Friday, August 31, 2018

Security and beauty - A new kind of fencing

Decorative fencing in British Columbia
by Tarah Hodgkinson

On a recent walk in Burnaby, British Columbia, what was normally an uninteresting and car-dominated street, offered a surprise. As I turned a corner, I was delighted to see a major change since my last visit. The city had built a vertical park! A beautiful walking space including bike lanes, areas to sit, green spaces and artistic architecture.

What was most interesting was the way in which they city had treated the neighboring houses. Along this vertical park, the city had installed decorative visibility fences. Essentially these fences are neither wooden fences with no visibility nor chain-link fences with visibility but a hideous look.

Presenting the street with a more attractive, look
These fences are particularly interesting because they address an important issue for corner homes and homes on edges of land-use changes, in this case, residential to commercial. Homes in these locations are often at increased risk of burglary and vandalism.

Tall wooden fences can simply block the external view of an intruder once they are over the fence, making it easier for these individuals to commit a crime. Additionally, residents cannot see if a threat exists on the other side of the fence. Chain link fencing, however, often gives the impression of “fortress” mentality and can increase feelings of fear, making the neighborhood appear hardened. Chain link fences are also quite easy to climb.

Vibrant colors make a difference
These decorative visibility fences provided visibility to both residents and surrounding eyes. At the same time, they create a beautiful linear space for folks to walk through. They are also difficult to climb.

This vertical park and the accompanying decorative visibility fences are a great example of finding beautiful ways to address privacy and safety in neighborhoods on the edges of commercial use.

Friday, August 24, 2018

What if public art could serve a second purpose?

Public art framing a street artist in Brisbane
GUEST BLOG: SafeGrowth Advocate Anna Brassard recently mentored a high school student about design and safety and encouraged her to submit her project here. Sophia Marchenko is a grade 9 student at Calgary’s Master’s Academy and College. We congratulate Sophia on her exceptional work and welcome her contribution to SafeGrowth. 

by Sophia Marchenko

In grade nine this past year, I had the opportunity to participate in the Professional Initiatives Program at my school, Master’s Academy and College. As part of the program, I was matched with a mentor in a field of my interest and was challenged to create my own research project. I was fortunate to be matched with Anna Brassard, an urban planner. The central question of my research project became “What if public art could serve a second purpose?”

I asked: What if public art could also be a bird sanctuary? A way to improve safety? A crime prevention system? An electric vehicle charging station? A way to generate electricity?

Public art and street furniture in Christchurch, New Zealand container village

I found many examples of public art serving a functional purpose within Calgary and beyond. There were examples in Calgary, such as the public transit bus stops currently being built with art pieces, and artistically designed stormwater filtration systems. I looked into musical swings in Montreal, Quebec, and Chicago’s multimedia Crown Fountain. All of these examples display messages of beauty, culture, environmental stewardship, and community, while serving a practical purpose.

Since my school is located right beside the newly constructed Flander’s Bridge, I’ve seen how reckless drivers can get in that area. There is a plan for a new piece of public art for that area and I wondered whether a piece of public art could contribute artistic elements to the bridge while also helping to slow down traffic and improve safety.

I was put in contact with a transport engineering at the City of Calgary and he described the existing traffic volume is 94,000 vehicles per day at that location, a very large amount of road traffic. There were many schools in the area that have kids crossing Flanders Bridge every day.

Flander's Bridge in Calgary, site of potential public art project - photo City of Calgary


I decided that my public art would have speed signs incorporated in an artistic way, showing drivers their current speed and encouraging them to slow down. It would also have artistically-integrated solar panels to generate the needed electricity. I liked the idea of using strips of copper for most of the design and having the whole design illuminated with soft light at night.

By the end of my research project, I realized that I had learned a lot about public art and how an artistic element on a key piece of Calgary’s infrastructure could also contribute to a safer environment for both drivers and pedestrians. It was an eye-opening experience to learn from an urban planner, an architect, students at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Environmental Design, where Anna had years ago taught a SafeGrowth program, as well as planners and engineers from the City of Calgary. Many thanks to my mentor throughout this program, Anna Brassard, for opening my eyes to the field of urban planning.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Philadelphia Pop-ups - Placemaking for abandoned lots

Plans for a POP-up market in Philadelphia - diagram by Brad Vassallo

GUEST BLOG: Brad Vassallo is a SafeGrowth Advocate having taught POP-up placemaking and community development as part of a SafeGrowth team. He has worked in community development in Philadelphia for the past few years and offers here a case study from that city.


Philadelphia is a city of 40,000 vacant lots. Like many post-industrial cities, it fell victim to a mass exodus of middle-class residents in the mid-20th century. Unfortunately, the 40-plus-year drought in tax revenues has taken its toll, with neighborhoods in North and West Philadelphia ailing from high crime rates and rampant vacancy. These conditions have had a torturous effect on neighborhood quality of life.

As a former student at Temple University in community development, I witnessed first-hand the effects of this multi-generational disinvestment. Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha (APM) is a neighborhood nonprofit serving residents of all color and creed, with a mission of helping families. This is no easy task in a neighborhood commonly referred to as "the Badlands" due to its high frequency of violent crime.


As part of my degree, I found myself working with APM during the beginning of a new creative placemaking grant. The goal of the Pop Up Market Place (PUMP), was to reactivate a vacant lot at the corner of 6th Street and Susquehanna Avenue. The 11,000-square-foot lot was slated to become a youth housing facility with ground-floor retail, but the development cycle often takes five or more years. Our task was to reimagine the space as a gateway for a downtrodden stretch of Germantown Avenue. The project involved several layers:

Using 3-D modeling during design charrettes - photo Brad Vassallo

  • Engage the local community in a conversation about the future of Germantown Avenue using the PUMP site as a centerpiece. Similar to the SafeGrowth model, we operated on a To-For-With-By model; each level represents a greater level of civic participation, with the pinnacle being those projects that are done with or by the community. We assembled a diverse steering committee and arrived at three focus areas: Crime and Safety, Jobs, and Youth Engagement.
  • Using feedback from the Steering Committee, we offered regular programming on the site to draw foot traffic and build awareness. Our events included an end-of-school summer block party, neighborhood potluck, and movie nights. Children flocked to the site for water balloon fights and piragua on a hot summer day. Neighborhoods like this have endured a great deal of trauma. By holding a small community event on the project site, we began to strip away some of the negative association people had with that location. 

Mapping survey and data collection areas

  • We led entrepreneurship training to build capacity. In a neighborhood like ours, educational attainment is low, making traditional employment difficult for most residents. Starting a small business is a more attractive option for first-generation immigrant families. By offering free training we were able to tap into our neighborhood's entrepreneurial spirit and offer an alternative income stream.
  • The final step was to identify a few promising candidates from our training with whom we could launch a business incubator on the site. Brick-and-mortar businesses have significant overhead expenses. By repurposing a few recycled shipping containers for micro-retail, we could lower the barrier to entry for these new business owners and provide a safe haven for residents to shop locally and explore.

Activating spaces at night - photo Brad Vassallo

Despite problems moving this version of the project forward, we learned how to revive vacant land and encourage business activities. We also learned that this unique design style was easy to mobilize, it could move from parcel to parcel, and it provided a beta-test for local businesses as an alternative form of entrepreneurialism.