Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Rethinking bollards in public places - Part 1

Retractable anti-ramming bollards - photo by Apostoloff, Wikimedia Commons

By Mateja Mihinjac

Over the past few years, several western cities have seen an increase in attacks on pedestrians by vehicle ramming into masses of people. For example, New York's vehicle ramming last October that killed 8 people or the 2014 terror attack south of Montreal in which two Canadian soldiers were run down in a parking lot. 

In a bid to protect these soft targets, jurisdictions around the world have been installing concrete bollards and other hardened access control mechanisms. These measures intend to slow down or stop a vehicle or absorb an impact in the event of a crash. Some include:
  • Chicanes
  • Fortification through concrete bollards
  • Decorative planters, large rocks
  • Steel bollards (photo above)
  • Remote-controlled hydraulic barriers
  • Walls and hardened, bulletproof glass.

Although these design features are not new, they are instant reactionary solutions to vehicular attacks. As The National puts it: “the use of concrete blocks shows that cities have failed to incorporate effective anti-terrorist features, and are more for public reassurance”. Hyper-security measures neglect appropriateness and social acceptance. 


It might be too early to tell whether such measures prevent further attacks, but relying on obtrusive and defensive practices alone has already raised doubts about their appropriateness. Those doubts arise from feelings of false reassurance, unsightly bollards, and ugly aesthetics. Further, there are risks of displacement to more vulnerable targets and inadequate experience by designers and security officials while implementing high security, target hardening in public places.

In today’s high-risk society it is clear that something must be done to secure public safety. At the same time, target hardened solutions obsess on security at the expense of the democratic use of public spaces, what one author calls the paradox of democracy and hypersecurity.

Do these practices foster a culture of fear and alienation instead of a sense of security and kinship? We need to consider the impact of target hardened community spaces in the public realm, including freedom of movement and positive social interactions. The question is, What is the right balance?

Next week’s blog will provide some alternative practices for a better balance between security and socially-appropriate measures. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Bipolar CPTED - Inclusion or Exclusion?

Access controls with lavender - CPTED can be beautiful
by Gregory Saville

Reflecting on Tarah's excellent blog last week on the need for access control in public housing, I came across an article I wrote a few years ago that adds another dimension to the access control story. I thought I’d share…

CPTED is inclusive, but only if it is used to help residents socialize and take ownership of their common spaces. If not, the results are like the sugar-sweet candy bar; it tastes yummy and satisfies children, but if overused it leads to heart disease and, when the sugar kicks in, the kids go nuts.  

How does it work? CPTED reduces crime by dividing the public realm into semi-public and semi-private spaces. For example, architects design a landscaped courtyard in front of an apartment building entranceway so residents feel that space belongs to them. But CPTED can also exclude some groups. 

Access control fencing around hotel
Is it needed? What's the crime like outside the fence?

Developers use access control to build exclusive gated communities to keep outsiders away from wealthy, enclosed residential areas. Or the tactic called target hardening might use reinforced bullet-proof windows in bank teller areas to deter robbers. But that can also create a psychological barrier between legitimate customers and make it difficult for tellers to provide a more personal service and get to know their customers.


Sometimes CPTED can have both inclusionary and exclusionary impact. For example, back in the 1980s and 1990s, Los Angeles and Dayton, Ohio barricaded selected road entrances into high crime neighborhoods to cut drive-by shooting and drug dealing. Shootings and drug activity did decrease, at least initially. But later crime increased as criminals adapted to the barricades. Furthermore, residents complained about being more isolated, the inconvenience of the barriers, the traffic impact on nearby neighborhoods. Worse still, in Los Angeles they complained about not being invited to participate in planning.

Inclusionary public plaza in Europe - No fences required
Clearly, CPTED has a bipolar nature – inclusion vs exclusion. The devil truly is in the details! As Jacobs said in Death and Life of Great American Cities: “The first thing to understand is that the public peace …of cities is not kept primarily by the police, necessary as they are. It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.”


Beware of these exclusionary triggers:

  • CPTED checklists that list details for design. Some details can help, for example, lighting. But not always. Lighting research is inconclusive! In some cases, increased lighting can attract unwanted activity, or make it easier for drug dealers to see oncoming police. Therefore lighting may cause more harm than good. It may be necessary to turn lights out to cut crime. A better alternative to checklists is CPTED guidelines with examples and photos of positive designs, and requirements for a proper risk assessment prior to CPTED tactics.
  • CPTED that controls access, such as fencing around property, but doesn’t provide alternatives for socialization. For example, when children walk down residential streets lined with chain link fences they learn they are outsiders in their own neighborhood. Children need inclusive, semi-public play areas near where they live to feel they belong.
  • CPTED courses that teach students design tactics but ignore, or pay minimal attention, to 2nd Generation CPTED. That is where exclusionary errors begin! 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Shoot the girl - CPTED in public housing

Public housing, London, UK. - photo Iridiscenti Creative Commons

by Tarah Hodgkinson

A few years ago, a scorned lover walked onto a public housing project and shot his ex-girlfriend. She lived but has suffered terribly with her injuries ever since. The man did not live there, so how was he able to get onto the property and shoot his ex? Was this a fluke, spur-of-the-moment occurrence that might have been prevented?

In a journal article coming out this year, myself and some colleagues describe how we used crime mapping and analysis to examine questions about such crimes in public housing. We compared the police calls for service over a 7 year period at four nearby public housing facilities of similar size and occupancy. The housing where the shooting (and many other crimes) occurred went through a massive reconstruction during this time. This construction was intended to upgrade the living facilities and improve the overall livability and security of the location.


However, after the construction, we found not only did calls for police service start going back up, but they did so dramatically. In fact, the trend was increasing at a rate that surpassed previous levels of calls for service. This seems counter-intuitive. Why would a place that had made improvements to the image and maintenance of the property, as well as security, see an increase in calls for service when the other public housing developments didn’t?

We conducted field research that provided some context. While interviews with property managers demonstrated knowledge of security measures, particularly CPTED principles, some of these principles were not properly implemented in the redesign.

Another example of public housing with poor access controls - Vancouver, BC

For example, they constructed a large fence around the perimeter but failed to replace access control gates and security at key points. The redesign had major openings with no gates or doors to restrict outsiders from entering or exiting. While the entire site was fenced, there was no real access control in or out of the property. Unlike other locations we examined, not only did this facility not have security at the entranceways, it lacked a strong community presence. Thus, there were very little natural surveillance opportunities or proper access controls at the entry points where it mattered most.

Clearly, the lack of proper security measures in public housing, like access control and surveillance, can increase the risk of victimization. In this case, it is unsurprising that an outsider was able to walk right through the front entrance, unchallenged, and shoot his ex-girlfriend.

The implications of poorly implemented CPTED are clear, particularly for responsibility and accountability: accountability for competently implementing CPTED principles in a high-risk location, and responsibility for adequate security in public housing facilities to protect vulnerable residents.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Hope for 2018 - Ode to fallen friends

Littleton, Colorado apartments where 5 officers were shot this morning
- photo GoogleEarth
by Greg Saville

Year-end SafeGrowth blogs often reflect the year ahead, the kind of future we want to build, and the successes we’ve made in the past year. This year there was plenty to report! But at this moment I find that impossible to think about. Only hours ago there was yet another mass shooting in Denver, Colorado, this one in a townhouse apartment project about 30 miles south of where I’m now writing this blog.

What does one say when officers respond to a domestic situation that turns into an ambush by a well-armed assailant? How does one respond to the fact that five sheriff deputies were downed on arrival, one fatally, and another two residents were also shot (but thankfully, survived), before the gunman was killed by police. Three shot citizens, four injured officers, one officer dead! Terrible...

I have been personally involved in police fatalities with officers I worked alongside. I know the consequence of emotions in the aftermath. I know the shock and raw thirst for vengeance, and the frustration at having no one alive to hold accountable (and the inevitable search to hold someone, or something, accountable).

It’s a helluva way to end the year!


First, we must ensure there are heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the slain and injured officers, and to the residents shot in this tragedy. Their lives will never be the same. Then we need time for grieving and eventually an inquiry into how, and why, this happened. Steps for prevention and safety must follow.

But when all that is done, when it is time to move on, there is one lasting thing that we must retain, or reclaim...Hope! That is not a small line item from our emotional ledger; it is the most important one!

It is not the easy kind of optimistic hope that blinds us to the realities of obstacles along the way, like the reality of mental instability, substance abuse, too many weapons too easily obtained, or the vicissitudes of risk in an unpredictable job.

"Only in the darkness can you see the stars" - Martin Luther King Jr. 
Rather it is the kind of hope that provides us with the resilience to overcome obstacles. That is the kind of hope I’ve seen in all the successful SafeGrowth practitioners over the past year (the most recent being Herb Sutton from the last blog). It’s also the kind of hope that we need to share with our fellow citizens in troubled communities as we develop new ways to tackle the problems of our day - homelessness, substance abuse, and acts of violence like those we saw this morning.

Hope and optimism! That is what is needed to move forward and build a better future. That is difficult to see when faced with the darkness of violence. But hope provides a candle in that darkness. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

Our sincere condolences to all victims of violence this past year. In their memory, may we dedicate ourselves to making our communities safer in 2018.