Monday, October 17, 2016

Street tunes vs the IPNAS genie

Street musician amazes and entertains in New Orleans
Traveling across the country in recent weeks I enjoyed street musicians from one coast to the other. They came in the form of brass jazz bands in New Orleans to piano players on the Venice Beach Boardwalk in Los Angeles.

Every urban center in the world features street musicians - also called buskers - those performers who provide entertainment for handouts.  In France, they are Troubadours and in Mexico Mariachi bands wander the streets and beaches.

Buskers have been part of city life for centuries, probably dating back to antiquity. England’s Henry VIII first licensed them as minstrels. And among their numbers, you can count Benjamin Franklin, Josephine Baker, Tracy Chapman, Rod Stewart and Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirque du Soleil.

Many cities license buskers, such as Toronto and London where they must audition to play on subway platforms. Most cities regulate them to ensure they are not a nuisance or hazard.

Venice Beach Boardwalk street entertainers - a top tourist destination in LA
From a street safety point of view, they offer the opportunity to bring some legitimate eyes onto isolated areas and activate dull spaces with interesting life. A few years ago Steve Woolrich blogged here about the successful Red Deer, Alberta street piano.

Little attention is paid to busking in the crime prevention literature. But our experience suggests that properly applied to key areas, street musicians can activate public places and make them safer. If anything it is usually the buskers who are victims of theft, not the other way around.


My concern in recent years has been the over-regulation of buskers like street musicians, especially considering the UK’s newest law, the Anti-Social Behavior Crime and Policing Bill.

Under the oddball acronym IPNAS - Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance - the new law heaps a cornucopia of rules on everything from irresponsible dog ownership to border security and terrorism. And like all omnibus bills, they are a Genie out of the bottle once they get into the hands of local authorities with bizarre predispositions (aka Ferguson).

New Orleans brass jazz band - a beloved local tradition 
I understand attempts to cast a wide net of hyper-regulation over the streets of UK cities, especially when threatened by street thugs, drunks, and hooligans.

But for every action, there is a reaction. This action could also limit the ability to activate streets with human entertainment and instead replace it with cold, mechanical CCTV eyes with the promise of a safe viewshed on downtown streets, a strategy with mixed empirical results in the UK and even more questions in the US.

Then I found a review of the IPNAS laws in The Guardian. It brought to mind the stories of some of our greatest cultural contributors, Benjamin Franklin, Rod Stewart, Tracey Chapman and Guy Laliberte:
These laws will be used to stamp out plurality and difference, to douse the exuberance of youth, to pursue children for the crime of being young and together in a public place, to help turn this nation into a money-making monoculture, controlled, homogenised, lifeless, strifeless and bland. For a government which represents the old and the rich, that must sound like paradise.


Friday, September 30, 2016

New Orelans SafeGrowth Summit

New Orleans will host the lastest SafeGrowth Summit and Search Conference
Twenty eight years ago a group assembled on the shores of Lake Couchiching, Ontario, 150 kilometers north of Toronto. They met to brainstorm new ways to prevent and analyze crime, deploy community police officers, and build safer cities.

The event was summarized in a book I authored, Crime Problems, Community Solutions - Environmental Criminology as a Developing Prevention Strategy. It was the beginning of SafeGrowth.

Next week a group of AARP representatives, community members, criminologists, planners, and others interested in crime, safety, and vital neighborhoods will gather in New Orleans to continue a journey started long ago. The New Orleans Summit and Search Conference is the first in the south/eastern U.S.


The Lake Couchiching event was the first-ever search conference in criminology, a method of community visioning and planning developed shortly after WW2. It set the stage for a different style of crime prevention based on the place and time of crime events - today called situational crime prevention.

The community and police representatives at the event thought cohesive neighborhoods also mattered a great deal. Thus was born the SafeGrowth philosophy of neighborhood planning.

Today SafeGrowth theory is a formal method of crime prevention. In the past few years we've had  more Search Conference events, one in Canmore, Alberta and another in Sacramento, California, to expand the concept. The New Orleans conference is the latest.

Watch our SafeGrowth website for our latest ideas to more forward.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Crime and trees? The horror!

Trees provide many benefits and few liabilities in urban life - photo by breezometer
Oddly, the past few weeks I have received emails regarding press stories about trees and crime. Trees so seldom show up in stories on crime unless there are efforts to trim them up or down.

This time some local residents (well, one or two) complained that trees cause crime. Local reporters - perhaps hungry for news copy on a slow day - eagerly hyped the horror-in-the-park story because trees are, apparently, crime causing according to some residents.

True, untrimmed trees that obstruct overhead lights or block sight-lines into risky areas might be a problem, but so are parked cars, dumpsters, large hills and great big heaps of smelly, putrid trash (ok, my polemics got the best of me on that last one). And all that is a problem of maintenance, not trees.

Obstructed sight-lines versus aesthetics
In fact trees cause no more crime than anything else, except they are beautiful, they clean the air of pollutants, control stormwater, provide shade on sunny days, add a green and textured aesthetic to barren parks and they increase property values.

I have blogged before on trees-and-crime and the fact is the overall impact from trees is positive. And data support that contention.


Research by the Illinois Human-Environment Research Laboratory on the Robert Taylor Homes public housing project in Chicago shows treed areas had up to 58% fewer violent crimes. In 2011 the U.S. Forest Service did a similar study in Baltimore and discovered tree canopy’s over roadways corresponded with a 12% reduction in crime.

Yet another study in Portland, Oregon revealed similar tree crime-reducing effects.

It’s not uncommon that myths about crime show up in public debate, but it’s a tragedy when fears based on made-up theories shape public policy.

Friday, September 2, 2016

SafeGrowth in the university - from the classroom to the street

Simon Fraser University main campus quadrangle - Image by Soggybread, Creative Commons
GUEST BLOG: Tarah Hodgkinson is a senior researcher in the Integrated Risk Assessment Instrument Research Group in Vancouver, Canada. She is a member of the International CPTED Association and a certified SafeGrowth instructor. She is completing her Ph.D in criminology at Simon Fraser University. 

Last spring, I had the pleasure of teaching a fourth year university class on crime prevention at the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. The course had not been offered in several years.

I was nervous as this was my first upper year seminar course, but I wanted to provide the students with an experience rarely seen on university campuses today. I wanted them to have a chance to guide their own learning, engage with their own neighbourhoods and finally write a paper that they could use for something more than just a grade.

I set up the class to include the SafeGrowth method and created a problem-based learning (PBL) format to teach it. In PBL the students work together in teams and select a real-life, complex crime problem in a neighborhood. Their learning is based on research-in-action.


In PBL students conduct a SafeGrowth® assessment on that neighbourhood and work to address that problem. In addition to their field work, students each read a different book that had been key to informing the SafeGrowth philosophy or crime prevention. They then participate in seminars with short interactive presentations on that week’s material, presented by the students themselves.

During their field work they practiced real-life learning in the same way a professional consulting team might engage a neighborhood: they conducted site audits, contacted city officials, learned more about crime mapping and developed an evidence-based plan.

They learned about search conferences and safety audits, not by reading about them, but by actually doing them. Their final paper was a report they could give to a city counsellor or funding agency – hence, not just for a grade.

Located atop Burnaby Mountain, the university overlooks Greater Vancouver - photo SFU
I had no idea how the students would respond since they were so used to lectures and tests. I was sure they would revolt. I feared the worst, but I got the best. When I trusted them to take chances, I saw them flourish. I saw them connect with each other, connect with their neighbourhoods, and learn that they too had a voice.


I asked them to write a thirty second pitch about what they learned. Their responses were shocking. Very few spoke about the content. Rather, they told me that for the first time in university they felt that they had made real connections, real friends. In an era when many lament the loss of integration and connection, they integrated and connected.

They discussed the rewards of engaging with their neighbourhoods and realized that they could do something immediately to make changes. They said they felt listened to and that they had finally learned something. In a class where I did not do any traditional teaching, the students learned something. Imagine!

Not only did they learn that learning-by-doing and this intensive collaboration style - the action-based method - is the philosophical lynchpin of SafeGrowth and successful crime prevention. They also learned when I gave up lecturing and classroom control, when I trusted them to work together on real problems that is when real learning happened. It is then when we truly start to solve community crime problems.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The POP conference is back!

Tempe Mission Palms Conference Center, Tempe, Arizona - site of 2016 Problem Oriented Policing Conference
After some bleak years of de-funding, the International Problem Oriented Policing Conference is back! After a funding hiatus in 2014, the 25th POP conference reappeared last year. This year the 26th conference will be in Tempe, Arizona,  October 24-26

The conference program says it all:
Problem-Oriented Policing Conference is often described by attendees as the most substantive policing conference they've ever attended. Each year, police officers and police leaders, and all the ranks in between, as well as crime consultants and crime researchers, come together to discuss what they've learned about trying to reduce different crime and safety problems.
Along with complimentary problem-solving conventions such as the recent International Police Problem-Based Learning conference and last year’s International CPTED Association Conference, the International POP Conference is one of the few global policing conferences focused on the daily business of everyday policing.

Problem-Oriented Policing section of the Office of Community Oriented Policing website 
The problem-solving conferences are based in practical cop experiences. In other words, they are real-life. This year’s POP conference does have topics tapping into recent controversies dominating the media - Police Legitimacy and Policing Terrorism - but the program is also loaded with crime and safety themes:

  • Introduction to CPTED (by yours truly)
  • Police and PTO/Problem Based Learning 
  • Homelessness 
  • Intimate partner violence, and 
  • Leveraging community engagement to reduce fear of crime.

Professor Herman Goldstein (retired), the remarkable scholar who started the problem-oriented policing movememt
There will be numerous Herman Goldstein Problem-Oriented Policing Award submissions from around the world. And, as always, Professor Herman Goldstein will attend the event.

Goldstein, the founder of problem-oriented policing, is the man who started it all. If you don’t know Goldstein’s history, it is online and well worth the read. The conference pays homage to his remarkable legacy.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Revisiting laneways

Navigating most urban laneways is an unsafe and unappealing journey 
A recent walk in  some urban laneways brought to mind mystery stories of Sherlock Holmes’ chasing murderers lurking in dark, foggy alleys.

In real life, laneways are a hidden and complex urban landscape we seldom consider in our formulations for safer cites. We write about them in our stories, but not until the New Urbanists reintroduced them as a modern feature of their residential street design did we refocus on them as a crime location.

Most experienced beat cops walk downtown laneways, especially at night, because that is where things happen. Burglars frequent them because they offer easy access to the rears of homes. And kids vandalize and steal from cars in them because laneways are traditionally hidden from view.

Attractive laneway design providing more than trash pickup
As I compared some lively laneway designs with others that were not (the top photo), it was obvious poor laneway design is not inevitable. Laneway research is emerging revealing other options. I have posted blogs on laneway life, laneway chic,  and permeable fine grain design.

Landscaping and porches at the rear laneway - no chain link fences needed
One Australian study on laneway crime suggests designers pay more attention to width/length, visibility from the ends, and the number of residences.

But our work in SafeGrowth, and my recent walks, suggests something different: laneway activation is much more than physical size and shape. It is also about creatively figuring how to retain car parking and trash disposal uses, while at the same time creating interesting places for socializing.

Territorial marker at the end of the laneway - a community garden  
That might sound unappealing at first. Yet the cool laneway in these photos features streetscaping, decorative lighting, a community garden at the end, and rear door porches to encourage laneway socializing. If designers provide an interesting option that residents need, they will use it and also keep it safe.

Providing lighting and window sight-lines to protect vehicles

Sunday, July 24, 2016


Sunset over New York
Public housing is an enigma in the fabric of the city. On one hand, most public housing is decent, safe and important. It provides an invaluable service offering affordable housing to those who, for various reasons, are left out.

On the other hand, far too much public housing results in the projects, unsafe warrens of drug dealers and crime.

In some ways, the worst side of unrepaired and ignored public housing emerges as a shadowland across the modern city, places that breed gang activity and fear. Our early SafeGrowth work began in such a place in Toronto.

The original defensible space writing of Oscar Newman was based on public housing in the 1970s, much of that in New York.

Public housing in Manhattan along the Hudson River

I recently spent time working in New York City. Anyone who studies or practices crime prevention will know the work of Oscar Newman, a Canadian-born, New York architect who created defensible space theory - also known in some circles as crime prevention through environmental design - CPTED.

Jake Blumgart’s Next City article about public housing in New York highlights the work of Newman with the New York City Housing Authority. It discusses his conclusions about design flaws and crime opportunity - the basic principles of 1st Generation CPTED - and how he later modified those early assertions about design and incorporated social factors into his formulations (after considerable criticism).

It describes Newman’s realization about the larger role of social structure of public housing - concentrating poor residents in one project, youth-to-adult tenure policies, and percent tenants on welfare. Those familiar with the Second Generation CPTED will recognize the revised ideas as the Capacity Principle. Second generation strategies in public housing show considerable promise, as reported by DeKeseredy.

Repairs underway at a public housing apartment in New York

A careful reading of early Newman’s Defensible Space, and especially his later Community of Interest reveals that he eventually came to consider design only one part of the crime opportunity equation. He was figuring this out as early as 1976:

"Research on residential crime patterns in 150,000 New York City public housing units has established that the combined effect of the residents' social characteristics and the projects' design affects the crime rate." 

Still, I doubt that Newman really calculated all the complicated shadowland equations of public housing. There is much work yet to be done.