Saturday, November 23, 2019

Too much racket - Noise pollution in the neighborhood

Noise in the city - a major impact on livability
by Tarah Hodgkinson

5:15am – SLAM! CRASH! BANG! That is how I wake up every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning. Three days a week, when the garbage and recycling truck comes to empty the bins below my second-floor window. It’s been three times a week for 5 months now. They start at the ungodly hour of 5:15am. Always waking me up.

The first time I heard it I nearly jumped through the wall. When I first moved into one of the units of the six-story apartment, I was told that the truck came twice a week.

I know I sound like I’m complaining. You might suggest I go back to sleep after they are done (not possible), or that I close my window (I do) or I turn on the AC and blast a fan and wear earplugs (check, check, check). You might say “calm down, you chose to live in the city” (try using public transit outside of a city).

But noise pollution (excessive noise caused by machines, transport and other humans) has a harmful impact on humans and animals. Numerous studies have examined the effect of increased noise levels on health. Noise pollution has been found to affect the nervous and endocrine systems and can cause numerous health issues from anxiety and heart disease.

Most importantly, it disrupts sleep, which can be a catalyst for all of these health issues, as well as low birth weights for pregnant women. Additionally, sleep disruption caused by noise pollution can also reduce focus and harm productivity.


As Mateja and Greg described in their recent blog introducing 3rd Generation CPTED, there is more to neighborhood livability than fear and crime. Noise pollution and its impact on public health is part of 3rd Generation CPTED because of its critical role in creating successful, peaceful neighborhoods.

Busy streets along with noise capturing architecture
can make noise pollution worse
While crime and noise have very different consequences, both fear of crime and noise pollution impact neighborhood livability. If people do not feel comfortable in public areas due to noise, they will not spend time there. It’s difficult to get legitimate “eyes on the street” (1st Generation CPTED calls it natural surveillance) when residents are hostile towards their streets.

Fortunately, communities all over the world are starting to pay attention to noise pollution. New technologies are helping to better discern the impacts of noise pollution, and laws and regulations already in place are beginning to expand.  In fact, organizations like Noise Free, have made it their mission to reduce noise pollution as part of a larger public health mandate.


However, many suggestions for responding to noise pollution are individually focused on encouraging the consumer to buy expensive noise-cancelling headphones, rearranging their furniture in their house or purchase other muffling agents.

Even more extreme, some suggest that people just move. But moving to a quieter neighborhood is not an option for most people, in particular, because noise pollution tends to be worse in poorer neighborhoods.

Not surprisingly, those poor neighborhoods are often where crime and fear flourish and where we end up working to introduce SafeGrowth.

Noise attenuation walls - the typical response
There have to be better local solutions to reduce these risks and protect those most affected.  Planners and developers already use highway barriers to reduce loud traffic, but this is not enough. For example, one solution might be educating policymakers on how to create local noise mitigation legislation, especially the sleep-interrupting version. It might be possible to better notify (and enforce) noise violators, improve tree coverage that can block noise, or create “no horn zones”.

Creating safe and livable neighborhoods isn’t just about reducing crime, its also about ensuring that city designers and decision-makers, and residents themselves, treat all neighborhoods fairly and ensure all forms of health and well-being are part of the 21st Century neighborhood.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Greta, H22 and the time bomb

The climate crisis affects everything - including
crime prevention and city development

by Gregory Saville

Tick tock…the clock is ticking.

I recently watched 16-year old Greta Thunberg glare at global leaders and chastise the United Nations for not doing enough about the Climate Crisis. Record numbers of wildfires burn around the world. Floods, hurricanes, and extreme weather dominate the news. And, says Greta, (and legions of scientists), because of climate deniers, Big Oil, and dallying politicians around the world, time is running out.

Tick tock.

In truth, it isn’t from those living today that the Climate Crisis was born. It was born in the belching factories of the Industrial Age, weaned by a century of exploding (and irresponsible) population growth, and befriended by decades of poor environmental choices. Some of those poor environmental choices emerged in how we built cities – sprawl, acres of parking, carbon eating suburbs.

The result? Tax money spent on sprawl left the inner city vacant, sleepy, and blighted. Downtowns were vacated by shoppers looking for regional malls. The guts of the city were emptied into the box stores of the burbs. Studies about such development show that “living in a city can alter our brain’s architecture, making it more vulnerable to… social stress.”

So not only does pollution and smog harm our lungs and bodies, but
neurophysical research suggests that poor urban living conditions negatively affect our brain biology, particularly the part that affects moods – the amygdala – such as anxiety disorders and mental conditions like schizophrenia.

However, while time runs out and Greta says we aren’t doing enough, it isn't true that we are doing nothing. Some innovations do break through.

Swedish teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg,
after her United Nations and European Union speeches
- photo European Union, Creative Commons


This week I co-presented our SafeGrowth project work from New York at the H22 Summit in Helsingborg, Sweden, a conference on Smart City innovations and how they combat climate change. Delivered with my colleague Ifeoma Ebo from the New York City Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, our message showed how tactics in SafeGrowth and community empowerment in high-density housing can humanize residential towers and reduce victimization. If we are to densify in the future, we must know how to do it well.

The conference was in preparation for the H22 Smart City Exposition in Helsingborg. Smart Cities is a concept to dramatically expand data networks and sensors into city operations and embed information and communication technologies via the IoT (Internet of Things) for more efficient use of resources. The idea is if city officials can interact better with residents and monitor city life, they can more efficiently improve infrastructure and services.

Presenting our SafeGrowth work this week at the H22 Summit
in Helsingborg, Sweden - photo Peter Brinch, H22 Summit

It is, in effect, a technical battle against inefficiency and climate change. In the past, I have been skeptical of some smart technologies in policing and crime prevention that have not seemed so smart. So I was curious how the European smart city movement – particularly this one in Sweden -  differed from what I’ve seen thus far. I was not disappointed.


The earliest battle against the environmental crisis began in the 1960s with the counter-culture warriors, triggered by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring on the insecticides poisoning our water.

Silent Spring uncovered how Chemical Industry pesticides
poisoned agriculture

Those early warriors grew into environmentalists who created, among other things, Smart Growth to confront sprawl and reimagine urban villages that offer more friendly places to live, and transit-oriented developments.

Smart Growth is another front in the climate battle. It’s an urban planning rebellion against ecological waste and carbon waste. For 20 years it has promoted new kinds of planning and zoning to improve the environment and create walkable streets. Sadly, most politicians are still ignorant of Smart Growth and few in the public have the slightest idea how it reduces sprawl thereby cutting pollution and carbon emissions.

In the 1990s I worked with a design team on one of the earliest Smart Growth projects in Vancouver – the Collingwood Village community near the Joyce/VanNess Skytrain Station. Touted today as one of Vancouver’s most successful neighborhoods, the Collingwood story has appeared in this blog. Twenty years later we now see how smart growth/transit-oriented development can last.

Vancouver's Collingwood Village transit-oriented development


In spite of all this, anti-Smart Growth critics hope to turn back the nostalgia clock. They restrict multi-family units, spend billions on expressways, ignore efficient commuter trains, and they fight for low densities. Want proof? Look at the outer suburban rings of Calgary, Toronto, Winnipeg, Phoenix, Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Sydney, Perth, etc.

I should know; I live in one! An unpleasant fact I learned the hard way is that owning or renting an affordable home requires a wide range of housing options and, in most larger cities in the developed world, those options are limited by decades of single-use zoning that encourages lower densities. Without more affordable choices, we are left with housing from existing housing stock - and that means suburbs.

There is much to be done, not the least of which remains convincing the business-as-usual crowd that, frankly, things have changed and time is running out. Greta is right. We must do better. Sooner!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Life in the village - The high-level-needs gap

Future neighbourhoods need adaptive public spaces
that satisfy many needs

By Mateja Mihinjac

I had a fairly happy childhood. The suburban village my parents adopted as a family home offered the necessary amenities - two small grocery stores, a bakery, fresh produce store, kindergarten, primary school and a small library. And they were all within a ten-minute walk. We also had a home garden, we could play on the street and I was surrounded by the green fields and nearby hills that became my beloved recreational spots.

Most importantly, this was a safe neighbourhood.

However, as I grew older, my needs and wants also increased. Village life no longer satisfied my yearning for exploration, learning, working and socialising, and the surroundings and facilities felt outdated and bland. It was as if time in the village had stopped.

A poorly lit underpass and graffitied train station sends a message
to village residents - no one cares about this space!


I later realized it was me who had outgrown the village. It continues to satisfy basic needs, but it hasn’t evolved. It has failed to adapt to the reality that, more than ever, humans strive for more than simply surviving and addressing our biological needs. We have higher-level psychological needs such as feelings of belonging, self-esteem and social connection. We have needs for personal growth and self-fulfilment. Abraham Maslow outlined this in the Theory of Human Motivation nearly 80 years ago.

Moreover, we crave a meaningful existence by being able to contribute to the experience of others. Maslow explained this highest level satisfaction in his later work using the term self-transcendence.

It should therefore not sound unusual or extraordinary for people to expect that their neighbourhood should offer a high quality of life by providing opportunities for realising those high-level needs.

Ample food choices in farmers markets and local stores
should offer healthy choices


This is the message that Greg Saville and I convey in our recently published article Third Generation CPTED.

The main premise of our new theory is that for the highest quality of life, a 21st Century neighbourhood should offer more than minimum services and necessities. Good transport, proper sanitation, a healthy environment, ample food, adequate shelter, and local safety are critical, but not enough. Recreation opportunities and social activities too are necessary, but they still don't reach the highest level of motivational satisfaction. So residents drive away and abandon their neighbourhood to find something they cannot locate nearby.

Applying the Neighbourhood Liveability Hierarchy we propose that residents should be able to strive for more advanced opportunities to satisfy their highest needs, while all the basic and modest provisions exist in every place. Such an advanced neighbourhood planned in a holistic and strategic way will help it evolve to support the needs of its inhabitants.

A neighbourhood livability hierarchy for satisfying human needs


In SafeGrowth we offer the hub concept as an epicentre for such developments under the ownership of neighbourhood residents.

The main premise of the concept is participatory democracy and decision-making potential of the residents who would continually assess and address neighbourhood needs thus help it maintain a high quality of life.

Our SafeGrowth advocate and friend Carlos Gutierrez has recently also offered a view of networked community-driven hubs in the violence-stricken nation of Honduras. His story is remarkable because it showcases how community-driven neighbourhood hubs drive local progress and offer opportunities for high-level needs, which concurrently aim to address violence and promote safety.

It's difficult to predict the shape of future urban design,
but it must include places of refuge, nature and positive social interaction


As our basic needs are met, we must create places that allow us opportunities to grow towards higher-level needs and uncover innovative and exciting ways to satisfy them. If we can’t find those opportunities in our living environment, we will look elsewhere and alienate ourselves from our neighbourhood and its inhabitants in the process.

Unfortunately, so many amenities are concentrated in large downtown centres, or in huge, disconnected retail box stores surrounded by acres of parking, that they restrict the opportunities for satisfying high-level needs in suburban areas like the village of my youth. The suburbs become places that excel in basic services and residential use, but where opportunities for self-actualization and transcendence are rare.

Our neighbourhoods must respond to the needs of 21st Century lifestyles and they need opportunities for their inhabitants to flourish in local life and participate in meaningful neighbourhood decision-making. Perhaps then, as neighbourhood attachment grows, residents will enjoy their neighbourhood not only because it’s their living environment but also because it helps them fulfil their potential.