Saturday, December 26, 2020

Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?

Movie night - watching movies on our neighbor's garage door

by Greg Saville

Seasonal celebrations are now underway. Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and National Don’t Make Your Bed Day (Yes, there is such a thing! I’m a believer). Each event celebrates a different aspect of life – seasonal, religious, cultural – and, in so doing, each celebrates our human community. Given the mess that is 2020 - inequity protests around the world, the Racial Reckoning riots in the United States, and the scourge of COVID-19 - we desperately need to celebrate something this year!

Human “community” is an elusive animal. It means different things to different people, and consequently, it means nothing that you can put your finger on. Of course, since we’re not testing a theory in a lab experiment, who cares? It’s okay that we have regular celebrations of community; it’s needed now more than ever.

To some, “community” is their immediate family and circle of friends. (I’ve been particularly lucky in this regard.) For others, it is their social circle or their affiliation with sports teams. To yet others, it is those who share political affinities or who occupy the thousands of groups in 


For my part, I recently became obsessed with a YouTube group that takes virtual rides on famous trains around the world (yes, yes… I know how pathetic and uncool that sounds. COVID cabin fever takes a toll!)

Yet there is another important part of this story worth telling. For those of us in the community-building and crime prevention world, the term “community” is too elusive. We prefer using local geography to describe our neighborhood – those buildings, neighbors, parks, shops, and other places within a 15-minute walk of our home. After all, it is within those neighborhoods where we actually live much of our lives. 

Our immediate neighbors, for better or worse, matter a great deal! And it is in those very places where we experience, recover from, or hide from, crime and fear. Mateja Mihinjac and I describe some of these ideas in our Third Generation CPTED article last year.

A pre-Covid, summer afternoon with neighbors

Neighborhoods matter and neighbors matter. So let’s celebrate our neighbors too during this holiday season. I’ve been fortunate to have some great neighbors over the years. We may not always agree about politics or see eye-to-eye on our philosophy of life, but we agree it is important to be a good neighbor. When neighborliness works well, it costs you little, it means a lot, and it contributes to your quality of life. In an upcoming blog, Mateja will describe how we encourage neighborhood engagement. In the meantime, let's celebrate our neighbors. 

To the great neighborhoods and to the great neighbors who care, thanks. You rock! 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Abolish CPTED?

Is CPTED racist? Does it exclude minorities?

by Gregory Saville

As our COVID ravaged cities impose social isolation, working-from-home, and cabin fever, those who live in high-density apartments and housing developments must be confident they are safe from crime and violence. And, more than ever before, residents must feel their home is a sanctuary. Crime prevention through environmental design - CPTED - is an ideal answer for these difficult times, especially 2nd Generation CPTED and SafeGrowth.

Next Thursday, Dec 17, I and some colleagues are running a free educational webinar for property managers, realtors, and housing groups seeking residential safety. The “Virtual Property Management and Safety Summit” is sponsored by real estate safety expert, Tracey “the safety lady” Hawkins.


All this stands in stark contrast to recent calls for the abolition of CPTED from municipal codes and city planning due to the perception that CPTED can exclude minorities from public life. Consider the Vancouver City Planning Commission website or articles by Bryan Lee Jr in Bloomberg City Lab website.

Keeping residents safe at home - What are the alternatives?

According to Lee: 

“While CPTED principles are said to help discourage crime by orienting building windows and entrances to aid in providing “eyes on the street” that monitor activity, in practice this strategy can end up serving the same suppressive purpose as stop-and-frisk policing — to assure that anyone considered suspicious is made to feel uncomfortable.”

The solution, say these latter-day gurus who would protect us from the current Racial Reckoning, is to abolish CPTED, a crime prevention strategy that has brought safety and security to millions of citizens all over the world – as you will discover by reading some of the hundreds of scientific publications regarding CPTED. 


In my view, CPTED is not the problem. For example, while aspirin has been an effective pain remedy for over a thousand years, improper use can result in overdose and stomach problems. The solution is not to abolish aspirin. Same with CPTED. It is vulnerable to improper use by poorly trained practitioners. No doubt some practitioners indiscriminately lock and fence properties without regard to alternative options. CPTED can produce racial exclusion if placed into the wrong, untrained hands. But the solution isn’t abolition. It’s proper training and certification through legitimate accredited courses – the very thing the ICA has offered for years.

In his 1972 landmark book “Defensible Space”, architect Oscar Newman wrote 

"The question to be asked is how does one initially achieve thoughtful building groupings rather than having to resort to barbed-wire fences and locks after the fact?"

One answer appeared on the International CPTED Association’s “Special ICA Webinar: Exclusion versus Inclusion – In CPTED Everyone Has a role”.

On Thursday, Dec. 17, we will provide another during our Safety Summit

Join us.

Thursday, Dec 17 - free summit on property safety

Monday, November 30, 2020

COVID’s impact – connection during the holiday season

"Loneliness and alienation need not characterize urban life"
C. Ray Jeffery - founder of CPTED (1971)

by Tarah Hodgkinson

Around this time last year, I wrote a blog about self-care and new year’s resolutions. I suggested that the best self-care we could engage in, was to take care of others. Through connection and social engagement, we not only are happier and healthier, but we even live longer. 

This year, such a suggestion may seem out of touch with reality. The second wave of COVID-19 is well underway in many North American and European neighbourhoods and many places are, once again, increasing social distancing restrictions and locking down. While the promise of the vaccine is on the horizon, most people are preparing for a quiet holiday season that doesn’t involve much social interaction.

COVID - isolation - homelessness 

These steps are necessary to keep people safe until the vaccine is easily accessible and widely distributed. However, it is hard not to feel a bit distraught at the thought of spending the holidays separated from family and friends. 

While we often think about how this pandemic has affected our personal lives, this time of year encourages us to think outwards. For many, the holidays are a time to volunteer and give back. But, COVID-19 has changed this as well. 

This was made clear to me when I reached out to a local homelessness charity to donate some clothing and other necessities. Although grateful for any support, the charity has been unable to accept any physical donations in months. The pandemic has made it impossible for them to pass along these donations safely and in keeping with the restrictions. 


Furthermore, many of the ways in which these charities have supported their clients in the past, from offering clothing and supplies, to providing crisis housing has changed. All of this work requires additional personal protective equipment and financial support for food and shelter costs. 

Most donation drives and volunteer supports have been reduced or eliminated due to restrictions on what can be accepted and how many people can be in a space. For example, Signal Fire, a well-known homeless charity here in Brisbane, has had to shut down or scale back their barbecues. These barbecues not only provide much-needed food and supplies to their clients, but also a chance for social interaction, support, and connection. 

While the pandemic has affected all of us, this has been more dramatic than ever for society’s “underclass.” Beyond basic necessities, we also need connection and interaction to stay healthy and happy. For our most vulnerable, these opportunities are all but gone. 

As the pandemic persists, those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home, support ourselves and see our friends and family over skype and zoom, may also want to take this opportunity to redirect what we would have spent on big holiday dinners and presents for our extended family and donate that money to a local shelter or charity. These services need financial support to continue their missions and connect with their clients. That connection has never been more important than it is now. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Coloring our neighborhood safe

Color plays an important role in neighborhood life

by Mateja Mihinjac

As winter is fast approaching in the northern hemisphere the trees are losing their colorful blankets of leaves. Coupled with that come cloudy overcast or foggy days with short pockets of sunshine signaling the dreary months ahead when we’d rather stay indoors than be exposed to the monotone grey outside. 

However, it turns out there might be ways to break the bland world of winter and introduce some color into our neighborhoods to influence our mood and emotions.


Environmental color psychology research shows color can be used effectively to create emotional responses at conscious and unconscious levels.

In simplified terms, red, orange, and yellow colors create a stimulating cognitive response whereas green and blue have a calming effect on our nervous system. This is an evolutionary adaptation that once helped us survive, but is also is an effective strategy to stimulate desired moods in outdoor spaces. 

Public restroom in Helsingborg, Sweden 

The commercial, design, and health industry has been using this knowledge with great success to promote revenue and to elicit desired emotional responses by incorporating designs that connect us to nature, what is known as biophilic designs.

None of this is a new idea. Ethnic neighborhoods have been using colors for years to showcase their cultural identity and tradition. For example, "Chinatown's” or “Little Italy's” are often characterized by red color whereas "Greek Town's" are wrapped in blue/white designs and blue light installations. This creates a sense of identity and neighborhood attachment for people of that neighborhood’s heritage.

It turns out color psychology might also play a role in crime prevention.


Understanding the importance of a person-environment interaction was the message of CPTED pioneer, C. Ray Jeffery, who emphasized that we must appreciate how external and internal stimuli affect our brain’s response to the environment.

Color splashed onto the simplest urban feature makes a difference

There is anecdotal evidence from Glasgow, Scotland showing how blue color lights might help with suicide and crime prevention. Reports of lower crime rates and increased community ownership also emerged after the mayor of Tirana, Albania decided to use bold color design on many of the city’s buildings.

More detailed research on the color/crime prevention story is, as yet, scarce and inconclusive, but one fact remains: reports from all over the world indicate that residents respond positively to colorfulness and even crave opportunities to partake in them. 


While bringing color to the neighborhood might be an effective solution to generate interesting places that promote social interaction, such initiatives also offer a great opportunity to work in partnerships with local residents and co-create these colorful places together. 

One great example is the Intersection Repair Project that creates colorful neighborhood intersections and combines that with residents who co-design their own streets. A few years later, our SafeGrowth team from Christchurch, New Zealand, successfully used the same approach for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere.

Color peeking through a foggy morning 

Of course, coloring neighborhoods does not magically solve neighborhood crime. We still need research on the internal workings of how our brain interprets these places – what Jeffery called internal cognition and internal environment. We have only recently seen reignited academic interest in this topic, for example, our recent study on Third Generation CPTED.

In this new approach, we link internal cognition to Maslow’s theory of human motivation. We emphasize that every high functioning neighborhood should offer opportunities for satisfying both individual and collective needs. Satisfying those needs at the neighborhood level is an important factor in neighborhood liveability. Colorful design throughout our daily public life that elicits positive moods may go a long way to satisfy at least some liveability objectives.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Busting the Blue Babble - police myths preventing reform


Doing it right! Residents and police work together in Ottawa
to create crime-solving plans

by Gerard Cleveland and Gregory Saville

NOTE: My colleague Gerard Cleveland and I co-wrote this second part of last week's blog on “Defund the Police”. Gerry is a frequent contributor to the SafeGrowth blog. He is an attorney, a specialist in school violence, and the co-chair of the Police Society for Problem-Based Learning.

Occasionally, SafeGrowth programmers benefit from exceptional problem-solving police officers. Other times they get little help from the police. When that happens, residents ask questions such as: Where are the police? Why are we spending so much on policing services? What is wrong?

Why does a disconnect exist between what works to make communities safe and what currently occurs within policing? In our view, the systemic blockages first emerge within the academy. And since training serves as the entry point to police subculture, we must start reforms at that early stage if we hope to create a different style of police service. 

Fear of crime is a major problem in many cities. Police can work
with residents and other professionals to improve the quality of life
... but this depends on proper police training. 


Over the past twenty-five years, we have taught thousands of police, federal agents, military units, and security personnel from across the globe. We find a disturbing commonality exists among most police training academies from places as diverse as the United States, Canada, Australia, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea or Qatar.

Why disturbing? Because most policing academies today hold four prevalent and dangerous myths. Police leaders and academy directors think these myths are unassailable truths. They are wrong.


Academy instructors have no choice but to lecture to ensure that they get as much information to the recruits as possible. They do not have time to do otherwise. They must follow legally prescribed, State and Federal regulations and therefore lecturing serves as the most expedient method to get all the required information to the recruits. They assure everyone that they would like to do more adult learning and problem-solving in the classroom, but such efforts “take too much time.”


This “no time to train properly” mantra undermines the long-term success of new employees. If the objectives of the academy genuinely state a clear intention to focus on student learning, then agency and academy leaders must abandon their ineffective instructor-focused lessons and institute problem solving and adult learning strategies.

We described antidotes to this absurd “no time” mantra in our book You In Blue and in our work on National programs that we wrote such as Police Training Officer and Police PBL: Blueprint for The 21st Century.

Resident/police collaborative research into night crime
- the hallmark of Police Problem-Based Learning methods


Defensive tactics and weapons training necessarily fill a substantial portion of the academy agenda because of the inherent dangers on the street that officers will face from day 1 of their careers.


Defensive tactics (DT) and firearms instructors have hijacked police training schedules and are responsible for much of the fear that exists both within the force and throughout the community. The DT and firearms instructors may have good intentions, but they are doing serious damage to the profession and to police-community relations.

We must stop allowing tactical or firearms instructors to “call the shots” when it comes to crisis training. These instructors are important and they provide a necessary skill, but their mandate must include broad-spectrum problem-solving options, coupled with a focus on working collaboratively with community crisis providers (such as mental health professionals) prior to, during and after violent escalation. Firearms and DT instructors should be trained extensively on the impacts that shootings, violence and vehicle accidents involving police have on the officers as well as the community.


Discipline and adherence to a para-military code of behavior in the academy builds character, cohesion, respect for agency hierarchy and fosters professional pride among the recruits.


This is blue babble!

The concept that we must break down and then build up a new employee makes little sense when recruiters claim they hire only the best candidates. Boot camp may work for soldiers, but police must work within communities, engage intelligently and problem-solve cooperatively.

Yelling and shouting at new employees and telling them they know nothing achieves little except to waste precious training time and stoke the egos of the instructors doing the yelling. Further, we argue it creates an unhealthy role model in the minds of the recruits as to how they should treat people over whom they have power.


Addressing gang and violence problems requires a trusting partnership
between officers and residents


Police trainers should discourage recruits from questioning orders, engaging in divergent thinking and challenging up the chain of command. Those practices increase dangers to officers because they may not, at critical times, follow orders when required to do so.

Discipline within the ranks serves as a safety mechanism for agencies and instilling that obligation to authority must begin at the academy. 


No one doubts the need for discipline and following orders. These requirements exist in all professions and occupations. Numerous professionals learn to respect authority while engaging with each other to solve problems and employing problem-solving/adult learning methods in their training. Why then do police academies spend so much time on artificial discipline when there are much better techniques to enable self-controlled and socially motivated police officers who think critically?



Public safety agencies need to work as part of the communities they serve, not apart from them. They must do more than spout community problem-solving catchwords in their mission statements and public speeches. Agencies must adopt those methods as their primary style of policing. For decades this has been the central goal of the Problem-Oriented Policing movement and the Police Society for Problem-Based Learning.

Those are the movements that police leaders, political representatives and particularly police trainers need to support.

On many police vehicles it reads “to serve and protect.” The logical question arises, “how can the police serve and protect the public from a distance with officers clad in camo clothing, carrying tactical gear and framing interactions with the public as perilous to the officer’s survival?” The incessant high alert, ‘fear factor’ that has crept into police work – again perpetuated at the academy – has led officers to spend far too little time working directly with residents on local crime and violence concerns.

Partnering together to solve crime and violence. We must transform
police training and how police work with the community

We will not achieve different responses from our police agencies so long as police leaders allocate inordinate amounts of resources to security and suppression equipment as well as tactical training and so little time to community engagement initiatives. We propose that diverting funds to problem-solving training in cooperation with the community will not only garner better crime reduction, but it will enhance police and community cooperation, trust and positive engagement.

If city managers and police leaders fail to act, the noise from the activist groups calling to Defund the Police will grow louder and soon begin to resonate with more and more reasonable, pro-police members of the community. The time for the combat cop has ended. We should reinvent the age when officers and the community work together to make neighborhoods safe for both the police and the public.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Defund the police? The Tsunami arrives

by Greg Saville

These are trying times, a statement that qualifies as the understatement of the year! This is especially so when it comes to policing and racial protest. While protests and riots are a global phenomenon – especially recently in places like Hong Kong, Europe, and South America – in the past few months the latest Ground Zero for police and racial unrest is in the USA. 

Since May, America has seen over 14,000 arrests during protests in 49 American cities, extremist violence caused by racist groups like the Alt-Right, and the Black Lives Matter movement protesting police shootings of unarmed black men.

And now Defund The Police

I attended a police meeting recently in which I listened to suggestions to modify warrior-style training and rebrand police services in response to this turbulence. It felt like we were arguing over where to place our beach towel to keep the sand off while ignoring the roaring Tsunami about to crash onto us and wash us out to sea.

Over 20 major city police chiefs have resigned in the past few months, including Rene Hall, the African-American chief in Dallas, Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, and other chiefs in Rochester, Richmond, Louisville, Detroit, Milwaukee, Portland, and even Toronto, as the racial protests spread to Canada.

Clearly, this is not a beach-towel-moment in history. What is to be done with the police?

Toronto Police Service on crowd control


Since the 1980s, police reformers have worked diligently to transform police practices from rigid law enforcement-warrior style policing, to community-based problem-solving. For over two decades, I have worked alongside some of the best and brightest police officials and reformers in the world to do just that – people who I respect and who I know care deeply for both the police profession and safer, more just, communities. 

Sadly, in my estimation, since at least since 9-11, the movement towards community policing has reversed and lately, it has collapsed. I speak in admittedly simplistic terms, but it seems to me that the warrior cop has commandeered the community cop. Almost in response, the defund-the-police movement represents a belated and instinctive reply to that illicit expropriation. 

I have read books explaining why community police reform faltered since the 1980s, for example, Malcolm Sparrow's, Handcuffed: What Holds Policing Reform Back and the Keys to Reform. I also have read far-fetched books describing the End Of Policing. But watching police/race riots on the news this week (the latest in Philadelphia), those books now seem much less far-fetched. 


And now where are we? 

Forbes magazine described the immediate impact of defunding the police. In a dozen cities, municipal leaders have committed to defund, or reallocate, over a half-billion dollars in police service budgets thus far. This includes over $300 million in New York City, over $100 million in Austin, Texas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, over $10 million in Oakland, Seattle, Washington DC, Baltimore, Portland, Philadelphia, and over $1 million in Hartford and Salt Lake City.

We are told police services are already underfunded and cops are working harder than ever, running call-to-call. Perhaps that’s true. But, if so, it is only half the story.

NYPD patrol vehicle street parking


Here is what I know for certain: In two different cities, we recently taught SafeGrowth programs to local residents, shopowners, and community groups. This included how to create action plans to cut crimes in different high crime neighborhoods – a topic in which you’d think the police have a powerful vested interest (the training was free and they had plenty of prior notice). We ended up with two local cops at one and none at the other. The police agencies in question each employed over a thousand cops on staff.

We got two. 

Maybe they were understaffed and too busy to attend. But still! We were cutting crime at the roots with proven, evidence-based methods. We were teaching residents how to partner with police (and vice versa) in order to create safer neighborhoods in crime hotspots. This is the very goal that defund-the-police advocates seek!

There is an American national election next week and this tsunami will crash upon those who win it. Much is at stake.

Next blog: What can be done?

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The mentorship of elders - enriching neighbourhood life

Sharing Teens and Elders Project in Olympia, Washington
Photo Senior Services for South Sound

by Tarah Hodgkinson

In our SafeGrowth work, we aim to help people create integrated neighbourhoods inclusive of race, class, age, and ethnicity. We strive to promote the development of local leadership in order to attend to the needs of all residents. Most importantly, the grass-roots leaders and mentors in SafeGrowth neighbourhoods also show up in the amazing ways they build local safety and liveability every day. 

I recently spoke with a community that was lamenting about the fact that Indigenous youth do not have clearly defined elders. I started thinking about the role of elders more broadly, in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and the important role they play in social cohesion and livability. 


When we think of elders, we often think of Indigenous leaders who have been appointed to represent their community. They are individuals who governments and organizations can turn to in order to liaise with the group or community. For example, Indigenous leaders, as we define them today, often fill a political post that fits colonial and government needs for representation. 

However, the history of elders points to leaders and mentors who emerge organically. These elders did not represent their community or have any authority. Rather they were recognized as advice-givers. According to one author, they developed slowly, asked good questions, had knowledge and were revealed by deed.  

At her art mural in Roma, Queensland in Australia,
Susie Klein is an emerging leader for local youth 

Elders are, in many ways, mentors. They hold knowledge, give advice, and care for others. And both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities need these leaders. Mentoring is one of the most consistent protective factors against offending. As noted by criminologist Irvin Waller, one good mentor can help pull a young person out of a potential life of crime.


But the ways in which we currently set up our neighbourhoods and communities remove opportunities for the emergence of mentors and elders. In Our Kids, Robert Putnam talks extensively about how geographical divides along race and class lines have created neighbourhoods and communities in which young people never meet potential mentors or elders. He goes on to explain how this further polarizes and marginalizes certain areas so that they may never pull themselves out of poverty or cycles of crime. 

When we design neighbourhood living so that it stifles the personal mentorship of elders, we ourselves commit a kind of crime: we rob young people of the opportunity to connect with another generation. It’s no wonder they often feel disassociated from neighbourhood and family life. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Livability - urban or rural?

Livability and safety is more than idyllic rural life 

by Mateja Mihinjac

This week I came across a recent study suggesting that economic factors are a stronger predictor of prosocial behaviour than “urbanicity” – living in either an urban or non-urban area.

This spiked my interest because we commonly hear that small towns have close-knit communities and always-helpful residents. Yet, at a recent International Colloquium in which our SafeGrowth team presented our findings from rural environments, one of the common threads throughout the whole Colloquium was that small towns and rural communities deal with similar crime and safety challenges to larger cities. 

They are not the idyllic communities romanticized about in movies and novels. Perhaps there is more to it than neighbourhood size and population density?

Rural Barossa Valley, South Australia
Photo Louis Roving, Creative Commons


The study, “Neighbourhood wealth, not urbanicity, predicts prosociality towards strangers” looked at prosocial attitudes across 37 different UK neighbourhoods of various sizes. In each neighbourhood, it measured whether: 

  • individuals posted a lost letter; 
  • returned a dropped item; or 
  • stopped to let someone cross the road. 


It turned out that rural or urban characteristics were less important than expected. Rather than urban characteristics (“urbanicity”) – that might contribute to anonymity and diffusion of responsibility thus resulting in reduced willingness to assist others – it was actually economic deprivation that was the strongest predictor of prosocial attitudes and willingness to assist. 

While these findings might not translate into different contexts across the world (rural areas in the UK are less deprived than their urban counterparts), they do suggest that it is neighbourhood liveability that results in collective prosocial attitudes, in both rural and urban places.


It seems counterintuitive to expect that people living in deprived neighbourhoods are concerned with anything other than basic survival needs. How can they direct their energy into their neighbourhood when they are competing for available resources needed to survive?

Coastal town on Vancouver Island, Canada

Living in a deprived neighbourhood also means that residents are less likely to share the same expectations about the neighbourhood or to trust and work collectively towards common goals. That is why rural or urban, it is neighbourhood trust, shared expectations, and working together that helps build a socially cohesive and liveable neighbourhood.

As we describe in Third Generation CPTED, it is neighbourhood liveability that best improves the conditions that will advance neighbourhoods from a Basic level to Moderate and Advanced levels. We learned long ago that improving neighbourhood liveability provides residents and community workers an effective goal for targeted community development work. 

The most powerful approach for improving liveability and prosocial attitudes is through organized neighbourhood action with the emphasis on building local capacity. This recent study provides yet more research support for our real-life discoveries about what makes places safer. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Happy trails

Groomed nature walkway in Singapore

by Gregory Saville

Many years ago I spoke to Paolo Soleri, the visionary (and apparently flawed) architect who created arcology, the marrying of architecture and ecology into a new type of city.

I met him at Arcosanti, his experimental city lab in the Arizona desert, and asked him where, among his artistic walls, curved roof apses, and dense architecture, did he plan to include greenery, parks and nature trails? He replied that arcologies attempt to build high density in every direction, including vertically, but do so by leaving nature alone as much as possible. However, Soleri assured me, access to nature will be easier in an arcology because no arcology dweller will ever be more than a kilometer from nature, untouched and pure – parks, streams, and forests. 

That was an inspiring vision, one that seems far away today. I’m unsure how realistic, or desirable, it is to remove nature from within cities, especially given the many environmental and psychological reasons for walkable green space as Stephen Mouzon reports in his book The Original Green

Path and pedestrian bridge along a Denver creek

As we describe in Third Generation CPTED, nature, parks, trails and greenways have a deep psychological role in creating safe places and they will remain an important asset within large cities – whether it's New York’s Central Park or the massive Stanley Park in Vancouver. This is especially true in a time of COVID when everyone wants to get out from cabin fever. 

What about crime along those trails? Park pathways, greenways and nature trails are known in the CPTED business as “movement predictors”, sometimes called architectural desire lines. It is possible to design movement predictors safely or otherwise (unintentionally), depending on where and how designers construct them. 

A few years ago, we were asked to help design a Rails to Trails bikeway from a California train station through some very high crime neighborhoods. The project never happened, but it became clear to me that the single most important method for designing safe movement predictors is insuring users of those spaces are part of the design process. That's why it is such a central feature of all SafeGrowth programming. 

California rail-to-trail bikeway - never built, still scary

Collaborative design far surpasses the landscape architect’s penchant to: 1) look for published design guidelines; 2) design the trail; 3) show residents the results afterward; and 4) hope for the best. 

Our COVID world is creating a powerful impetus for city dwellers all over the world to take to the trails and experience nature. That is a good thing. Let’s ensure those trails are shared and safe. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Suicide prevention and neighborhood livability

by Tarah Hodgkinson

September marks suicide prevention month. Numerous events and strategies are popping up around the world from RU OK? Day in Australia to #Bethe1To in the United States. All of these strategies are attempting to address suicide and mental health. 

In many of the neighbourhoods where we work, suicide and mental health is a common topic. Indeed, I spent time with a rural community a few weeks ago in which residents recounted the loss of several young lives to suicide. This has only been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19 related to social isolation and financial insecurity. Fortunately, there are suicide prevention strategies that can make a difference.

Suicide prevention can take many forms. Target hardening approaches try to increase the effort to take one’s life in the hopes of saving lives by making suicide more difficult.

Some of these efforts include physical barriers, such as fencing on tall bridges to prevent jumping. Others are somewhat unintentional, such as removing carbon monoxide from domestic gas supplies in the UK that resulted in almost a 100% decrease in suicides by gas poisoning. 

Designing engaging and inclusive outdoor spaces - a place to go for help


While these kinds of target hardening prevention strategies are useful, and often successful, they do not address the why of suicide. Suicide is often the last resort, an attempt to escape inconceivable pain and trauma. This pain and trauma do not occur in a vacuum but are influenced by a person’s mental health and their environment. One example is long-term mental health problems arising from adolescent bullying in the neighborhood. Another example is adverse childhood experiences within the family.

Clearly, suicide prevention can do much more than a marketing campaign to tell people to reach out, or by making suicide more difficult. 

While the risk factors for suicide range from individual to ecological, there are numerous ways that we can make our neighbourhoods and communities more resilient to suicide. These include structural changes such as affordable and accessible housing and shelter, paying people a living wage, creating neighborhood opportunities for youth and the elderly and inexpensive access to health care including locally-based, mental health and trauma-informed care. 

If we are to fully address and mitigate suicide, these structural changes are integral in the creation of a healthy neighborhood

Healthy and liveable neighbourhoods, where people are connected, cohesive and cared for play an important role in improving mental health and preventing suicide. And we all have a role to play in that kind of prevention. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

Back to the future

by Gregory Saville

Today I spoke to some colleagues in Europe about teaching a virtual course in SafeGrowth to students at a Swedish Technical University. It was remarkable in a number of ways. First, although cultural differences between countries make it difficult to apply anything from one place to another, I was amazed at the many similarities between different people in different cultures. It seems we are not all that different. 

But it was another dimension to our conversation that struck me as surreal.

We were using Zoom, speaking in real-time, watching each other’s expressions thousands of miles, and many times zones apart. We showed different images on our computer files and used shared digital calendars to plan the workshop. I had never before met one of those colleagues and yet here we were, quite comfortable getting to share ideas and stories.

We dialed into our call as easy as changing chairs in a coffee shop. There was no difficulty or stress in setting up the meeting (aside from me fumbling with the wrong dial-in code). There was no fear of sharing with someone I had never before met in person.

Such is the reality of daily living in, not only a pandemic, but in the second decade of the 21st Century. 

You may think that is all so, well, ho-hum. But it is actually quite remarkable! 


It's a hot and muggy summer afternoon in 1961 and journalist Jane Jacobs is banging away on her Underwood typewriter in New York’s Greenwich Village. Her ideas will later turn into one of the most famous urban reform books of her generation “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. Consider the reality of her world at that time, only one lifetime ago.

A typewriter of 1961 - photo Creative Commons

Overseas commercial jet travel was less than a decade old and a rare event for average citizens. Propeller airplanes were commonly used for overseas travel. Passenger ships were popular for commercial passage to and from Europe (I travelled to Britain on one as a kid 6 years later). Television was a novelty and broadcast in black-and-white. TV signals arrived via cumbersome TV “rabbit ears”. 

Suffice to say the internet and computers did not exist for private citizens. Laptop computers would not be invented for decades to come. For entertainment and amusement, kids would go outside and play. Just imagine! Music was unrecognizable compared to what airs today – the Beatles appearance in the U.S. was still 3 years away. 

In many neighborhoods, ice trucks transported huge ice blocks for home freezer boxes. Widely distributed electronic refrigerators were just being manufactured. Milk arrived at the front door of many homes in the form of a milkman placing milk bottles on your doorstep. Newspapers were delivered by the paperboy to each doorstep and the main source for immediate news was radio. 

During hot and muggy days of a New York summer, apartments like those of Jacobs became sweltering ovens, even with fans and open windows. Air conditioning units were far too large for common use – the rotary compressor was invented only four years earlier. 

The Greenwich Village apartment building where Jacobs lived in 1961

Crime flourished in many neighborhood pockets and, in the decades that followed, many American cities, in particular, would experience an unimaginable explosion of urban crime. The justice system of 1961 was, frankly, utterly unprepared for the crime storm on the horizon. 


Now fast forward 60 years from today to 2080! 

What new technologies will shape daily lives? How will we travel and how will we communicate? Will this pandemic, or the next, force us into permanent social distances and some futuristic face covering? Will personal intimacy be relegated to staged meet-ups and software date matching? We have worked with the Swedish Helsingborg City 2022 Smart City initiative and they ask these very questions about our cities of tomorrow.

How will we communicate in 2080?

What will our streets and neighborhoods look like? Will we get climate change under control or will the number and intensity of weather catastrophes erase coastal cities and trigger mass migrations like never before in history? Or will renewable technologies create electric vehicles and flying drones to transport us in highways in the sky? Certainly, those technologies are already in our grasp. Will artificial technologies transform our cities into Smart Cities in which we need no longer worry about car crashes, traffic jams, or traffic? Will cars exist?

The technologies we take for granted today would be fantastical to the Jane Jacobs of 1961. As she pounded away at her typewriter in a humid and stuffy hot New York afternoon, today’s world would be as alien as a Martian from the 1950s science fiction film, War of the Worlds

If we are to believe Einstein (I place my bets on Albert), then time travel is quite impossible. So, there is no way to know what will unfold by 2080. Some of you reading these words will be alive to see those times and I wonder what you will see. 

Today, as I chatted with friends far away, with technologies unimaginable long ago, it occurred that the ideas we develop, the actions we take, and the virtual courses we teach, represent an important drop in the proverbial pond of time. Jacobs wrote well. We learn from her words even today. For the sake of our progeny, may we offer the same kind of wisdom for their future!

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Essential spaces for healthy city living

Urban apartments without social or green spaces nearby
- a recipe for trouble

By Mateja Mihinjac

During coronavirus lockdowns, there is much talk about essential and frontline workers and how we depend on their services. Indeed, they have been paramount in supporting us for many months. 

After weeks of the crisis, essential workers are exhausted from working overtime. Many others in lockdown, quarantine, shelter in place, or any other manifestation of physical distancing, experience psychological effects of cabin fever.

Some apartments lack any decent social space



In this new reality, many of us experience mental tension and emotional distress, in some cases resulting from the serious psychological impacts of isolation, including depression and anxiety.

It is no surprise that so many of us are finding ways to alleviate these symptoms through nature. Green urban parks are busy offering refuge for local residents during sunny days. In my own neighbourhood I regularly meet walkers and hikers despite being instructed to stay home. Similarly, people in our coastal towns cannot resist outdoor sun craving while lying on the beach – many were fined for doing so during stay-at-home orders.

Others feared the consequences and remained at home.

Pre-COVID green, social spaces in New York

As I noted in March in my blog on Resilience during COVID, in European countries such as Italy, France, and Spain that practice stricter forms of lockdowns, thousands of residents sit on their (often tiny) balconies to enjoy the fresh air, soak in some sun, and connect with their neighbours on other balconies. Yet far too many citizens are deprived of that opportunity as well.

Those living in city apartments without balconies are stuck between four walls. One example is Melbourne public housing towers where residents are ordered to remain in their small apartments for weeks without balconies to resort to in lieu of green space.

Rooftop gardens offer great social spaces

Unfortunately, similar stories of essential space deprivation are common for those living in socially and economically deprived areas. In these places, people are deprived because their neighbourhoods have the least green space and few places to socialize, which in turn contributes to poor physical, social and emotional health. The deficit of essential green social spaces repeats itself across North AmericaAustralia, and Europe.


We know very well about the benefits of green infrastructure for health and emotional wellbeing. The effect of green space on alleviating the symptoms of mental tension and improving emotional and physical health outcomes is well documented.

Because of their prominence, I consider green spaces essential spaces. Access to essential green spaces is indispensable and should be widely accessible in all cities. 

Nested between apartment towers and busy streets,
pocket mini-parks offer respite


Green infrastructure has even been associated with lower crime and has well-known benefits for building social capital. Green urban spaces will help us buffer the effects of negative social impacts that will ensue from this period and they will speed the post-pandemic recovery.

In SafeGrowth we consider these essential green spaces the linchpin for planning safe and livable neighbourhoods, especially those neighbourhoods already employing advanced neighbourhood governance and planning systems like SafeGrowth. 

My hope is that with the many changes unfolding in post-pandemic cities we prioritize essential green spaces over grey spaces of concrete and asphalt. We owe everyone access to essential green spaces in all corners of our future neighbourhoods.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Uncovering a message from our past

Excavations at the cave of Santa Ana
Photo Creative Commons Mario Modesto

by Gregory Saville

I came across an interesting artifact while digging through some old conference files this week. It brought to mind a story…

He was already a legend when he attended A Crime Prevention Workshop, the 1975 Toronto event that introduced CPTED to Canada. He had been a one-time cat-burglary (until his arrest and prison term) and he was a former Hollywood stunt man on the original Mutiny on the Bounty. University of Alberta’s Professor Gwynn Nettler delivered what must have been the most provocative paper at the event – he questioned how it was possible to do crime prevention with such poor quality science within the social sciences – a topic that would later come back to haunt today’s social sciences. 

By all measures, Professor Nettler, a Stanford trained sociologist and arguably Canada’s most pre-eminent criminologist, was a charismatic, academic iconoclast. Time magazine once called him “a wonderful burglar” and later, the American Society of Criminology awarded him its highest award.

Nettler's classic text: Boundaries of Competence:
How Social Studies Make Feeble Science

In his eulogy, the American Sociological Association wrote he “cherished music, from opera to Ellington, and cut a dashing figure with his presence, the sports cars he drove, and especially the ladies he loved.” He was the Indiana Jones of the criminology world - at least in my quarantine-deprived imagination. 


Nettler often wrote about the impotence of science within social research. “The first part of becoming a scientist…is to be able to recognize rules that merely draw circles and rules that are so phrased that everything that happens confirms them and nothing that happens disconfirms them.” As we outlined a few blogs ago, this is the essential flaw in the Routine Activity Theory of crime. 

Arthur Hughes 1870 painting "Sir Galahad,
the Quest for the Holy Grail" - Photo Creative Commons

Theoretically trained scientists are taught how to recognize the error of logic circles – which is why the holy trinity of a motivated offender/capable guardian/suitable target cannot predict anything with accuracy. And without prediction, Nettler reminds us, it is neither science nor a theory. If we are to move forward in crime prevention, we must have legitimate theories on which to base our work!

For example, it might be attractive to surmise that poor lighting avails criminals to commit strongarm robberies at night when unsuspecting victims walk by. It might – if it were true. But if turning on more lights makes it easier for the crook to locate his victim, (in other words, the motivated offender adapts to the suitability of his target) then lighting provides neither the answer nor the prevention. 

Or worse, as suggested recently in the Black Lives Matter movement, if CPTED controls access into some urban areas in the hope that excluding “outsiders” will prevent crime, it may end up targeting some races and income groups from others. Exclusionary crime prevention theories will not make things better, as we see in today’s racial protests.  

Exclusionary crime prevention?
Even the Great Wall of China didn't work
Photo Jakub Halun


While Nettler described some neighborhoods as triggers for crime, he was sceptical of standalone causes, like poverty and ghetto housing. The Indiana Jones of the 1970s knew enough of science to insist on clarity and reliable observations to support concepts. So what does such a theory look like within the crime prevention world today?

I have insisted at each step in our SafeGrowth work that we seize on a well-established concept of social cohesion called neighborhood collective efficacy

Consider for a moment a neighborhood suffering from poverty, inequity, poor relations among residents, dilapidated infrastructure and housing, and hopelessness. It will be of little surprise that in such places you find yourself facing high crime and victimization risks. Incidents of street violence and fear will outstrip other areas in the city, and demands for social services will produce an exorbitant strain on municipal coffers. Locations like this are not the only place of crime, nor do they house all kinds of crime. But there is little doubt crime concentrates in such places. 

Crime concentrates in specific city neighborhoods

Walk a short distance and you will discover neighborhoods with average incomes, adequate basic services, friendliness among neighbors, functioning infrastructure and decent housing, and some degree of happiness. Here you will uncover a fairly safe place with low crime and victimization. Incidents of street violence will be rare and municipal service providers will rarely visit such places. 

Nettler described such places in his classic text Explaining Crime. Research from the geography of crime shows these patterns all over the world; crime hotspots cluster in the first type of neighborhood, not in the second. The consistency of these observations provides a sound basis to build a crime prevention theory. 

So, we have. 


In SafeGrowth we put this theory into practice through community development and social cohesion. Our work predicts and produces safer and more livable neighborhoods. This occurs from Christchurch, New Zealand and Toronto, to Hollygrove in New Orleans, New York, and in  Philadelphia.

This is a robust theory of crime prevention that comes close to what Nettler described in his search for the building blocks of a good theory. Few social theories of any kind approach the precision of the general theory of relativity in physics. But collective efficacy and SafeGrowth are among those that aim for that quality.  

When the pandemic threats and racial unrest that plague our streets begin to subside, we will search for ways out of our collective mess. Like the archaeologist seeking answers to long lost questions, we will need answers about how to rebuild safe and livable neighborhoods.

We need not look very far.