches that deal with a person’s complete physical, mental and social well-being. The ultimate goal is addressing root causes.

Problems like crime are complex and have many roots in the social ecosystem
In criminology, many so-called evidence-based programs use reductionist experiments with little success. Therefore translating an integrative health care model into crime prevention means that we should be moving away from reductionist approaches and thinking more broadly about creating holistic and sustainable programs for individuals and their communities.

We need to identify multiple approaches that can work together towards achieving immediate prevention outcomes and also address the root causes of crime problems. This means that crime prevention professionals and researchers need to approach the problem by working together in an integrated way to fit solutions to the context, economy and politics of each neighborhood. Further, criminologists need to work with community members in such a way that promotes a two-way exchange of knowledge and a promotion of local ownership over problems.

SafeGrowth safety audits in Sacramento - criminologists, planners, and police
partnering with residents to create tailor-made solutions
It seems unjust to denounce current criminological methods as outdated because they lack the same scientific rigor of medical science (which itself is evolving). Instead, we should acknowledge advances made in integrative based medicine.

Crime prevention neglects these breakthrough developments and continues to believe that solutions grounded in reductionist forms of the scientific method will yield universal responses to unique problems. Instead, by drawing from the evolution of medical science into integrative medicine, integrative crime prevention offers a more fruitful path for our future work.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Bladerunner future? Art reflects life

The cyberpunk architecture of downtown Shibuya, Tokyo - photo guwashi
by Gregory Saville

Last week the sci-fi film Bladerunner 2049 opened worldwide to rave reviews. In artistic circles, this is known as exceptional neo-noir filmmaking, or more accurately 80s style cyberpunk. Bladerunner 2049 follows the original Bladerunner film from 1982, now considered a masterpiece. It is based on a book by award-winning sci-fi writer, the late Philip K. Dick.

Dick’s themes included dystopian futures, authoritarian corporations, and government conspiracies. Bladerunner occurs on a future Earth poisoned from environmental collapse where cops (Bladerunners) are assigned as bounty hunters to search and eliminate a minority group of human-like androids called Replicants. Written 50 years ago, Dick’s tale foreshadows the environmental crisis, immigrant-purging, social turbulence, and police violence on our streets today. In short, he nailed it!


For evidence, take a look at the street architecture of the future Los Angeles in Bladerunner and compare that with what is emerging in our biggest cities. Art, clearly, reflects life!

The neo-noir electrification of New York's Times Square - photo DB Desktop Background

Very seldom are artistic and cultural movements restricted to galleries and magazines. Even the most outrageous art and music seep out into politics, daily life and, most importantly, ways of thinking. That is because artistic and cultural movements do not arise on their own; they are a reaction to - or against - current affairs. That is why they are a barometer of things to come.

Consider how 1960s counter-culture morphed into environmentalism, civil rights, and equality for women, concepts in common parlance today. Or consider the artistic movement called modernism in the early 20th Century that evolved into the International Congress of Modern Architecture and the global planning disaster we now call urban sprawl.

Pruitt-Igoe, the 1960s modernist housing disaster in St. Louis became a rallying cry by
Oscar Newman and Jane Jacobs against crime and modernism in urban planning
- photo US Geological Survey

Bladerunner is art that tells a story: Philip K. Dick’s cyberpunk story of urban dystopia! For real-life examples look carefully at the cores of our most modern cities to see the worship of architectural cyberpunk.

If this analogy holds, then what about last week’s horrific mass murder in Las Vegas, the on-going trouble with police shootings, political turbulence, and environmental disasters of late? Are they signals that the Bladerunner story is unfolding as predicted? Never has there been a more appropriate time for a better model of neighborhood safety and urban growth.

Dundas Square, cyberpunk in Toronto
- photo by Pedro Szekely CC by 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 16, 2017

No need to pave paradise with these bike parking lots

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Tarah Hodgkinson

Making streets safer means activating them with all kinds of tactics, including intensified bicycle usage. In 2012 the SafeGrowth blog How the Dutch Saved Their City, described how the Dutch transformed their cities by dramatically changing their road infrastructure and supporting cycling culture. Today, there are almost 900,000 bikes in Amsterdam alone, making it the country with the highest rate of bike ownership in the world.

Lately, however, Amsterdam is dealing with an interesting issue. With over 50% of Amsterdam residents using bikes as part of their daily commute, they are running out of space to park their bikes. In fact, the city is now planning on creating 40,000 new parking spots. This issue not only speaks to the significant commitment the Dutch have made to make their city streets safer and more bike friendly but has sparked an opportunity for architectural creativity.


Unlike many cities in North America, with their sprawling, car-dominated cultures, space is a significant commodity in much of Europe. Some suggestions for bike parking alternatives include underwater garages and floating barges.

However, these alternatives could pose cost and space restrictions. Therefore, bike parking in Amsterdam has begun to move upwards, rather than outwards. Impressively, architects are building vertical bike parking structures. These mimic many of the new designs for vertical car parking in countries across the world, but with an eco-friendly and street safety twist.

With limited space, the Dutch innovate
There is a lot of hesitation among cities to switch to create large-scale bike paths and alternative transportation. Many fear that bike paths will impede the flow of car traffic and increase congestion.

This notion is counterintuitive. In Vancouver the bike path network is constantly expanding, and with it, so too are the number of bike trips replacing car trips.

That reduces congestion, not the opposite. The attempt to build new and creative ways to park bikes in Amsterdam demonstrates that the bike culture in that city, and other cities in the Netherlands, is going strong. It offers excellent ideas for helping other cities to start rethinking their systems.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pumptracks and pro-social potentials

by Mateja Mihinjac

On this blog, we’ve written about the importance of giving youth a voice and engaging them in public life. When they can participate, or even drive, the development of services for their use, they feel especially empowered.


I like to explore hidden potentials in cities and one recent discovery in my hometown emerged as I enjoyed an autumn walk. It was a "Pumptrack", a continuous loop track intended for cyclists and skateboarders. Even more exciting for me was recognizing that track was situated adjacent to public housing thus providing youth with opportunities for prosocial activities, in this case, a recreational service.

Pumptracks are continuous loop tracks for bikes and boarders

The American National Recreation and Park Association stress that parks and recreation represent essential public services.

Apart from economic value, health and environmental benefits, the Association recognized that access to such infrastructure reduces crime and juvenile delinquency. From criminology, we also know that providing recreational and healthy activities for youth builds resilience and provides a protective factor against delinquency.

Siting the track adjacent to public housing ensures usage


When communities invest in their assets to assist with the development of youth and their potential, they communicate to young people that they care for them. Reciprocally, the youth develop an attachment to the community and contribute to its wellbeing. Thus, according to one report, “youth are valuable resources to invest in and not problems to be solved”.

Recreational infrastructures in cities are not extras! They offer an ideal platform for engaging and developing youth. Any future vision of the city must include them.

Integrating Pumptracks into urban park infrastructure

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Providence - breathing life into a bus stop

Trinity Square neighborhood, Providence, R.I. - photo Google Earth 
by Gregory Saville

Providence, Rhode Island, an hour drive from Boston, is among the oldest cities in the U.S. and one of the first to industrialize. Today it confronts post-industrial poverty and associated crime. Yet it retains a lively cultural life and, with considerable urban reinvestment and 5 colleges and universities, it is working to breathe new life into ethnically diverse neighborhoods.

Residents from Providence participated in the recent Chicago SafeGrowth training to learn concepts from 1st and 2nd Generation CPTED and apply them to a small-scale trouble spot. By mastering the concepts at one location they can more easily apply them to others. They chose Trinity Square, an area that suffered 15 violence crimes, 10 property-related crimes, and over 200 police calls for service in the 6 months leading up to the class.

Google Streetview of the Trinity Square bus stop prior to the SafeGrowth project - screenshot Google Earth


As the Providence SafeGrowth team describe in their report “most of the activity on that site is negative in nature and works against the progress of positive growth with high levels of drug activity, panhandling, homelessness, and abandoned property.”

Providence SafeGrowth team launches first Game Off at the cleaned bus stop
The team knew their first step was to work with local stakeholders and break down fear of crime and activate spaces with a series of organized activities. They started getting locals involved in positive social events. They chose a Trinity Square bus stop to install some board games and then launch a promotional program for regularly scheduled events.

Providence police are partners on the SafeGrowth team
Last week, on the inauspicious date of 9/11, the team ran their first weekly Game Off event, with residents from around the area. It was a smashing success as shown in the photos.

They plan to run this regularly. They are committed to establishing a more positive environment at this location and re-establishing the Trinity Square area as a neighborhood asset.

Congratulations to the Providence SafeGrowth team.

Friendly competition in Trinity Square's first Game Off event

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tackling the opioid crisis - Safe Injection Sites

Each year 30,000 people in the U.S. die from overdoses
By Tarah Hodgkinson

Safe injection sites have been a point of contention for several years around the world. Some claim drug use is a public health concern needing harm reduction strategies, while others claim drug use is immoral and should remain criminalized.

Over the last few months, I have spoken to public safety organizations and police across Canada. These organizations cover everything from domestic violence to traffic safety, but the topic persistently arising remains illicit drug overdoses. For example, British Columbia recently announced a health crisis resulting from increases in overdose deaths, a situation experts believe results from lacing heroin or meth with intense potency additives like fentanyl.


Thousands die each year from these overdose deaths, almost 30,000 in the U.S. alone, and the numbers are getting worse. While illicit drug use is not new, public response to it seems to be changing. Communities are shifting away from punishment and looking towards harm reduction techniques.

In Canada, none is more famous than Insite, North America’s first supervised, and legally protected, injection location where clients are given clean needles to use in a safe environment. Furthermore, they are given access to a myriad of health services such as nurses and substance abuse counselors.

In spite of a raft of political attacks by anti-drug organizations, and claims of imperfect science, the overwhelming preponderance of research results to date on the Vancouver drug injection site are positive. This includes a comprehensive 2011 study in the prestigious UK medical journal, The Lancet.


Other harm reduction models are also emerging across the country. In Ottawa, a managed alcohol program helps chronically homeless and alcoholic individuals seek stability and avoid binge drinking. Harm reduction is an important community-building step to address drug overdoses in Canada.

However, community-building also means better investment in prevention and drug use alternatives. There is still very little investment in long term solutions such as detox and recovery services, job opportunities, community supports and wrap-around models – all demonstrated to have a significant impact.

Hundreds of drug addicts shoot up at, and around, this rail line in Philadelphia
A well-known example is Portugal. Over 15 years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. Since doing so, drug use has declined and overdoses have plummeted. Portugal invested in health care, job creation and other social supports. These alternatives had a dramatic impact on drug-seeking behaviour.

The claim that there are not enough resources for this kind of harm reduction investment collapses when faced with contrary logic or evidence. The fact is it is far more expensive for the criminal justice system to tackle drug crime. Community reinvestment - the basic premise of SafeGrowth - is well worth the effort in dollars and lives.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Streets for hire

Cities are leasing parking spots to restaurants for rental fees

by Greg Saville

Years ago I spent an afternoon with the exceptional urban designer Richard Gardiner. Anyone reading encyclopedia references about the beginning of CPTED will recognize Richard Gardiner’s name, especially his 1978 book Design for Safe Neighborhoods, the first attempt to transform CPTED into a comprehensive planning system.

In our chats, Richard described how he had moved away from CPTED and began focusing on the serious congestion problem of street parking. He had developed an ingenious parking management program to tackle the assumption that “free parking is actually costing governments and institutions millions of dollars each year without their actually being aware of it. Public parking in cities constitutes the third-highest hidden cost that U.S. cities face each year.”

A "waiting area" where patrons stand in line for food and entertainment inside the bar 
I'm embarrassed to admit I just didn't get it. Urban land economics wasn't my thing back then; it seemed unimportant. But in the years since then, I came to see the huge impact on both safety and urban finance. This was especially the case when I observed the Portland Intersection Repair program where residents reclaimed their neighborhood by reclaiming their local intersection.


Lately, I’ve seen a fascinating variation on this theme: Municipalities that lease the street parking areas in front of restaurants and bars. The bars turn this area into outside sitting areas, eating areas or other uses for their patrons.

Landscaping to beautify former parking spots - Is this a proper use of public land?
Does this help make sidewalks and streets safer by putting more eyes on those streets? Does it make those streets less safe at night if those same bars have poor management and thereby trigger drunken street brawls and drunk driving?

Obviously, funds from leased parking spaces will feed city coffers and that might help recover the hidden costs of free parking (costs barely recovered by meter parking). Those funds might help cash starved municipalities reinvest into their cities.

But what, I wonder, does this rented use of public space mean for other types of transportation, such as bicycle riders who still have inadequate and safe parking spots for their bikes? Most cities still refuse to provide space for homeless tiny home villages. What about them?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Cycling the Big Apple - I want to ride my bike!

Biking Manhattan - A scary proposition without proper design

by Mateja Mihinjac

During my recent visit to New York City, I was thrilled to witness the upsurge in cycling in this iconic city. As an avid cyclist, I love when cities provide infrastructure for bipedal commute.

Promoting physical and social connections through design, such as increased bike usage, fosters interaction and establishment of social ties. In SafeGrowth we know that this also influences safety and perception of safety.

New York City, the metropolis well known for its traffic congestion and yellow cabs, has followed the lead of several European and Australian cities and in the past decade expanded its cycling infrastructure. Cycling in the city has since 2005 increased by an astounding 260%, currently amounting to 450,000 daily trips.

In 2013, the city also introduced the nation’s largest bike sharing program Citi Bike, which currently offers 603 bike stations and 10.000 bikes across the city’s five boroughs. These bikes are extensively used by city dwellers and tourists alike.

Exploring Manhattan on a bike


Replacing motorised commute with biking impacts health and social connectedness, two of the three most important contributors to happiness in urban environments.

Moreover, planning for environmentally sustainable cities that prioritize cycling and walking is intrinsically linked to socially cohesive communities.

603 bike stations and 450,000 daily bike trips across New York City


Talking to locals revealed that despite great progress, cycling infrastructure could benefit from several improvements. The first was more bike lanes and Citi Bike stations outside downtown and affluent areas, a common need in other cities.

Ironically, those living on the peripheries of the cities and those less prosperous are the ones who would most benefit from biking connectivity.

The second issue concerns safety. A 2015 article reported 90% of bike lanes in New York City were unprotected, meaning the majority were lanes without a safety buffer between cyclists and cars. This is surprising knowing that protected bike lanes can reduce the risk of injury by 90% and also increase ridership.

Buffered bike lanes are a necessity for safety


Promoting cycling in progressive cities like New York is an excellent avenue for developing environmentally and socially sustainable cities. Planners should encourage future expansions of bike infrastructure in less affluent areas and designers must follow guidelines for safety and buffered lanes.

Designing future cities around cycling will contribute to overall healthier and happier cities.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Purge the scourge of blank walls

Downtown telecom company bricks in windows and leaves us with a blank wall
by Greg Saville

Walking downtown a few days ago I came across a large telecommunications center that dominated an entire city block with blank walls. It is a sight that appears with increasing regularity in cities everywhere. The telecoms want to keep their innards secure, but they choose to locate downtown.

When meeting someone new we generally say hello, shake hands, and exchange pleasantries. The pleasantries are often meaningless. “Nice to meet you”! Perhaps. Perhaps, not.

But it is polite to greet someone well. It sets a tone for a civil relationship. There are consequences if you present an obnoxious face in public, or worse if you ignore them. It makes you look like a rube. You may think laws keep chaos at bay, but that is a legal conceit. In fact, sociologists, anthropologists, and well-trained criminologists will tell you it is everyday civil behavior - norms - that keep us civil and safe.

Shopping malls are the worst blank wall offenders


It is no different for architecture in public places, especially downtown streets. Walking to downtown shops, waiting at bus stops, or simply enjoying a stroll are activities that make places hospitable and civil and mitigate uncivil behavior. We are embraced, or assailed, by how buildings address the street with their architecture. If they ignore the street with blank walls, they assault us. If they address the street in a civil way, they welcome us.

This is called streetscaping. Architects have many tools to do this well; building massing, permeable designs, paying attention to the pedestrian experience. Some call it placemaking. New York blogger Andrew Manshell has a great blog on this topic.

Community owned food co-op gets it right

Streetscaping does not mean addressing the street with blank walls, walls that ignore the street and the people on it. Blank walls on public streets are obnoxious, like the obnoxious rube. They tell us we don’t matter. Blank wall owners might benefit from our public utilities, public streets, and our fire, police and other services, but they could not care less how they address us on our streets. So their massive blank walls make our streets inhospitable... so what!

Sound familiar? That is the behavior of the sociopath. No consequence!

Green walls are in


Blank walls are the architectual version of design sociopathy.

Back in the 1980s, William Whyte wrote about the poisonous effect that large blank walls had on city life. Boring convention centers, government buildings, megastructures, and parking garages with large blank walls on public streets all fell under his wrath. But in City: Rediscovering the Center it was telephone companies that offended most, especially a 55-storey blank wall in New York. Since then it seems the telecoms have not changed.

Sociopathic blank walls kill sidewalks and suck the energy out of urban life.

If there is anything contemporary planners (and CPTED practitioners) must do it is to kill blank walls in downtown architecture. There are many ways that can be done creatively - green walls, murals, tasteful windows placement.

We need to purge the scourge of architecture’s sociopath.

Creative paint schemes are an easy fix to blandness