Friday, April 30, 2021

The peaks and valleys of crime

Monarch Pass mountain range, Colorado - photo Wiki Creative Commons


“Just because the average has improved massively, doesn’t mean there is not severe problems of unequal distribution.”

by Gregory Saville 

The above quote is from the controversial psychologist, latter-day populist, Jordan Peterson, someone to whom I seldom pay much attention. To me, his views are too politically motivated and aligned with the far right, even though he claims otherwise. He is addicted to cultural drugs that I don’t take. 

Yet there I was, watching Peterson, recently returned from his traumatic medical crisis, in a long discussion with radio host Russell Brand talking about the power of community and the powerful global trend of incremental rational progress - topics I thought he discounted. 

Peterson was discussing the difference between the overall average conditions versus the relative conditions around the globe. It is the difference between the average altitude of a mountain range and the peaks and valleys. Both are important. 

Consider the altitude crowd: The progressive incrementalists, people like Hans Rosling, Steven Pinker, or Ronald Bailey and Marian Tupy’s landmark book Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know, argue that things in the world are getting better and the evidence is conclusive.

Then look at the peaks and valleys: We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, social unrest and riots continue in certain countries, and just two weeks ago some local kid in my neighborhood shot up a grocery store with an assault rifle and killed ten people. 

Sure doesn’t look good from this altitude!


Peterson has nailed this – the incremental progress people are right and the sky is falling crowd are right. Both are happening at the same time.  

Take, for example, crime rates around the world. Whether you get your stats from the World Bank, the World Development Indicators index, or the United Nations, the stats show an undeniable incremental improvement. 

In spite of some alarming homicide increases in American cities this past year (discussed in a prior blog), the overall national homicide rates per 100,000 people have been plummeting in country after country. 

This is true in the United States...

U.S. homicide rates per 100,000 - source World Bank, 1990-2018

... in Canada

Canada homicide rates per 100,000 - source World Bank, 1990-2018

... in Australia

Australia homicide rates per 100,000 - source World Bank, 1990-2018

...and the Netherlands

Netherlands homicide rates per 100,000 - source World Bank, 1990-2018

Then I came upon some Canadian policy planners inviting a Dutch criminologist to Canada to describe the remarkable crime reductions in the Netherlands. If you look at the murder rate declines in both countries, you see that the rates in both countries are fairly similar, except Canada’s decline started from a higher rate than in the Netherlands. The Netherlands should be asking Canada how it was so successful!

Apparently, Canadian policy planners are paying attention to the peaks and valleys and ignoring the averages!

Or consider Mexico, in one of the world’s regions where crime rates are not declining.

Mexico homicide rates per 100,000 - source World Bank, 1990-2018

Let’s not do what Mexico is doing! We are told by criminologists that Mexico’s crime problem is driven by opportunistic drug cartels taking advantage of illicit drug demand in the U.S. If so maybe we should do what some Mexican politicians suggest – de-criminalize drugs. Since the primary reason for Mexican crime is uncontrolled illicit drug demand in the U.S., decriminalizing would cut demand and thereby, cut crime. 

Or is that a case of the pot calling the kettle black? Maybe Mexico should deal with its own drug cartels who create the drug supplies and not focus on the U.S. market that creates the demand? In any event, for ten U.S. states, the marijuana de-criminalization process has already been in place for years, and yet Narco crime has not subsided.


Ultimately, while averages – especially overall crime rates – are improving, it is difficult to see that in everyday life. It is in the valleys and peaks where we suffer every day. Gang wars, deprived neighborhoods, and crime concentrations still plague our cities and too many people suffer needless violence. 

In SafeGrowth we commit to our discovery that the most powerful way to improve quality of life and prevent crime is to work within the neighborhood with local groups and to provide the capacity for community safety planning by residents. Building community capacity at the local level is, ultimately, the way forward.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Portrait of a COVID response for the homeless

Edmonton's summer skyline - photo by Matthew Boonstra, Creative Commons

GUEST BLOG - Lilit Houlder is an urban planner working with a consulting firm in Edmonton, Canada. She is the most recent member of the SafeGrowth team and in this blog she describes her observations of the urban homeless in the middle of a global pandemic – a situation far too common across the developed world. 

Edmonton has the largest number of unsheltered homeless people living within a Canadian city - approximately 1,070 persons

While there are many support services, there are not enough beds or shelter spaces. This poses a problem for Edmonton, which is a place also known as a winter city. With temperatures dropping significantly below freezing during its long winter season, the city has an emergency plan

For temperatures below -30 Celsius, the city’s Sector Emergency Response program gets activated to provide free public transportation, essential services, security, and a place to sleep. The city encourages citizens to keep an eye out for anyone in distress during the extreme cold and contact the city response team. The program consists of 25 partner organizations that communicate with each other and share resources. Partnerships such as this strengthen the municipal capacity to address an intractable urban problem.

Rundle Park - one of many in Edmonton. Unsuitable for the homeless in a
sub-zero winter city - photo by Kmw2700, Creative Commons


The city mustered money with support from provincial and federal governments to purchase and repurpose underutilized hotels and to run 24/7 shelters. All necessary supports are given in one place, and people can socially distance themselves to avoid the spread of COVID. This is similar to British Columbia’s legislation last year to use motels for the homeless, as reported in Jon Munn’s blog

Purchasing and repurposing hotels is an initiative created by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to adopt more non-profit housing for homeless Canadians. Edmonton purchases hotels that would otherwise operate at extremely low capacities and become a financial burden on the landowners. 


Some cities like Portland are creating temporary community support shelters, such as those reported by Tod Schneider. But with Edmonton’s much colder weather, another approach emerged that is showing up in cities across North America - repurposing civic facilities

The city turned the Shaw Conference Center into a 24/7 shelter that offered space for socializing, COVID testing, treating basic medical and mental health needs, and connecting to other support services. What made this venue different is that it was large enough to provide users space for self-isolation if showing symptoms of COVID. Smaller spaces, such as local churches or community halls or community support shelters would not have had sufficient space to accommodate this unique challenge. 

Shaw Conference Centre, Edmonton - photo WinterE200, Creative Commons


Although deployed across an entire city versus a single neighbourhood, each of the municipal strategies underway in Edmonton emphasize the power of 2nd Generation CPTED principles as a way to respond to municipal social problems. 

For example, connectivity tactics included linking to upper-level governments for resources and funding. Finding a civic space with enough capacity to house such a large population is, by definition, the very heart of the connectivity principle. It was the same for connections with the 25 organizations in the Sector Emergency Response program – they had the ability to bring food, health, financial support, clothing, and other resources to alleviate the suffering of people with no place to sleep. 

Another example - By educating people about the needs of the homeless during the coldest time of the year, citizens across the entire city participated in watching for vulnerable people during extreme weather. Social cohesion at such a large scale in Edmonton illustrates that, when integrated into part of urban culture, citizens who are organized to work together on a common purpose can go a long way to making life safer for the most vulnerable. 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Third-Generation CPTED in post-pandemic cities

What will cities look like and how will neighbourhoods function in the 21st Century?

by Mateja Mihinjac

A couple of weeks ago Greg Saville and I presented an online masterclass for the International CPTED Association in which we talked about the evolution of CPTED. We described the journey from the early urbanist and architectural influences in the Jacobs/Newman CPTED era through to the criminological, psychological and sociological research that informed our development of Third-Generation CPTED, a theory we introduced in 2019. 

We described some of our most recent advancements to the theory and we presented four principles that inform liveable neighbourhoods – we call them the 4S of Third-Generation CPTED.

From the beginning of the CPTED movement, Florida State University’s Professor C. Ray Jeffery called for interconnections between all sorts of environments - from psychological and biological to urban and social - in order to create a truly “environmental” crime prevention. 

Twenty years ago, South African researcher Chrisna Du Plessis made a similar connection between sustainable urban development, quality of life, and crime prevention. In 2014, Paul Cozens in Australia made the point that CPTED needed a much broader view of wider environments, specifically public health and urban sustainability. These authors, and others, laid the foundation for what we later developed into Third-Generation CPTED.

The story below describes how we consolidated that early work into a new, coherent theory of crime prevention. 

Hanging gardens and building greenery contribute to environmental sustainability
- photo by bobarc, Creative Commons


One of the main characteristics of Third-Generation CPTED lies in the amalgamation of safety with neighbourhood liveability. The theory says that highly liveable neighbourhoods should offer opportunities to satisfy the basic, moderate, and also the highest-level human needs at the same time – a process that psychologist Abraham Maslow described as a hierarchy-of-human-needs. 

This means that advanced neighbourhoods will have already addressed basic physiological, psychological, and social needs. When crime and safety risks emerge, that neighbourhood will have the capacity to proactively address them through collaborative local plans. In such places, residents themselves will have resources for pro-social activities, to engage in activities that satisfy what Maslow called self-actualization or access to activities that allow them to positively contribute to the lives of others beyond one’s self (Maslow describes this as self-transcendence). 

Maslow's hierarchy and neighbourhood liveability

When a neighbourhood has that kind of capacity, it becomes a thriving and collaborative place of joy, contentment, safety, and sustainability. For many, if not most, such neighbourhoods help children socialize and thrive, and adults gain personal fulfillment from the urban design, cultural excitement, and pro-social opportunities that flourish there. Opportunities for crime are minimized and opportunities for personal satisfaction are maximized. The key is to extend public safety and crime prevention beyond the simple focus on crime and onto the liveability and sustainability of neighbourhoods. 


Future cities must learn from, not repeat, ancient cities. Third-Generation CPTED
helps us use new discoveries in neighbourhood liveability

In Third-Generation CPTED we built neighbourhood liveability around four principles emerging directly from Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. These principles act as the framework for this integrated theory of crime prevention and they are centred around sustainability: environmental, economic, social, and public health sustainability. We call them 4S (sustainability x 4).


There is research support for the preventive mechanisms in each of these four sustainability principles. For example, public health research demonstrates how physical exercise through neighbourhood walking enhances safety from crime.

The presence of those afflicted with mental health problems in a neighbourhood has long been known to contribute to conflict and suffering. Accordingly, there are many strategies that contribute to building the mental health of a neighbourhood, such as emotional intelligence training, self-awareness and meditation training, or dealing with risk factors from early childhood personal trauma.

Third-Generation CPTED employs 4S

Similarly, environmental factors can also provide a preventive shield, such as the greening of vacant lots to decrease gun assaults or enhancing overhead tree canopies to reduce street crime.

Autumn in the Bornste Hamlet, Germany. Tree canopies in urban areas need maintenance but provide beauty and connection to nature - photo by Deitmar Rabish, Creative Commons 

Investment in local infrastructure enhances economic sustainability and attention to social sustainability through grassroots community-based developments enhances the quality of life for local residents and can help reduce crime. 

Our proposition is that high-performing neighbourhoods designed around each of these four sustainability principles offer a more long-term solution to prevent crime and improve the quality of life. 

These four sustainability principles provide a powerful new integrated model for planning safer and resilient neighbourhoods in post-pandemic, 21st Century cities.