Friday, December 31, 2021

Do the right thing - It will satisfy some and astonish the rest


Walkable, carless, pro-social, and safe. What do future neighborhoods look like?

by Gregory Saville

With apologies to Mark Twain, that quote above is what came to mind as 2021 ends. Such a turbulent year with so many distractions – Covid, mass shootings, increasing crime, social unrest! It’s hard to look back through the lens of the 24-hour news cycle and social media and not conclude that we are going to hell in a handbasket.

Do yourself a solid and have a read of Bailey and Tupy’s exceptional book Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know. They use those increasingly rare things called facts to soundly debunk the doom-and-gloom-is-everywhere theory.

Bailey and Tupey's book Ten Global Trends - using research and facts to tell the truth. 

When you've read Global Trends, (and after you mask up, vaccinate, and elect better politicians with better policies), then give a thought to doing the right thing for safety in 2022 and learn some state-of-the-art theories in neighborhood crime prevention. There are a few good ones to pick from, but be careful - some only go halfway. 

Here are a few to watch:


In the 1970s they created electric car alarms to cut auto theft. You know, those pulsing lights and blaring horn alarms (BLEEP...BLEEP...BLEEP) that, nowadays, most people just ignore.

Around the 1980s, they created The Club to lock a steering wheel so thieves could not drive the car. Unfortunately, thieves adapted and learned to hacksaw the steering wheel and slide The Club off. One thief said: “So if it takes 60 seconds to steal a car, it now takes 90.”

The Club auto theft prevention device - photo Wiki Creative Commons

In the 1990s auto manufacturers adopted another situational crime prevention approach to harden the target. They created vehicle immobilizers, electronic devices that prevent a car engine from starting until a proper key transponder is present. Immobilizers prevent hot wiring and also eliminate that annoying BLEEP...BLEEP...BLEEP.

What is the result of situational crime prevention?

Some criminologists say the increasing adoption of security technologies has cut crime opportunities all over the world. Crime everywhere has decreased and auto theft has plummeted, as you can see on the graph.

Auto theft rates sunk as theft devices were adopted...

Except, there are a few glaring problems with this theory. First, not all crime rates around the world have declined in spite of more security technology! (Latin America comes to mind). 

Second, consider this...

...up until the past decade when rates began increasing.

Even with improvements to auto theft prevention, decade after decade, in the past ten years auto theft rates have NOT declined. In fact, they have started to increase! Look at the reality in the chart above of the past 10 years! How can this be? Security technologies have not vanished.  

Why are auto theft rates increasing? Perhaps the situational prevention theory spends so much time hacking at the branches of crime opportunity, it missed digging at the roots of crime causation?


Consider another recent prevention theory - focused deterrence, also known as CVI (community violence interrupters). I blogged on this promising strategy a few weeks ago.

Most modern crime prevention strategies zoom down from the level of the
entire city into specific areas (SafeGrowth), specific situations (situational prevention), or specific offenders (focused deterrence)

In a 2019 article, "There is no such thing as a dangerous neighborhood",  Stephen Lurie says we should not fix broken neighborhoods but rather target the small group of chronic offenders in those neighborhoods who cause most problems. That is how CVI intervenes in the cycle of violence. Says Lurie:

"The notion that public disorder drives criminality can seem an intuitive approach to public safety. But if people understand that most serious violence circles specific interpersonal group dynamics in structurally disadvantaged communities, order maintenance policing seems more like what study after study shows it is: an unnecessary evil."

Regrettably, permanently resolving a complex crime problem is not as simple as intervening with the offender before they rob or shoot. As the late Desmond Tutu warned, "There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in."  

No doubt we need to do something fast when violence threatens and that is something at which situational prevention and focused deterrence both excel. But there is no hiding the fact that they both hack at the branches - neither one alters structurally disadvantaged communities in any meaningful way. 

Criminologists will tell you there are many seeds to crime causation. But over a half-century of criminological research amply demonstrates that the dysfunction, trauma, substance abuse, and blight in disadvantaged communities provide the breeding ground from where most chronic offenders emerge in the first place. Severely disadvantaged places create an endless supply of chronic offenders and if we want to dig at the roots of crime, and not hack at the branches, we must face those structural disadvantages. That is from where hope emerges and that is how we do the right thing.  


Some criminologists and law enforcement officials will complain that it is exceedingly difficult, (and takes a long time) to deal with deep structural problems in neighborhoods. Part of that is because the expertise and professions that deal with such problems are not found within criminology or law enforcement. They are found in economic development, urban planning, neuropsychology, cognitive science, and education. 

That is why SafeGrowth practitioners collaborate with experts in all those different fields and then work with residents to co-develop prevention plans. This kind of deep-dive capacity-building is neither simple nor fast. Ultimately, SafeGrowth marries community development and social prevention with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Generation CPTED. The method has been successful for decades. Our SafeGrowth book describes how we keep our eyes on the real prize. 

A few other recent examples:

These are only a few of many ways forward. In 2022 let’s do the right thing and not lose sight of the fact that, if we want to build a better society, we actually have to build a better neighborhood.

Happy New Year. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

"It takes the whole village to raise this community"

Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Bridge
Skyline views at night mask the reality of neighbourhood life 
- photo Jeffrey Phillips Freeman Creative Commons Wiki

by Mateja Mihinjac

At a time when a rising tide of violent crime infects Philadelphia and so many other American cities, one small pocket in that city has discovered a different way forward. A few weeks ago, community teams from the HACE Livability Academy presented preliminary plans for improving livability in their neighborhood. It was like an early holiday gift to their city and their neighborhoods and I was enormously impressed with their plans. 

The HACE SafeGrowth Livability Academy has been underway in the Fairhill and Kensington neighborhoods for a few years and – although applied only to these two neighborhoods and severely challenged by the COVID pandemic – academy classes continued unabated thanks to the amazing work of HACE, the non-profit community development organization.

COVID has made life miserable for community development work. In 2020, we were forced to suddenly transition to a virtual environment that was not conducive to collaborative workshops. But a year later we’ve managed to better adapt to this new reality. Training from afar is not ideal, but the virtual environment does have advantages and we can now reach a wider audience.


Over the past two months, I had the pleasure of co-facilitating the latest online cohort of HACE Livability Academy participants. 

HACE has been successfully running Livability Academies twice a year since 2018. Last year, the HACE team modified the curriculum to run virtual-only sessions. This year we were able to offer both face-to-face and virtual modalities. 

The Livability Academy is a 6–8-week program developed by AlterNation LLC  – the company behind SafeGrowth® – in which local residents and community representatives learn skills in community leadership, SafeGrowth and CPTED, community organizing, and project management.

The Livability Academy is an integral part of the SafeGrowth philosophy and it provides a constant flow of community leaders into neighbourhood problem-solving teams to address local issues. I found it empowering to see the kinds of complex issues that the latest cohort decided to tackle in their project work. 

Team project planning from a previous Philadelphia Livability Academy class


During training, participants identify an issue and in work teams they tackle a small-scale, real-life project in their neighbourhood. In this training, the in-person, face-to-face team produced one project proposal while the online virtual team chose to divide into two project teams. 

This past week all three teams presented their preliminary plans of the work they’ve done over the past few months. All three teams created inspiring projects directly within their neighborhood and they tackled persistent problems that were made worse during COVID.

Cover of the project report from the Fairhill United for Livability team

Fairhill United for Livability 

The first team’s project focused on activating the neighbourhood park to create a space for people to come together and build connections. They envisioned a more united neighbourhood that fosters community pride, strengthens connections between residents, and partners with neighbourhood groups, schools, and businesses to promote livability. 

They divided their plan into 3 phases over the next year: outreach, clean-ups, and community celebrations. The goal is to create a movement of people to fix broken social connections, a problem made far worse by COVID. The team concluded with their slogan: “No one can do alone what we can do together”.

Literally Literacy (Increasing Adult Literacy)

This team chose adult literacy as a key liveability issue. They identified low levels of literacy as a key barrier to job access, high earning potential, and access to better healthcare. Illiteracy is one of the major contributors to overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. Illiteracy is an obstacle to personal growth and this team decided to do something. The main objective of the project is to empower adults to seek assistance with reading and increase their self-esteem while eliminating the stigma associated with illiteracy. 

Data from the Literacy team's research project

The highlight of this team’s presentation was their inspirational personal stories. 

  • One member shared how her aunt learned to read late in life because she was unable to visit school as she had to prioritise caring for her family. 
  • Another member shared the experience of returning to college in her senior years and helped her expand her knowledge and reading capabilities. 
  • Another member recollected how it was once illegal for African Americans to read and she had to self-learn how to read. 
  • Finally, one member shared a story about how she remained a single young mother when she left her illiterate partner who was unable to provide for the family aside from selling drugs. 

They summarized their stories with the phrase: “You can be all that you can be; all you have to do is take the first step.”

Teen Trauma

This team focused on the struggles of youth that (if not addressed early) can cause long-term damage to a young person’s life and the neighbourhood quality of life. They outlined multiple consequences of trauma such as emotional and behavioural issues, internalised stress, engaging in unsafe behaviours, substance abuse, and mental illness. 

They proposed a 6-week program with various topics to address traumatic events. They also proposed creating a safe space with a support group for teens experiencing trauma. Two young team members, who themselves went through traumatic events, were especially inspiring in their quest to help their peers turn a new leaf. The team summarised the objective of their program: “To go from dysfunction to function.”

Research chart on trauma from the Teen Trauma team


I was extremely proud of all three teams for the work they completed within this short time. It is amazing how a group of people who know little, if anything, about each other, were able to take steps together and share the common purpose of improving life in their neighbourhood. 

This is the true spirit of SafeGrowth and the Livability Academy. There is no better holiday gift to Philadelphia, to their community, and to themselves.

As one Livability Academy participant concluded: “It takes the whole village to raise this community.”

Congrats to Philadelphia's 2021 HACE Livability Academy grads!
(photo courtesy of Sierra Cuellar)

Sunday, December 12, 2021

New era for neighbourhoods - The latest in 3rd Generation CPTED

Cities in the future need safe, liveable and thriving neighbourhoods -
3rd Generation CPTED provides the roadmap

by Mateja Mihinjac 

The birth of a new theory is not a straightforward matter, especially in social science or urban planning. A few years ago, when my co-author Greg Saville and I published our proposal for a Third Generation CPTED in the research journal, Social Sciences, we built on a decade of theories in crime prevention, including our own work in SafeGrowth. We described how, for over 60 years, theoreticians and practitioners learned how to prevent crime using the natural and built physical environment (1st Generation CPTED), and then in the late 1990s added social strategies to that local prescription (2nd Generation CPTED). 

Over the past decade, our cities and neighbourhoods faced new and unprecedented challenges that demand that we think in a much more integrated way about safety. 

In 2019 we presented Third Generation CPTED as that new integrated approach. 

We built this theory on the premise that it is not sufficient to consider CPTED apart from the idea of liveability if we want a better quality of life within neighbourhoods. Our neighbourhoods – our core units of life, work and play – must offer opportunities for satisfying not only our basic needs (what psychologist Abraham Maslow called our physiological and safety needs) but also our needs at the medium and higher levels – needs of self-esteem and self-actualization. This is known as Maslow’s human needs hierarchy pyramid. 

Our theory translated that pyramid into a hierarchy of liveable neighbourhoods, and our 3rd Generation CPTED was the key to elevating our quality of life. 

Neighbourhood liveability hierarchy and corresponding liveability outcomes

After the past few years of additional development, we presented the full model at the recent International CPTED Association international conference. This latest version of the theory will also appear in a forthcoming academic publication. 

The most recent advances in this theory include the following 4 S strategies for achieving those liveability outcomes.


I first introduced the 4 S strategies in a blog several months ago. Here I will describe some specifics for practitioners.

Liveability and sustainability are intrinsically linked. Some scholars say that communities cannot be sustainable unless people want to live in them and people need to have a say in identifying their preferences to ensure long-term environmental, economic and social impacts. This is the whole point to sustainability and so within 3rd Generation CPTED, we have four sustainability strategies. 

Environmental sustainability

Environmental sustainability is the most frequent topic discussed in relation to urban development, safety, and liveability. Evidence shows a strong link between environmental stressors (heat islands, lack of greenery, long-distance travel) and crime. Third Generation CPTED practitioners will apply tactics that help improve environmental liveability, such as the greening of neighbourhoods, greening of vacant lots to reduce crime, and building on local assets.

Social sustainability

Social sustainability points to people-focused design and it promotes opportunities for social interaction and collaboration, such as pedestrian infrastructure, gathering places, and Third Places.

It includes building a physical “command centre” – or neighbourhood hub – for local decision-making. An early version of neighbourhood hubs was described in an earlier SafeGrowth blog.

The goal of social sustainability is social cohesion and resilience through grassroots urban design where the residents have direct influence and stewardship over the local neighbourhood. Social sustainability can help prevent the seeds of criminality from taking root before they become unmanageable. SafeGrowth offers one such approach. 

Graduates from SafeGrowth - local residents, police and others learning in Helsingborg.
Projects included a youth activity centre and intercultural gathering places for fostering cohesion. 

Economic sustainability

Research continually shows the indisputable relationship between income inequality, disadvantage and crime. Focusing on the immediate economy through investment in neighbourhood infrastructure and economic development is one antidote to some of the issues that are endemic to crime. Third Generation practitioners, residents and business partners can use tactics such as local partnerships, a focus on local creativity, and business incubation.

Practitioners can also implement tailored employment transition and reintegration programs for those with a criminal history so they don’t fall back into habits of gang membership, violence, and drug abuse. Neighbourhood economic sustainability has a direct impact on breaking the cycle of criminal recidivism.

From our ICA conference presentation - all styles of CPTED and urban development should move toward advanced neighbourhoods of a high quality-of-life 

Public health sustainability

Public health sustainability refers to enduring physical and emotional health. At a time of Covid, it seems redundant to make this point, but the fact is that urban design and social cohesion are correlated with outdoor pedestrian movements, the use of physical infrastructure, the perception of safety and trust among neighbourhood residents. Those are not only part of public health but they are part of the psychology that can trigger, or mitigate, crime motives. 

Residents should have opportunities to co-create neighbourhood plans for amenities to promote health. In particular, these include amenities such as testing facilities and counselling to monitor unchecked trauma experienced by children during their formative years. Neighbourhood and family trauma, such as substance abuse, violence, and social dysfunction, have a direct impact on offending behaviour and violence, especially in later years.  We have written about similar issues such as suicide prevention in prior blogs. 

Emotional intelligence programs, perhaps offered at neighbourhood hubs, offer a great tool for assisting both young people and adults to learn self-awareness tactics, mindfulness skills and pro-social behaviours. Third Generation provides CPTED with a way to remove some of the breeding grounds for future criminal behaviour in a way that better lighting and access controls cannot accomplish.

Physical infrastructure and urban design should be conducive to fun physical opportunities


Third Generation CPTED is obviously much more complex than basic CPTED tactics. Practitioners need a wider set of competencies and collaborative methods and forums for discussing and deploying such an integrated approach. 

It extends beyond simple opportunities for crime - not that there is anything wrong with cutting crime opportunities! Rather, and more to the point, 1st Generation CPTED is simply insufficient in the contemporary 21st Century neighbourhood if we want a higher quality of life in the long term.

The 4 S strategies amalgamate crime prevention, safety with neighbourhood liveability. Third Generation CPTED offers strategies so that we can realise many of our long-term, highest level, personal needs within our own neighbourhoods. Most importantly, by extending the discourse of public safety and crime prevention beyond the focus on crime, we can create opportunities for a different kind of neighbourhood in which residents will not only survive but thrive. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Avoiding whac-a-mole while preventing crime

A violence interruption neighborhood in Syracuse
during our SafeGrowth presentations

by Gregory Saville

A number of years ago I watched an impressive problem-oriented policing presentation about a homicide reduction program in Boston that cut murders in half in a single year. Officially called Operation Ceasefire, it became known as the Boston Miracle and the magician behind it was David Kennedy, one of the brightest criminologists I know, professor of criminal justice at John Jay College in New York.

Ceasefire has evolved into what is now called the CVI method of violence and homicide reduction – Community Violence Intervention. There are two forms of CVI:

  • The first version of CVI is the one I saw from Boston. It goes by a number of names (commonly the “call-in” method where police call-in offenders for a meeting) and it is run through the Center National Network for Safe Communities
        The call-in model is described on the National Network website:    

"Community members with moral authority over group members deliver a credible moral message against violence. Law enforcement puts groups on prior notice about the consequences of further group-involved violence… support and outreach providers make a genuine offer of help for those who want it. A central method of communication is the call-in, a face-to-face meeting between group members and the strategy’s partners."

  • The other version of CVI tends to avoid the justice system, but rather taps into the street knowledge of former street offenders. 

The Cure Violence, also known as The Interrupters, is like the Guardian Angels on steroids. We have blogged on it before. It is described in the 2011 film called The Interrupters and it shows how “Interrupters” are hired directly from the community, sometimes people with a history of gang affiliation. When information arises indicating a potential outbreak of gang conflict, Interrupters visit the neighborhoods and speak directly to those involved. They describe of their own street experience and the consequences of violence and shootings. Their success rate is impressive. 

Cure Violence was the brainchild of Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist from Chicago.


There are better ways to prevent violence than after-the-fact arrest

Both styles of CVI programs are visiting cities across the U.S. and now Europe and they have an impressive evaluation history. We could certainly use those CVI strategies to tamp down violence in some of our communities in the first few months of our capacity-building work. 


However, all CVI programs require one essential element in order to function – existing crime! 

That means that, whether police call-in suspected gang members, or if Interrupters visit a potential offender for a shooting, CVI practitioners must already know of a crime underway or about to occur. And these pending events obviously do not happen in a vacuum, they occur in high crime areas or with known perpetrators of violence, shootings and gangs.

In other words, the social, economic, and psychological conditions that led to those risky moments were already in place long before CVI practitioners arrived. There is nothing wrong with preventing violence and shootings. But there is little evidence that intervening with a small group of offenders will do anything to sustainably transform the neighborhood conditions that led to their criminality in the first place. They might get some job offers, training, or perhaps social support for drug addiction. But what about the economic, social, and psychological conditions in the neighborhood where they and their families reside? 

If you tamp down the fireworks, do you address how those fireworks started in the first place so they don’t start again? One published long-term evaluation of the Ceasefire approach concluded “Boston has been challenged to sustain the implementation of the Ceasefire strategy over extended time periods. High profile replications of the Boston approach has experienced similar challenges.” 

What can be done to transform the long-term livability in such places that breed violence in the first place?

Whac-a-mole is a circus tabletop game from Japan 
- photo Creative Commons


It is like going to the circus and playing the game called ‘whac-a-mole’. 

The whac-a-mole game is played on a tabletop with a number of holes filled with plastic moles. The moles randomly pop up and the player whacks each one with a plastic hammer as fast as possible to gain points. The player never knows which mole will pop up, why they pop up, or how to keep them down, other than smashing them with the hammer as fast as they can. 

Prevention programs like CVI require an offender, or offenders, to whack (to deliver CVI programming), but CVI programs have little to say about the root causes why they are violent, why they deal drugs, or from where their criminality arises. Other than individualized programs to help each offender (an important part of prevention, to be sure), CVI programs are not designed to transform the neighborhood so crime-causing conditions no longer create a breed of next-generation offenders.

SafeGrowth addresses many pieces of
neighborhood livability leading to crime


That is what SafeGrowth does. By combining 1st, 2nd, and now 3rd Generation CPTED, we help residents rebuild troubled neighborhoods and attack crime at the roots where it grows. SafeGrowth is less about whacking moles, and more about the social ecology and cohesion of a community. CVI is attractive because it works quickly. SafeGrowth takes time. 

Both strategies are important. But without digging at the roots, you hack at the branches and do not fundamentally change neighborhoods where the seeds of crime are planted. We describe this work in SafeGrowth: Building Neighborhoods of Safety and Livability, and in scholarly articles on neighborhoods where we cut crime from New Orleans to Toronto.

We need programs like CVI for effective alternatives to ineffective arrest strategies. But we also need neighborhood transformation programs, like SafeGrowth, to sustain early successes over the long term. 

Otherwise, we find ourselves back to where we started, perhaps one reason the decades-long crime declines are now reversing in far too many cities! 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Blinded by the light

The Greek philosopher Aristotle created the scientific method - knowledge proceeds through evidence, objective analysis, and logic.
Photo Creative Commons

by Gregory Saville

As Bruce Springsteen writes in his song, it’s easy to get blinded by something you are passionate about. That especially applies to crime theory.

It’s hard enough to implement crime prevention without having to constantly check whether the prevention theory itself is under attack. Of course, prevention practitioners should know the strengths and weaknesses of their programs, including theory veracity. But when theory itself remains unchallenged by scientists, even when emerging data contradicts that theory, it makes the practitioner's job much more difficult. 

When that happens, practitioners are unsure whether it is the theory that is wrong or the implementation. 

Take crime displacement theory. When a crime happens in one location, will preventive measures move it somewhere else? Traditional displacement theory says crime will not necessarily move elsewhere. Or if it does, it might create benefits in other ways (the so-called diffusion of benefits theory).

Most likely, we are told, the displaced crime will reduce in impact – it won’t get worse! We are told dozens of studies confirm this theory over a number of years. 


Then a British undergraduate thesis on displacement uncovered some disturbing patterns in the evidence.

Catherine Phillip's analysis discovered, “that displacement may, in fact, be more common than is widely claimed, particularly in the case of studies with offenders. Furthermore… the findings of the Kirkholt Burglary Prevention Project, which purport to demonstrate a diffusion of benefits, are shown to be based on questionable evidence.”

Curiously, this was met with deafening silence in the situational crime prevention community. Phillip's referring specifically to the scientific evidence would, one would think, sound alarms to scientific theorists. Not so.

A few years later, Tarah Hodgkinson, myself, and Martin Andresen, conducted a detailed study on displacement over a multi-year timeframe using extensive ethnographic/statistical research in a city where we had delivered CPTED for over a decade. We combined the best qualitative and quantitative research. Our research discovered that, indeed, displacement was not benign, there was no diffusion of benefits, and alarmingly, we uncovered clear evidence of malign displacement in which crime got much worse in two different areas. 

We published our study in one of the most prestigious journals in the criminological community – the British Journal of Criminology.

Again, from the displacement research crowd… crickets! Apparently, data and evidence, even in a thorough crime study, were also not enough to sound the alarm about troubles with displacement theory. 


Marc Brackett's Permission To Feel


For many years, Gerard Cleveland and I have taught our police students emotional intelligence (EI). EI was created by psychologists in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly the work of Yale University’s professor Peter Salovey and his colleagues. The best recent book on EI is Marc Brackett’s, Permission to Feel.

The role of emotions, it turns out, is poorly understood among professionals and, I would add, researchers. Emotions explain why researchers get attached to their theories and, when it comes to criminology, why they refuse to accept new theories or abandon old ones.

The methodology of science suggests that researchers should carefully manage their emotions and follow the data. In displacement, at least, it seems that may not always have been the case. The attachment to theories – this clinging to something when contradictory evidence arises – emerges from poor emotional intelligence and the inability to detach from a theory and look at alternate theories with a clear eye. 

Avoid theory blindness by looking carefully at the data,
self-awareness, and detaching from bias


Take, for example, 2nd Generation CPTED! For years, Gerry Cleveland and I heard complaints from traditional crime prevention practitioners that “if it’s not about changing the physical environment, it’s just not CPTED”. 

When we pointed out that the founders of CPTED – Jane Jacobs, Oscar Newman, C. Ray Jeffery – did not limit their discussions to architecture; they also spoke of the interconnectedness between theories, of the role of neighbors in crime prevention, and of social cohesion in neighborhoods. Getting locals to create a sense of defensible space was the mantra in authentic CPTED, yet those practitioners attached to physical target hardening ignored this part of the theory. 

This is theory-blindness! It is often triggered by emotional attachments to a particular view and it is known in psychology as confirmation bias – the tendency to search only for information that confirms your prior beliefs of something. It is not surprising we are sometimes blinded by the light of a theory to which we are attached. We are all, after all, human. But ignoring data and cherry-picking evidence that supports only one particular theory is not only unscientific – it obstructs our work to help create safer places. Our communities deserve better.


I spoke too soon in regards to crickets from the criminological community. The situational theory cluster inside the movement might ignore, but not so the mainstream criminology community. The American Society of Criminology just awarded our own Tarah Hodgkinson the prestigious Robert Bursik Award for the displacement study I referenced above that Tarah, Martin Andresen, and I co-published in the British Journal of Criminology. Congratulations Tarah.  

Friday, November 19, 2021

Finding third places after the Pandemic

Places like the Capitol Bar in Hamilton, Canada, create a shared
dining space and opportunities for live music and conversation 

by Tarah Hodgkinson

We have written extensively on this blog, and elsewhere about the importance of the “third place”. In Ray Oldenburg’s work The Great Good Place, Oldenburg discusses the importance of the third place: Third places are spaces other than home (first place) and work (second place) where folks can meet, gather, connect and build social cohesion. He names several types of third places including cafes, hair salons, barbershops, pubs, libraries, bookshops and more that are at the heart of any great community. These are spaces that people can spend lots of unstructured time in without having to spend much money. 

The Red Bowler cafe in the west end of Brisbane, Australia, holds seating
for dining and comfy couches and eclectic decor for evening events

In the wake of COVID-19 many of these local places are starting to disappear. Unable to keep up with the rising costs of rolling lockdowns and having to restrict the number of patrons, many of these establishments have either limited the time you can spend in them or been shuttered altogether. This has led to several issues including vacant storefronts, reducing foot traffic and eyes on the street, and increasing monopolies of these spaces by large corporations that are less interested in creating a space for their neighbours and building community cohesion. 

We know that social cohesion relies on third places to bring together people together. We also know that a lack of these places, can reduce social cohesion and increase risks of crime. Never has that been a more prominent issue, than during a pandemic when we are literally more separated than ever before. 

"Third places" draw people together for more than food and dining - they
are gathering places, relaxing spaces, and conversation bases

However, there are some shining rays of hope in neighbourhoods around the globe. In Brisbane, Australia for example, a small café called the Red Bowler, feels exactly like a third place. Here, the café is not only a place to grab a coffee and a bite to eat, but the staff also know the locals, regulars sit down at comfy couches near you to strike up a conversation and the owners hold weekly events including movie nights, live music, and even mobile dog washes. No one is rushed out and as a result, the community builds. 

This is just one example of a commitment to create places that are neutral, inclusive and a home away from home. As we continue to emerge from the seemingly endless impact of COVID-19 on our everyday lives, it is more important than ever that we revive and support these third places. They are the neighbourhood cornerstones of connection that will help us to not only recover but thrive again as communities. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

SafeGrowth in Sweden - Breakthrough in Helsingborg

Media coverage with police inspector Jonas Berg, a SafeGrowth participant, during  the introduction of SafeGrowth into Helsingborg, Sweden

by Gregory Saville

It is always difficult to know when a good idea in one place is a good idea in another. Some things, like vaccines or mobile phones, transport easily from one culture to another. Covid vaccines from a few countries are now deployed all around the world in all countries and, thankfully, they save billions of lives for those wise enough to take them.

What about neighborhood programs in crime prevention? 

Over the past year and a half myself and some of our talented SafeGrowth experts have been working in Helsingborg, Sweden to help residents and officials craft SafeGrowth to their city. It all began two years ago when I delivered a keynote address to the H22 Smart City Expo – a Swedish event to announce their 2022  world exposition of all things futuristic and technological in 21st Century cities. 

SafeGrowth training workshops in Helsingborg, Sweden


The Smart City movement is the amalgam of Artificial Intelligence and high technology to all aspects in the operation of city life. My point was that you cannot have a Smart City if you do not have a Safe City. 

SafeGrowth training began last year with local neighborhood Engagement Coordinators who, under the on-scene leadership of SafeGrowth expert Mateja Mihinjac, learned the model and began testing it themselves. With the help of our newest SafeGrowth star – Iman Abbas, who is based in Helsingborg – high school students conducted SafeGrowth fear and perception GPS mapping. Then, over the past few months, I worked with Iman and Mateja to train three teams of residents and city officials from the neighborhood of Drottninghög (I’m still practicing my Swedish pronunciation).

This past week the three teams delivered their plans for moving forward to dozens of officials, residents, and students attending their presentations. 

What an outstanding event! I was witness to fantastic audience response. I saw broad smiles on the faces of the Drottninghög SafeGrowth graduates as they presented the success of their hard work over the past months. 

Screenshot from the H22 Helsingborg Smart City Expo


Drottninghög now has a number of plans for safety and community engagement in different parts of the neighborhood – some projects involving placemaking around a community garden and others focused on building social cohesion between the immigrant population and Swedish residents. 

Their project style included residents working alongside officials and experts. This is appropriate since the H22 Expo theme assigned to Drottninghög is ‘co-creation’ They produced a video describing their co-creation philosophy.

They are now embarking upon months of further planning as they begin to implement their plans. They want to expand their work to more projects in their community and now there is a discussion about expanding their work to other neighborhoods.

New development projects and innovative lighting programs
are already underway in Helsingborg


Next week the Helsingborg SafeGrowth teams will present their preliminary work at the International CPTED Association virtual conference co-sponsored by Helsingborg. Their presentations are viewable to conference participants on Wednesday, Nov 3 at 3:45 PM Swedish time (11:45 AM Eastern Standard Time). 

Next year, they will present their results to the world at the H22 Smart City Expo in Helsingborg. Well done to our Helsingborg friends. These are exciting times in Sweden! 

Monday, October 25, 2021

AI vs CPTED at the 2021 ICA virtual conference

Facial recognition technology at a Chinese train station - photo Creative Commons


by Gregory Saville

A man walks through a public plaza on a pleasant Sunday afternoon and passes by a CCTV. Minutes later he is arrested by police on suspicion of a crime that, in fact, he did not commit. The man is African American. and, unfortunately, facial recognition software on the CCTV is vulnerable to false positives 

A predictive policing algorithm sends police patrols to the same neighborhood for the sixth week in a row to prevent crimes that have not yet occurred. Based on mathematics from earthquake prediction, this algorithm is hardly the best model for predicting human behavior and crime. It has no way to know that residents of this disenfranchised neighborhood are utterly fed up with over-policing, especially when the police don’t actually do anything except show up in their patrols cars. 

I blogged on these stories earlier this year. 

The stories are real and they reflect real events. Unfortunately, according to experts, predictive policing algorithms have serious problems with over-policing minority areas. The Los Angeles Police Department is the latest agency to abandon their PredPol programs (they claim it is due to Covid). Similarly, scientists specializing in evaluation have also criticized facial recognition software. They claim it cannot accurately read facial characteristics of black men! 

These stories reflect the threat of introducing Artificial Intelligence into crime prevention. Thus far, at least with CPTED, things in the AI world are not going well.

The lure of AI in forensic detection and crime prediction


On Nov 3, I will deliver a keynote address to the 2021 International CPTED Association virtual conference, hosted by Helsingborg, Sweden, the Safer Sweden Foundation, and the International CPTED Association. It will be the first ICA conference since the last pre-COVID event a few years ago. The topic of my keynote is Artificial Intelligence, Smart Cities, and CPTED – An existential threat to the ICA

Based on my own experience with a tech start-up company a decade ago, and an experiment with some predictive critical infrastructure CPTED software, I came upon some fascinating books on AI. One, in particular, AI 2041 by Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Quifan, describes how AI will infiltrate all aspects of urban life – health, transport, schools, entertainment, crime prevention, and safety.  They tell us there will be no part of the future city without AI. This is especially the case with the Smart City movement in which scientists and planners envision a city embedded with AI. 

Security tech has made inroads into the world of CPTED


What happens when AI systems go wrong? Artificial Intelligence is at the apex of new technologies and the implications for CPTED are significant.

AI is a potential threat of a higher order. It is a case of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice: An independent system that analyses problems and makes decisions using machine learning instructions independent from us. But when things go inevitably wrong, we end up scrambling like mad to stop the damage from unintended consequences (eg:  false arrests and over-policing). 

If you’re interested in this topic in more detail, come to the 2021 ICA CPTED CONFERENCE, which runs from Nov 2 – 4 as a virtual conference. The dynamic conference program has dozens of sessions on crime prevention and CPTED from around the world. My keynote runs on Nov 3 at 9:20 – 9:45 PM Central European Time (1:20 – 1:45 AM Mountain Time). A recording of the conference for registrants will be made available for later watching for those who are asleep in their time zones. POST SCRIPT; THIS PRESENTATION IS HERE.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The social life of a city bench

by Mateja Mihinjac

As a CPTED professional, I experience the socio-physical environment in a more critical and analytical way than a general person. I observe features that may stimulate pro-social conduct as well as those that may offer opportunities for undesirable behaviour or even promote risk for users of those spaces. And yet, the decisions concerning the planning of public space are not straightforward.

Public benches represent one such conundrum. I’ve written previously that knee jerk reactions, such as removal of public benches, are common in an attempt to eliminate social problems such as unwanted loitering, sleeping on public benches, or vandalism.  

Yet these decisions often come with the realisation that they don’t address the problem but rather displace it. They become tools of exclusion. 

Can a humble public bench become a tool of inclusion?


As Kelsey I. Sagrero writes in her thesis Socializing Public Space: Benches in the Urban Setting, a bench can be more than just a bench. When planned with its function in mind, it can be a tool that attracts people and promotes social interaction in public spaces. Thus, she writes, we should make benches an intentional part of social spaces in which they are situated to promote social interaction and inclusivity of diverse groups. As such, a bench represents an important part of public social life.

One such initiative comes from the UK with strategically placed “Happy to chat” benches. The purpose of those benches is to promote conversation for their users and address the problem of loneliness and alienation, especially amongst the elderly.

In my exploration of the City of Helsingborg, Sweden, I also came across some interesting examples of benches that instantly attracted my attention.

The first was pride rainbow benches painted ahead of the 2021 Helsingborg Pride Festival. The purpose of the benches was to demonstrate that expression of diversity and inclusion are not limited to the LGBTQ community alone and are an important conversation starter in urban space.

The second was yellow friendship benches situated in different areas around the city. They attracted my attention with their happy bright yellow colour and a sign “A hello can save a life”. These benches intend to raise awareness of mental illness and suicide and to offer support through care and respect for one another through informal interpersonal conversations.

As these public benches have become places for promoting social interaction and conversations, and thus a form of third places, they have also become tools of social messaging that reflects societal struggles and sentiments and advances the conversation on important topics such as diversity, inclusion, and mental health. 

It's fascinating how a humble piece of street furniture can serve such an important social role in public life.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Fireworks as social celebration

The Brisbane fireworks show begins over the Story Bridge

by Tarah Hodgkinson 

There are many ways a community can celebrate culture and come together, even if briefly, to share a sense of togetherness. Fireworks have the power to do this in a collective moment of joy and fun.

I had the opportunity to enjoy Riverfire this week here in Brisbane. Riverfire is a fireworks show celebrating the conclusion of the Brisbane Festival, a large, three-week art festival held annually in September across the city. 

The fireworks show was fantastic. But what was even more fantastic was the way in which it brought people together.

The Riverfire fireworks display in full effect

There have been many critiques about fireworks over the years. These include concerns about air and noise pollution, animal welfare, possible injury (particularly for men), and even fires. The last one is particularly concerning in Australia that has been suffering severe bushfires for many years.  

In Canada, many have also critiqued the celebration of national holidays like Canada Day, particularly this year, in the wake of the discovery of almost a thousand Indigenous children’s graves. 

An inflatable flower before the conclusion of the Riverfire festival

Many of these criticized celebrations include fireworks. All of these critiques are valid. Indeed, we need to think critically about how fireworks can be used safely and honourably. These considerations not only include where but also when fireworks are appropriate.

But after two years residing in a foreign country, separated from family and friends, and watching the horrors of an international pandemic unfold, I was ready for some fireworks. 

Fireworks are meant to elicit joy and bring us together for a moment of excitement and wonder as thousands of tiny colourful sparks light up the sky. They are an effective way to celebrate culture, collective identity and social cohesion – goals we all share in our communities.