Friday, February 25, 2022

Wild horse redemption

by Gregory Saville

One of the great things about living in Colorado is horses, especially free-roaming, wild American Mustangs. When we first arrived in Colorado, we spent four months living on a ranch with some friends who had a number of horses that we could ride and enjoy. They are remarkable creatures both frightening and magical. 

Step outside any city in Colorado and you’ll find horses on the land, in equestrian centers, and on farms. What do horses have to do with crime and prevention? Think of the Horse Whisperer, the story of how working with horses can help those afflicted by trauma.

In 1986 the State of Colorado Department of Corrections and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management established the Colorado Wild Horse Inmate Program. The horse whisperer program provides jobs to prisoners who voluntarily agree to learn how to tame wild Mustang horses – a case of the rough-and-wild inmate meeting the tougher, wilder, and much more dangerous Mustang horse. Inmates go through hours of classroom learning and then spend up to three months with mentors helping to tame a wild horse. The story is beautifully told by the documentary film The Wild Horse Redemption


The Colorado program teaches inmates compassion, patience, and discipline.
Screenshot from The Wild Horse Redemption

Over the years, hundreds of inmates have been successfully released from prison following the program by learning skills in discipline, patience, and compassion. The program's success is well known among state correctional circles. 

This alternative style of rehabilitation, albeit within a prison system, is a step towards a different way to treat crime and justice. Alternative justice like this is even better when applied before entry into the formal system, in a community setting – the so-called restorative justice method. Otherwise, we only end up trying to rehabilitate people who have already become hardened to crime.



We cannot ignore the rehabilitation of offenders back into society as a part of neighborhood-building. We cannot build and maintain livable, safe communities unless we learn what to do with those who commit crimes. Eventually, almost all offenders end up back in society. 

As criminologist Todd Clear and I wrote years ago about a concept called community justice

“This alternative approach to public safety uses neighborhood problem-solving strategies to obtain better, longer-lasting results. It holds offenders responsible locally and then reintegrates them back into their communities… Society must look at new ways to reform the criminal justice system towards community justice and rebuilding our neighborhoods from within.”


There are better ways to reach out to our wayward citizens.
Screenshot from The Wild Horse Redemption 


I am excited to hear of the recent announcement by the City of Vancouver, Canada to become a city committed to restorative justice – A Restorative City.

My friend, criminologist Evelyn Zellerer is one of the many initiators of the idea and, as a powerful influencer in the restorative movement, Evelyn plays an enormously positive role in initiatives like this around the world (she also loves horses). 

SafeGrowth is a close cousin to community justice approaches like Restorative Cities. Such approaches teach us that we cannot build our way out of crime without re-building the trust lost through the actions of some of our wayward citizens. 

True, not all will respond. Many are lost in drugs, violence, trauma, and other ailments. They may need intensive and creative programs before rejoining us. But as we see from the Colorado horse whisperers, there are peaceful and productive paths back to us.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

You win, we win - An alternative development model

by Mateja Mihinjac

A couple of weeks ago I wrote on self-governing urban open spaces as venues that support creativity, freedom of expression and informal social programming. The two examples from that blog teach us about the importance of government/non-government/civic society partnerships in order to preserve such venues and integrate them into the urban fabric.

Yet not all informal spaces have such fortune. 


In 2006 a group of students illegally occupied the Rog factory complex, once a home of a popular Slovenian bicycle factory. The building, owned by the City Council and protected as a monument of national heritage, had been vacant for several years, which led to degradation of the area. In their collective statement about opening Rog to the public in 2006 the occupiers issued the following statement:

"Until the City of Ljubljana finds a solution for the 7000 square meters of unused space in Rog, that very space can – instead of staying merely forsaken and unexploited – host ateliers, music, video or graphic studios, theatre and dance halls, meeting rooms for different associations, playgrounds, social activities etc. We want to open a public space for entirely non-profitable and independent activities, and through this initiative contribute to the quality of art, culture, social health, thought and life in Ljubljana."


Graffiti on the Rog factory wall after the eviction describing the
"capitalist outlook" of the municipality

After the occupation, the complex operated as an alternative cultural centre and a self-managed social centre for 15 years. It hosted music performances, held a skate park and a football pitch, a medical clinic for asylum seekers, and housed artist ateliers. Despite the negative reputation associated with squatting and occasional undesirable conduct, the centre became an important place for celebrating diversity, inclusivity, and creativity in Ljubljana.

There were several attempts to evict the centre and in January 2021 the City Council delivered its promises, a move that Rog occupants termed “social cleansing of the city”. During the eviction, the authorities had to forcefully remove some of the occupants who fought to protect the centre from its fate. Shortly following the eviction the city started demolishing the site with a promise to rebuild it into a new modern cultural centre that will house 500 creative workers. The former occupants of the centre remain unconvinced of this trade-off and believe that the city has lost an important informal social place.

Slovenian police implementing eviction order as Rog occupants defend the autonomous zone
Photo by Goran Jakovac of IPOP
NonCommercial Creative Commons 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)


The Rog Autonomous Factory was not intended to be a permanent space. It aimed to fill the cultural void and prevent the degradation of a vacant heritage space. In other cities, authors suggest that the temporary use of space can function as a catalyst for long-term sustainable development. However, for this to be realised, there needs to be a consensus between the users of the space and the municipality.

In their article on regenerating urban spaces, Cotic and Lah proposed an alternative model where informal and formal stakeholders find a consensus about the functioning of space. This alternative model envisions the co-governance of groups representing all the various interests in public spaces. 

Could the municipality have approached the issue of the Rog Autonomous Factory more effectively? 

Police action to evacuate the Rog autonomous zone
Photo by Goran Jakovac of IPOP
NonCommercial Creative Commons 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)


The municipality showed little interest in discussing the matter with the occupants or making an effort to come to a consensus about the use of the space. 

In our SafeGrowth work, we put special emphasis on partnerships and collaboration between formal and informal organisations. For an effective neighbourhood liveability strategy, local governments play a crucial role at the table. But they must come to the table. 

In SafeGrowth we employ the search conference method to do this, a process we described in places such as New Orleans. The first application of the search conference in this type of work appears in the book, Crime Problems - Community Solutions, describing a 1988 search conference in Canada.

Such collaborative methods not only benefit the local community, but also provide a platform for building mutual trust, discussing issues, and finding workable solutions. They also lead to better liveability, wellbeing and life satisfaction outcomes for the residents.

The Rog centre is a lost opportunity for the municipality. The municipality might have adopted an alternative development model of urban planning in which everyone involved could identify the best way to preserve the social and cultural heritage of the centre. 

Perhaps we can look forward to an alternative future where both sides could win?

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Fear and safety in the city - Feminist City: A Field Guide

Day Without a Woman 2017 protests in New York City
Photo Alec Perkins, Wiki 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 reviews the book Feminist City: A Field Guide. 

In Leslie Kern’s 2019 book Feminist City: A Field Guide, readers discover the contemporary female experience of urban space. Kern is an associate professor of geography and environment and the director of women’s studies at Mount Allison University.

Her research is mainly focused on gender and cities, gentrification, and feminist urban theory, which is often reflected in the book. I blogged previously about diversity with a focus on indigenous inclusionary practices and this book looks at similar issues using the concept of “intersectionality” as one lens. 

Kern’s personal stories from growing up in Toronto shed light on struggles and uncomfortable situations women deal with in public spaces. She addresses her privilege of being a white, cisgender, middle-class female and admits that her feminist perspective on fear and safety is only one of many. Intersectionality is reinforced and brought up often in the book, bringing up the notion that women of colour, single mothers, non-binary people, and other marginalized groups may experience fear and crime in the city differently from one another. 


Her approach was refreshing to read since the subject of contemporary feminist geography tends to focus on privileged women and fails to emphasize issues of age, family, sexuality, and race. Kern claims that fear is contoured by these wider issues - an admirable admission that should be discussed more often as part of safe urban environments. 

Using Oscar Newman’s defensible space, Kern declares that physical environments are only a part of the solution to reduce fear and crime in an urban space. Social and political change plays an equally important part, mimicking 2nd Generation CPTED principles of social cohesion, community, and culture - a point made over a decade ago by DeKeseredy and Schwartz in their study on Gendered Second-Generation CPTED and Woman Abuse.

Feminist Protest at Buenos Aires, in 2014
Photo Beria Lima de Rodrigues, Wiki Creative Commons

While Kern does a great job eliciting a sense of empathy from her audience, the book leaves the reader with more questions about how we can close the gap between feminism and white feminism – for example, how to avoid divisiveness, acknowledge differences, and discover how to work together. 

Kern mentions that making cities safer for privileged women often comes at a cost to marginalized groups. Consider urban revitalization projects. A gentrified neighbourhood can bring a new sense of security for white, middle-class females, but at the same time drive other marginalized groups to the urban periphery. 

As Kern puts it, “safety becomes a private commodity.”

Immigrants and people of colour are often subliminally associated with danger and criminal activity, causing victimization of these groups. A study in Malmo in 2008  found that public violence against veiled Muslim women was mainly committed by older, white, Swedish women. 

Emma Watson, ambassador for UN Women, speech in Uruguay
Photo Cotidiano Mujer, Wiki Creative Commons

This reflects back to actor Emma Watson’s call for solidarity and her famous acknowledgment of her blind spots around race. Says Watson, "Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women” when criticized by other feminists on various issues. 

Reading Kern’s book is tense as you navigate through the political space of women vilifying one another - white feminism is seen as an exclusionary movement. Practicing separatism and divisiveness rather than solidarity (from either side) is not beneficial for anyone. Kern’s book certainly leaves room to see what this solidarity could look like.