Monday, October 21, 2019

Violence on the streets of Santiago - Towards social peace during crisis

Troops in Santiago earlier today attempting to quell riots 
Photo Martina Bennewitz Martinez

GUEST BLOG: Macarena Rau Vargas

Macarena is an architect from Chile and the President of the International CPTED Association. She has a Ph.D. in architecture and urbanism and has led urban safety projects all across Latin America and the Carribean. She currently heads PBL Consulting, is an associate consultant with AlterNation LLC, and has led the evolution of 2nd Generation CPTED throughout South America. As a citizen of Chile, Macarena and her fellow citizens have suffered weeks of violent protests on the streets of Santiago. In this guest blog, she has a message for policymakers and citizens alike - a message that resonates in other countries around the world. 

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Rioters are burning factories, 11 people are dead, and over 10,000 police and troops are on the streets attempting to quell violent protests. These are times of social unrest in many countries and Chile is not immune. This very phenomenon was described in the first chapter of the SafeGrowth book: “We now see a resurgence of grassroots social movements calling for change… Do these increasing incidents of social unrest prophesize an impending future shock?”

In Santiago, it all started on October 18 when, as the result of a 4% Metro transit ticket hike, there was a spontaneous explosion of social discontent on the streets of Chile’s capital city. Even though wages in Chile have been slightly increasing and poverty falling, the rates of inequality remain high.

Bus burned by Chilean rioters after transit fare hike
Photo by Jorge Morales Piderit, Wikimedia Commons

At this very moment, it is important to reflect and ask what will lead us to a sustainable social peace both during crisis scenarios like this and in everyday life in Chile and throughout Latin America? Is there a methodology that allows us to realize that social peace?


The first point to establish is that public security is not improvised; rather it is the methodical result of concerted public, private and citizen efforts. And those efforts must be sustained to be able to deal with crises like those we suffer today in Chile, and in other Latin American countries. Creating stable and sustainable public policies is not a simple matter – they must integrate and articulate many parts of community justice and safety: control, prevention, reintegration, and victim care actions.

The second point is that before the public explodes in a burst of social discontent, a government must have the tools and capacity to diagnose socio-environmental pathologies that destroy the quality of public life. It must know how to diagnose, with the help of citizens, the possible threats to public life, whether those threats are internal or external. Governments are not always complicit in the creation of social inequity – it often happens because they are unaware of the full implications of even the simplest social policy – like a fare hike in a transit ticket! Again, this brings us to the need for a methodology to guide us forward.

We know from 20 years of work with both 1st and 2nd Generation Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) that we now have such a  methodology. In Latin America, we call this the CPTED® methodology and it offers a social diagnosis that is co-produced with local communities. A CPTED® methodology diagnosis is not similar to the surveys, polling, or social research that governments too frequently rely on for information (and as we see in Santiago, often with disastrous results). The CPTED® methodology allows the diagnosis to be rich, relevant and up-to-date; it captures the pulse of community members and their real needs.

Santiago protesters take to the streets earlier today
Photo Martina Bennewitz Martínez

Our experience has taught us the more hyper-focused the diagnostics, the better the solutions. For example, we know from international evidence that the proportion of those who trigger violence during peaceful protests (resulting in riots) are a minority – often an organized and concerted minority – compared to the mass of citizens they claim to represent. No doubt social unrest and frustration exist. But few public citizens want to harm people, to burn stores, or destroy property. Few want people killed.

What citizens actually want is a solution to inequity, poverty, and a decent quality of life.

The third point is that public security policies must be in concert with various members of the community, both institutionally and socially; that is why citizen dialogue is fundamental. Dialogue must involve the citizenry, the armed forces, government, universities, civil society organizations, the church, and many others.

Modern, high-tech Santiago skyscrapers frame riot troops
Photo Martina Bennewitz Martínez


Citizenship is the backbone that links both the SafeGrowth planning method recently introduced in North America and the broad style of CPTED® that we have developed in Latin America. Both methods employ citizenship at our core because we recognize its importance in developing public policy. Citizenship and the involvement of the public empowers citizens! That is how we end up with sustainable policies and avoid crucial public policy mistakes.

Likewise, in crisis scenarios as we see today, we must avoid polarizing talk that fractures people apart from a common ground. As the city of Bogotá demonstrated in the 1980s with its "Garrote and Carrot" policies, the balance between hard enforcement control was combined with the comprehensive social actions of the citizenry. This eventually cut the homicide rate in half.

Achieving sustainable social peace for Chile is possible, but it requires methodical changes based on evidence in public policies. This crisis is a call to turn the national helm in another direction. We expect both the government and the citizens of this country to walk in that direction.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Neighborhood Hubs in Honduran Cities

Neighborhood Hub, Barrio San Juan, Honduras.
Open at night for learning and community engagement

GUEST BLOG: Carlos Alfredo Gutiérrez Vera

Carlos is a Chilean architect/urban planner and a SafeGrowth Advocate residing in Honduras. He is a director of the International CPTED Association and one of the initiators of CPTED in Latin America. He has conducted CPTED throughout Central America and is co-author of the first Latin American CPTED manual. He works for a Consortium of three German companies (INBAS-SANIPLAN-SUM) giving Technical Assistance to the Honduran government with the Secretary for Community Development, Water and Sanitation, to implement the CONVIVIR program. 


Freddy is a young man from the municipality of Siguatepeque in Honduras. His greatest passion is to practice bicycle motocross (BMX) on his bike, however he and his friends did not have a place to practice. For Freddy and his friends, this is not only a type of recreation, but it’s also a way to socialize and a way to avoid getting involved with illicit and dangerous activities.

Two years ago, Freddy found out a Community Hub Center was being built that would incorporate a space to practice BMX. The program was CONVIVIR, a social intervention initiative implemented by the Government of Honduras and German International Cooperation through the German Development Bank KfW, in alliance with the municipality of Siguatepeque.

Neighborhood Hub Bike Day in the new BMX track 

CONVIVIR aims to improve living conditions for young people in Honduras living with violence, forced migration, teenage pregnancy, poverty among other problems. The Community Hub Project was called Center for the promotion of Quality of Life in Barrio el Carmen.

Excited by the idea of ​​having a place with a BMX track, Freddy approached the municipality to see how he and other BMX practitioners could contribute. He was surprised to learn that the Hub would be built and managed by the community itself, using the PEC methodology (Projects Executed by the Community). It was an even bigger surprise that he and his friends could participate in the design of the BMX track and work as a team with a group of specialized designers.

In community meetings, Freddy and his friends came to see how CONVIVIR builds violence prevention through the recovery of public spaces, strengthening social and labor skills of young people. It accomplished that through the Center for Quality of Life using strategies like CPTED applied by the community itself.
During the planning process, Freddy was able to meet and interact with other members of the community and participate in actions that would carry out the construction of the project.

It was motivating for Freddy to know that the residents of Barrio San Juan will have access to training programs while promoting coexistence among neighbors. They will achieve a sense of belonging, be linked to democratic processes, and participate in decision-making for projects that benefit the community.

Neighborhood Hubs - also called Quality of Life Centers - host numerous
activities including community meetings


The Quality of Life Center in the San Juan neighborhood was finished in mid-2018. Now Freddy and his friends have a place to practice BMX and have also joined other community projects. They feel integrated into their neighborhood and have begun a process of personal growth through activities carried out on a regular basis.

The CONVIVIR Community Hubs have fulfilled their role as urban centers that promote and strengthen neighborhood construction projects.  In recent years, the CONVIVIR Program has built 10 Community Hubs in three cities in Honduras; five in the city of Siguatepeque, three in the city of Gracias and two in the city of La Lima.

Hubs combine attractive landscaping and multiple activities 


In each city, the Community Hubs work closely with the municipal government, thus creating a synergy between community and local government. Ideas and new community projects are born and then begin to link to other infrastructure projects.

The program has evolved into a neighborhood network linking projects in one Hub with other community infrastructure projects such as sports centers, youth houses, libraries, and urban walks, vocational training centers, and others also built by CONVIVIR.

This linking is now creating a network of interconnected hubs, in effect a practical example of the ecosystem of neighborhood hubs as described in SafeGrowth – and highlighted in chapters 4 and 5 of SafeGrowth: Building Neighborhoods of Safety and Livability.

Monday, October 7, 2019

You just might get what you need

Criminology students working in teams - photo by Shahna Britton

by Tarah Hodgkinson

Once the sole institutions that controlled knowledge, universities must confront the reality that today's internet has made most knowledge accessible to anyone who looks online. And while universities are attempting to adapt to change, they are doing so poorly. Short of making more courses available online, most of the material continues to be something that could be easily found somewhere else and is leaving current and potential students wondering what is the point of going to university at all.

We have written about a better style of teaching in the university classroom in Canada. We spoke about how students, disheartened by their current learning structures, flourished when they were given the opportunity to take control over their own learning and address real-world problems.

Presenting field projects - photo by Shahna Britton


I have since moved to Australia and started teaching at a large university here. If North Americans feel like the university system is decaying, Australia is watching it happen at warp speed. Instructors are not expected to change their courses every semester and are often given courses that someone else created. Most lectures are recorded and available online. Colleagues complain that fewer than 20 students attend lectures, despite over 200 students being enrolled. And a month ago, at the University of Melbourne, Professor Danny Hatters posted a photo of an empty lecture theatre.

It is easy to blame this on students these days. We say things like – “they don’t even realize how lucky they are!” “They are just lazy and addicted to their phones.” But this is not reality. I’ve been teaching at the university level for almost ten years. When I started as a teaching assistant, I was barely older than the students (in some cases they were much older than me). The students aren’t lazy, disinterested or unaware of their privilege. Rather, they realize that the current university system isn’t working.

Final class real-life projects for real-life grades
- photo by Shahna Britton

This year, I had the opportunity to take over a third-year capstone course. My students were expected to take all of the learning they had gained over the past three years (assuming they showed up), apply it to a crime problem and then address neighbourhood safety.

The course was one of the few designed with problem-based learning principles in mind. The students were grouped by where they lived and spent twelve weeks addressing a problem in their neighbourhoods. At the end, they had created incredible prototypes that they presented to industry partners and faculty. Many of these presentations led to connections to applying their ideas more broadly.

Different times demand that universities adapt


More importantly, they learned the soft skills they need to work in the future. They were provided with tools to support teamwork, presentation skills, and emotional intelligence. They practiced these by managing a project with four other people over twelve weeks.

These skills are becoming ever more necessary in both the working world and in creating meaningful change in neighbourhoods, just as we teach in our professional SafeGrowth training. Emotional intelligence and teamwork skills are core to creating citizens of future neighbourhoods.  These skills are what students need to be learning more than anything else.

Many instructors and programs are hesitant to include teamwork courses because students complain. And yes, the students did complain! But they also showed up EVERY WEEK. University is no longer about translating knowledge. It is about training students to be active and engaged citizens with emotional intelligence and teamwork skills to make meaningful change.

Students won’t always get what they want in the universities of the future, but if we pay attention to teamwork, real-life learning, and life skills, they just might get what they need.