Thursday, November 29, 2018

May they fail

Times Square echoes Bladerunner - hyper-commercialized,
electronic billboards in every direction

by Gregory Saville

The writing on the shop walls and the floating billboards was Anglo-Chinese. On the street, the cityspeak combined English, Chinese and Spanish, a vernacular that served the homeless, the marginally employed and the unfortunate. Pollution and environmental collapse led to constant clouds and pelting rain. The affluent traveled to off-world colonies on Mars and elsewhere, leaving the rest of us behind. Bio-engineered, human-like robots called Replicants used their artificial intelligence and rebelled.

That was the horrific world described in Philip K. Dick’s book that became the 1982 sci-fi classic, Bladerunner. I blogged on Bladerunner architecture last year. When I watched Bladerunner in the 1980s it seemed like an impossible future. And it was set for such a long way ahead – 2019!

That's next year! With only a month left, how close is that future?

No escape - walls of electonics


It doesn’t take much imagination to see a Bladerunner vision unfolding. True, we are nowhere near that specific dystopia. We still don’t have flying cars (but we have self-driving ones!). Yet, one wonders...

This week I watched NASA’s exciting landing on the planet Mars. Space X CEO Elon Musk says he’ll get people to Mars within six years. How long before off-world colonies evolve?

This year I watched the fruits of some incredible advances in artificial intelligence and bio-engineering, including the world tour of the remarkable Sophie, the first thinking and speaking robot to attain citizenship. Sophie tells us not to worry; real robots are not like Bladerunner.

Then there is the decades-long Chinese economic miracle or the environmental mess we watch with increasing regularity in hurricanes, wildfires, species extinction and climate chaos.

Philip K. Dick, it seems, was on track.

How might we derail that particular future? The usual formula is to rethink geo-politics and create new macroeconomics. Nevertheless, the maxim ‘think global, act local’ has special relevance here. Take, for example, Philadelphia!


Over the past few years, we brought SafeGrowth to Philadelphia. We now have some great advocates working for the neighborhood association, HACE. This year they began implementing their latest 10-year 2025 Neighborhood Plan.

For years HACE and friends have been diligently working to transform the blight, drugs, and crime into a greener, socially connected, economically vibrant neighborhood. Now their new, SafeGrowth-infused 2025 plan is underway and they’ve been making strides.

They installed new, clean walking trails where garbage was once strewn.

The HACE Trail project in Philadelphia

They instituted Philadelphia’s first SafeGrowth Livability Academy, a collaborative workshop with 30 neighbors and police during which they developed problem-solving strategies for their neighborhood.

The HACE plan envisions greener areas, community gardens, better resourced neighborhood hubs, safe intergenerational and affordable housing. HACE has already built over 200 units of affordable housing and leveraged over $100 million in redevelopment and improvements. A host of community-building strategies are already underway.

Neighborhood bridge now cleaned and repainted

For example, they, and their partners shut down a drug infested, homeless camp along a railway underpass. That naturally displaced addicts to street level, resulting in a public outcry (after decades of inaction). Ultimately, that led to a more coordinated city response to treat drug users, expand homeless beds and increase shelters.

HACE built affordable housing
There is a long way to go and resources and shelter beds are still scarce (one estimate suggest Philadelphia has 50,000 opioid addicts, many of whom end up here). But at least action is finally underway.

That is the hard community-building work that cuts crime, improves livability, and gets neighbors engaged in shaping their own future.

In spite of successful resident-based projects, cities like Detroit
fund expensive CCTV technology to cut crime


Too many mayors get caught up in a fear-based echo chamber that makes them vulnerable to peddlers of security technology and promises of a bright, high-tech future.

Too many city leaders act as obsequious errand-boys for the technologists, embracing the faint promise of hostile architecture, public CCTV, automated security robots, predictive algorithms seeking crime, and audio software to track gang gunfire. (Wouldn't it be better to prevent the gunfire in the first place?)

They do this with the ill-informed hope that technology will prevail. But in doing this, they snatch defeat from the hands of successful action-based community projects right in front of them.

They invite a Bladerunner future. May they fail.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Reducing domestic violence

Domestic violence - behind palm trees and quiet suburban streets
 - photo Google Earth

by Gregory Saville

Every now and then it is worth examining the mechanics of successful crime reduction programs to see what parts work best. With that in mind, I was impressed by this year’s International Problem-Oriented Policing conference in Providence, Rhode Island. As a regular presenter at the conference, I am always encouraged by the remarkable finalists in the prestigious Herman Goldstein Award program for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.

This year's Goldstein Award winner was a two-time winner, the Chula Vista police department, who developed a project to reduce domestic violence in that city. (They also won the award ten years ago)

Suburban Chula Vista, south of San Diego - photo Google Earth

A few miles south of downtown San Diego lies the small city of Chula Vista, population 267,000. Over the past few years, calls to police for domestic violence (DV) persisted as the second most common occurrence. At a time when total police calls dropped 10%, domestic violence stubbornly refused to budge.

Like many other police agencies, the cops in Chula Vista had already partnered with a domestic violence advocacy organization to provide 24/7 joint services, but even this did not stem the tide of violence inside the home.

In collaboration with researcher Deborah Lamm Weisel and police crime analysts Nanci Plouffe, Kristen Miggans, and Karen Schmerler, the team began examining the problem in detail. It’s notable that Karen was also the lead analyst with the Chula Vista team that won their 2009 award. (Obviously, a major part of prevention success includes talented analysts like Karen who know how to put programs together).

Chula Vista police HQ


In addition to analysing a wide array of data, they also included informal research by a Chula Vista officer who conducted follow-up visits with some domestic violence victims. All that data provided crucial facts about victims and offenders in Chula Vista and gave them the necessary context. As we say in SafeGrowth, diagnosis must precede prescription because context is everything!

The Chula Vista team also discovered how three other police jurisdictions had successfully implemented a graduated response to DV, now termed focused deterrence. They tailored their own graduated response program and, tellingly, a large number of patrol officers eagerly asked to join the program, mostly from frustration about ineffective traditional responses.

Graduated response is based on an elevated approach to each subsequent call for domestic violence. Since many domestic homicides emerge after repeated DV incidents, the graduated response provides officers a consistent way to intervene in the cycle sooner, not later. If more than one DV call emerges, each subsequent call is met by deeper interventions, from education and counseling to progressively stricter responses.

Early intervention educational material for a graduated response

The Chula Vista crime analysts assessed the results after a year. When they measured the results they found DV finally dropped by 23%. Calls for police service also declined unlike the nearby control area where both incidents and calls worsened. Their data collection allowed them to discount possible displacement to that nearby control area.

The Chula Vista team successfully tailored a new program and made life safer for domestic partners. They helped increase public confidence in police and increased officer safety by cutting domestic incidents.

Most importantly, especially for the children, relatives and friends of domestic partners, they cut the fact and the risk of domestic violence in their city.

Congratulations to the Chula Vista team and their partners.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

From desert to oasis - food access

Finding space for healthy food gardens on rooftops 
by Mateja Mihinjac

In the previous blog I wrote about the issue of food access and underlying problems that stem from inequality. We have learned in our SafeGrowth work that there is a connection between inequality, food access and the conditions that create crime. In this blog I present three pillars that can transform food deserts into food oases and concurrently tackle socio-economic disadvantage and crime.


Physical accessibility is the first pillar. Local infrastructure and zoning should support access to affordable fresh food within half a mile of residential areas. Many disadvantaged neighborhoods are faced with urban obstacles rooted in socio-economic inequality and high levels of crime that fail to achieve this objective.

Importantly, new supermarkets will not in themselves shift deeply ingrained eating habits without providing nutritional education.


In addition to physical access, another challenge is insufficient knowledge about nutrition and the effects of eating habits on health.

Community education about healthy food and gardening
should include resident involvement
Education about health-promoting eating patterns should complement physical food accessibility. The Design for America Healthy Food (Access) Project developed an innovative approach that provides helpful graphic food guidelines for shoppers.


The third pillar focuses on financial aspects. Encouraging providers of fresh and affordable foods to partner with locally owned stores, thereby investing in the local economy, is preferable to relying on large supermarket chains. One strategy to achieve this is Rossi and Brunori's proposals for public and private stakeholder partnerships.

Another report looks at New York public housing and suggests the housing authority should contribute towards food access and economic security by encouraging commercial development on the housing properties. This could be coupled with employing residents to drive both local economy and local governance. Echoing Jane Jacobs, mixed uses promote safety by increasing occupancy and human interaction.

Community gardens are not viable in winter

Food access from a local perspective is gaining traction in food justice circles. Knowing that available resources and education strongly influence food purchasing habits, it is unquestionable that food deserts are not a simple solution solved with new supermarkets.

Food accessibility and food education at a scale that responds to local demands is one major step towards food oases and away from barren food deserts. In SafeGrowth we suggest such changes should be driven With and By local residents for a lasting change towards 21st Century neighborhoods.