Saturday, July 29, 2023

Energy poverty - emergency preparedness through social cohesion

Asphalt roads, brick and steel buildings, and a lack of greenery in cities - the concrete jungle exacerbates environmental heating

by Mateja Mihinjac

We have written on several occasions about food deserts and its counterpart, food oases. The contrast between the two signifies easy access to fresh food options on one extreme and lack of access on the other. Individuals and neighbourhoods of lower socio-economic status are likely to be in the latter group.

Now a similar concept – energy poverty – has emerged that similarly highlights the disparity in access to energy resources between poorer and richer countries, neighbourhoods, and individuals.


The European Commission writes: “Energy poverty occurs when energy bills represent a high percentage of consumers' income, or when they must reduce their household's energy consumption to a degree that negatively impacts their health and well-being.”

Causes of energy poverty include three factors: low income, high energy needs due to inefficient housing, and high energy prices. 

Colourful water features in urban areas provide a cooling and
refreshing break from summer heat

The topic of energy access has become a policy agenda across Europe during the energy crisis that was triggered by a post-COVID recession and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Estimates show that between 50 and 125 million people in the EU are energy poor.

This has worsened during winter months due to a surge in energy costs and, as a result, EU member states were instructed to reduce energy consumption. Clearly, environmental threats are embedded in the livability of our future and present neighborhoods.


The issue of energy poverty is now a hot topic of public discourse following months of summer heatwaves along the Mediterranean region of Europe, especially concerning reduced access to cooling in homes. According to the Institute for Spatial Policies “The cooling and comfort in public and private spaces during summer months have to be recognised as important aspects of the current understanding of energy poverty and have to be considered when adopting new measures and policies.” 

Third-Generation CPTED includes environmental sustainability
Living/green walls help to cool streets and provide a respite from heat and concrete   

Urban areas are prone to overheating during the summer months due to their structure, paved roads, lack of greenery, and the increasing number of vehicles. Moreover, the elderly, isolated individuals, and single-parent families are amongst those most affected.

Summertime energy poverty is a particular threat because it creates unhealthy living conditions and directly affects those most vulnerable such as the elderly, children, and those with preexisting conditions. While energy poverty is no longer a concept limited to developing and poorer countries, there is a higher risk in those countries that are unable to produce sufficient food or manufacture essential products. 


Undoubtedly, countries should tackle the issue of energy crisis by commonly proposed measures such as the kinds of strategies we describe in 3rd Generation CPTED, such as integrating more green urban spaces and street vegetation in its urban environment, designing energy-efficient buildings and refurbishing existing buildings while utilising renewable sources of energy.

Well-designed and safe urban parks - A response to climate change from the past

In SafeGrowth social sustainability also plays a crucial role, especially during unpredictable times where environmental, political, and health events have become a new normal. Governments respond to these crises with emergency preparedness programs. We believe that emergency preparedness needs to be anchored within the neighbourhood itself – amongst the residents who collectively take preventive actions before, during, and after the crises. 

To tackle the summer energy crisis perhaps one response might be pooling resources to help one another and organise “cool places” for those in need. Or the residents could work together to work towards renewable energy self-sufficiency for the neighbourhood thus building energy oases. Such collective action offers the potential for taking steps against the climate crisis as well as for building resilience once the crises have emerged. 

Environmental sustainability is the path to high-quality neighbourhoods and livable cities in the years ahead. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023

My journey with SafeGrowth in Palm Springs

Palm Springs, California - site of the latest SafeGrowth Program Training

By Allison Martin, Ph.D

Allison Martin is a professor of criminology at San Jose State University in California. She has conducted research and published on crime patterns, policing, community disadvantage and racial conflict. She is a member of the SafeGrowth Network and recently attended her first SafeGrowth program training which she describes in this blog.

My first experience with SafeGrowth in Palm Springs, California over the past few months has been nothing short of remarkable! As a criminologist with a career focused on academia, I have had few opportunities to dive into the practitioner’s world. This past year, I was extended the wonderful invitation to join the SafeGrowth team alongside local residents, city planners, and police officers to tackle local crime issues using SafeGrowth's unique community-level approach. The journey was insightful, enjoyable, and highly intriguing. I am excited for future projects, as we witness the transformation of Palm Springs into a safer and more vibrant community.


Every community has its own individual challenges and Palm Springs was no exception. Palm Springs is a desert resort city of approximately 45,000 residents in the Coachella Valley in California. In the winter months the population balloons to over 150,000 residents who come to escape northern weather and enjoy a warm and sunny climate with lively entertainment and mid-century modern architecture. 

The city has a distinctive blend of urban landscapes and serene environments that presents a canvas rich with potential. By immersing ourselves in the local culture and listening to the concerns of residents, we gained valuable insights into the nuances of local life. The SafeGrowth team stood out in this regard; their engagement with the community, and understanding of the residents’ aspirations and apprehensions was commendable. It is something I truly believe to be exclusive to the SafeGrowth team. 

The Palm Springs Police Department, under the direction of Chief Andy Mills,
is the sponsor of CPTED and SafeGrowth training in the city

From the onset, SafeGrowth's methodology was promising. Participants enrolled in the training learn to identify environmental vulnerabilities and apply urban design solutions to enhance safety, such as improving lighting and ensuring proper maintenance of public spaces, otherwise known as CPTED principles. Above all, however, is the emphasis on collaborative initiatives by empowering the community to take ownership of their environment. 

SafeGrowth's training goes beyond theory, providing participants with practical tools to apply in real-world scenarios. Participants are encouraged to explore their own neighborhoods and identify opportunities for improvement using the concepts learned during the training. As such, teams in the training chose a variety of locations for their projects, which, after 2 months of fieldwork, they then presented to the community at the conclusion of the training. The projects included: 

  • A local motel with complaints of crime; 
  • A creek walking trail dubbed “the wash” used by many; 
  • A popular downtown parking garage; 
  • An abandoned building ripe for crime; and 
  • Homelessness around cannabis businesses in an industrial district. 

One of the project display boards at the final presentations

Inspiring the community became a cornerstone of their efforts, while the application of CPTED principles, such as natural surveillance, proved to be a powerful tool in shaping initiatives. I was astonished to see the community come together and watch everyone contribute to their shared vision of the projects. At the time of this blog, the projects are still ongoing, but it was clear to see the potential transformation of once-neglected areas into vibrant, welcoming spaces.

Class photo from the SafeGrowth graduates

Working with SafeGrowth in Palm Springs has been an unforgettable journey of growth and collaboration. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the working teams and I eagerly look forward to embarking on future projects with SafeGrowth and witnessing the positive impact of collective action. Together, we can create a safer and more secure world, one neighborhood at a time, and this training program offered opportunities to see SafeGrowth in action.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

A voice from the past warns... Do not misclassify risk!

A Netflix documentary on the serial murders in Long Island, New York. 
Shannon Gilbert may have been one of his victims.

by Gregory Saville

This week, I resumed Zoom meetings with my fabulous writing team, Mateja Mihinjac, Jason Tudor and Carl Bray. Since Covid began, we’ve been writing a book on SafeGrowth. We are now about to launch the final phase in publishing what has been an exhilarating journey, digging into the research, re-examining our many projects, and asking questions about the future. 

Our manuscript examines the SafeGrowth work by ourselves and other members of the SafeGrowth Network over the past decade. The book looks at how different cities attempt to prevent crime and build resilient neighborhoods. It offers a new way forward in crime prevention and urban planning. 

In one chapter, we unveil the myth that wealthy neighborhoods do not have crime because the wealthy have resources to protect themselves while poor neighborhoods, with all their crime “hotspots”, have no resources to tackle their problems. All we need, according to this myth, is more money. As we show in our book, the reality is something different. 

Consider swindlers like financier Bernie Madoff or the white-collar criminals who triggered corporate scams like the 1989 savings and loan crisis or the 2008 global financial crisis. These events, documented in The Global Financial Crisis and White-Collar Crime, destroyed millions of jobs, lives, and livelihoods. This is not the simplistic story of a drug addict robbing a corner store. It is a very different, and hidden, class of (as yet) ignored hotspots. 

Screenshot of news coverage of police investigating body drop locations on Long Island

In our book, we describe a more logical and ethical way to think about crime and prevention and we describe how SafeGrowth provides a new philosophy of neighborhood development to guide future community-building. 


Two days ago, authorities in New York announced the arrest of an alleged serial killer in the famous Craigslist serial murders near Giglio Beach on Long Island in New York State. More to the point – and related to our thesis about crime “hotspots” in poor neighborhoods – this suspect may have murdered Shannon Gilbert in a wealthy one.

To say Shannon Gilbert led a troubled life is an understatement. There are reports of bipolar disorder, exposure to abuse and violence, and drug addiction in her life. Apparently, she was an aspiring singer and actor, but fate did not treat her well. She eventually became a sex worker who advertised through Craig’s List to wealthy clients. 

Police crime location map of Giglio Beach, not far from where Shannon Gilbert went missing - photo Creative Commons

Twelve years ago, I wrote a SafeGrowth blog about a possible serial murderer at work near the gated community where Shannon Gilbert fled. The story was brought to light via a late-night call to 9-1-1 by a terrified Shannon. She told the dispatcher that someone was after her. The residence she was fleeing was in a gated community in the wealthy town of Oak Beach, only a mile from Giglio Beach where the bodies of 8 other victims were later found. 


A year and a half later, Shannon’s body was found not far from that gated community in a marsh near the ocean.

The FBI behavioral analysis unit later concluded the available evidence did not show Shannon was murdered. Some claimed she drowned accidentally after stumbling into a marsh. A later independent autopsy contradicted those findings and suggested there were signs of strangulation. 

But there was suspicion of a serial murderer in the area since a number of young women had already been reported missing, many of whom were found strangled to death by the so-called Craigslist serial murderer. Today we know that this horrific case of murdered women includes at least 18 victims found around wealthy beach communities. 

Screenshot of a recent BBC news headline about the Long Island serial killer


Shannon’s tragic story, and this recent arrest, reminded me of our manuscript discussion about neighborhood safety and how easy it is to misclassify where risk exists. 

This week’s arrest points to the reality of an active serial murderer at work during the time of Shannon’s death, and that he was active in a wealthy part of Long Island, New York, including the gated community where she called police for help. The truth is that the entire sordid affair took place in wealthy beach communities. In fact, it turns out the arrested suspect is an architect with an apparently normal family life living in a community 20 miles from the beach area.

It seems, at least in this case, that wealthy communities are also vulnerable to crime and potential breeders of a special sort of criminal. We write in our book that wealthy, leveraged neighborhoods do not provide an answer about how to create safe neighborhoods. Equally, we should not classify poor neighborhoods as high-risk, and beyond revitalization, simply because they have limited funds.

I concluded my blog 12 years ago by saying I hope Shannon will be found safe. As this case comes to a close, we now know she was not. Any illusion that Shannon might have held about safety in a wealthy neighborhood was shattered that night. Our book is a reminder that a tragedy like Shannon’s calls out to all of us and pleads that we must not look in the wrong place for safety.