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.