Sunday, August 27, 2023

Some day a real rain will come - the revitalization of urban blight

by Gregory Saville

You are between fares and you are driving through hell in a yellow taxi, creeping slowly along a dimly lit downtown street on a dark, rainy night. Urban decay is everywhere around you – drug dealers, homeless tents, the stench of trash, litter and tagging everywhere, smashed store windows left unrepaired by owners fed up with the crime and fear, and cops who respond late, indifferently, or not at all. 

Then you flashback to DeNiro’s famous line in Taxi Driver when his psychopathic cab driver character, Travis, expresses his disgust at the scenes passing his cab windows:

“Some day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets.”

This imagery from the 1976 neo-noir film Taxi Driver emerges from the urban blight of the 1960s and 70s, especially in larger American cities suffering from the double whammy of economic depression and race riots. In truth, you might be in a taxi driving through many American cities today – San Francisco, Baltimore, Detroit, Portland, and Miami.

To many observers of urban life – and to everyday city dwellers – the reality of increasing urban blight in our downtowns is not fantasy. Homelessness, toxic street drugs, and vacated downtown shops, block after block, are the growing reality of contemporary American cities.


Consider Florida – the sunshine state has over 3 million people in poverty, (15% of the entire state population), and over 30,000 homeless people. It hosts possibly one of the stupidest and most ineffective “anti-homeless” strategies emerging to date – playing a continuous loop of the children’s song “Baby Shark” near an urban park.

Like states elsewhere, Florida struggles with futile and ill-informed laws to criminalize begging, sleeping in parks, and panhandling, government strategies that make no lasting impact on the roots behind homelessness. These responses are contrary to the International CPTED Association's white paper on homelessness and they conjure the inhuman images emerging from 19th Century industrial London in Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist or Jack London's The People of the Abyss.

London's Dorset Street, 1903, from Jack London's The People of the Abyss -
Photo Creative Commons

Clearly, existing urban development and crime prevention approaches in Florida, as elsewhere, are grossly ineffective against the growing blight in urban centers.


It is in that context that CPTED-USA, the new affiliate chapter of the International CPTED Association, launched its latest webcast titled, “CPTED and the Revival of Urban Blight: From the 1970s Big Box Stores to 2020s Virtualization of Life”.

The webcast features the inaugural board members of CPTED USA and it is the 2nd webcast. It is the 3rd online feature of this new CPTED chapter over the past few years. The current webcast aired two weeks ago and it introduces some of the main problems with attempting to respond to the increasing urban blight with urban design without taking into consideration the deeper causes that trigger the problem in the first place. 

Webcast speakers describe errors by inexperienced, or poorly trained, CPTED practitioners who fail to collect the proper data or confer with other CPTED professionals and members of the community, prior to installing their CPTED solutions. They describe government responses such as the Ostrich Effect, the Stormtrooper Tactic, versus Community-Based methods.

Over the next year, CPTED USA will grow its presence and services. As an affiliate of ICA, it already provides a bevy of services for those interested in CPTED such as training and certification, as well as access to a diverse worldwide network of professionals and highly skilled researchers. 

In the months ahead CPTED USA will expand those services, including a 2024 national CPTED conference in Palm Springs, California. 

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Investing in neighbourhoods - social recovery and connection

Overcoming addiction with social recovery and connection. 
SafeGrowth catchwords - Ted Talk by Johann Hari, 2015 London

GUEST BLOG: Larry Leach is Executive Director of 12 Community Safety Initiative (12CSI), a non-profit crime prevention collaborative in Calgary, Canada, one of the initial sponsors of the 2015 SafeGrowth Summit. In 2018 12CSI won the Alberta Solicitor General's Award for Community Collaboration and the Ambassador program won it in 2022. Larry has been a Huffington Post blogger and is involved in the SafeGrowth Network. He was awarded with the Queens Diamond and Platinum Jubilee medals for his contributions to community-building.

Addiction and Mental Health issues continue to tear apart families and communities. As a follow-up to my previous blog, “Scale is good for economies, but is it good for social policy?", I wanted to dive a bit further into what should investment and engagement with communities look like.

It is important to know a little bit more about how people have managed to come out of severe addiction. Wisdom among those who have had success in this space teaches us how addicts need a strong support system. They conclude that the opposite of addiction is connection. This is a central tenet of the neighborhood-building strategies in SafeGrowth. The research on addiction and recovery points to the same conclusion. Watch the Ted Talk video at the top of this blog.

The missing and most important piece of the puzzle is the same for helping agencies tasked and funded to help vulnerable individuals. In this case, addiction is the belief that you and your organization are the experts on how to get out of addiction, instead of helping people build healthy lives based on their own individual, personal, circumstances. Agencies wanting to complete that task need to strongly consider a holistic approach that includes connection to the communities in which they work. 


There are times when community organizations arise organically to deal with addiction and we must do everything possible to nourish those locally-based solutions. 

For example, consider the recent blog on the City of Prince George, British Columbia nurse, Jordan Stewart (our 2023 SafeGrowth Person of the Year), and her now-closed harm reduction site for inhalation addicts. Her effective local solution was defunded, illustrating how easy it is for city leaders to squander the local talent and solutions right at their own doorstep. 

Clearly, we must do better in the future.


Investing time into your neighbours has always paid large dividends. When community support is needed, it will arise with full enthusiasm and the knowledge to work with community members. In turn, communities can support vulnerable individuals better by having strong bonds with the services that can help people within their own communities. This is the essence of the concept of capacity-building.

Like most things in life, you get out of it what you put into it. Long-term investments of time and energy into the neighbourhoods across the city will pay huge dividends in the long run. Building relationships and trust goes a long way in achieving the outcomes that everyone wants. How much time does it take? Greg Saville echoes the mantra of community development workers when he says: “We go at the speed of trust”.