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.