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

Shadowland

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
COMMUNITIES OF INTEREST

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.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Cities provide something for everybody...when they are created by everybody


Toronto neighborhood corner store - re-imagined
Today is America's Independence Day - the time for celebrating a government by and for the people. Sadly, local governance seems a long way off in the rhetoric that comprises this election season. So for solace, I turn to local governance on the street in the form of placemaking.

There are plenty of amazing street designs, laneway experiments, and examples of tactical urbanism that enliven and activate the street. The more people who walk and enjoy what Jane Jacobs called the street ballet the easier it is to humanize our neighborhoods and reduce fear and crime. This is the magic that is placemaking.

But did you ever notice how some versions of placemaking seem too expensive for the average person? Who has the time or money to redesign a laneway or install fancy lights, landscaping and pavement treatments?

LOOK TO THE LOCALS

An answer surfaced on recent trips to Toronto and Colorado Springs. The former took form in a small corner convenience store in a Toronto residential neighborhood.

Sitting areas, barbeques, relaxing space for socializing - A corner store with a purpose 
After suffering a burglary last fall and installing window bars, the owner decided to explore some inventive placemaking of her own. She transformed the front and side of her shop into a mini-market and outdoor gathering place and then invited locals to enjoy.

Inside the store she brings in local artists and artisans with samples of their work. With a vested interest in seeing their own work, and the chance to visit with others, locals and families frequent the corner store and create their own neighborhood nexus with very little cost to the storeowner.

Walls for local artists to show their stuff - free of charge!

LANEWAY LIFE

Another answer appeared along a downtown laneway in Colorado Springs. In this case locals used color and paint to enliven an otherwise dead space.

Colorado Springs laneway made fun with paint highlights
Rather than an alley with dead spaces, poor lighting and droll walls, these shopowners painted walls, installed local art, and used overhead colored LED lights to bring some energy to the space. When a few people located their shops along the alley, the space turned into a social gathering place.

Dull wall space transformed with paint
It really is not difficult to trust locals and work with them in coming up with ways to turn spaces into places. Jacobs said it 50 years ago: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and when, they are created by everybody.”

Adjacent restaurant getting in on some laneway action with colorful ad-art

Monday, June 20, 2016

The nightmare that won't end

Police directing people away from the Orlando nightclub where 49 died
Our work to help neighborhoods tackle crime was overshadowed this week when 49 people were killed by a murderer, madman or terrorist in an Orlando nightclub! Two weeks earlier that murderer sauntered into a local gun store and shopped an assault rifle and handgun from a gun dealer who would later claim “I don’t make the law”

Mass murder is not at all the same type of preventable crime as other crimes that we tackle. On one hand it accounts for a tiny minority of violent incidents each year. Yet taken on whole, the annual American mass murder toll is mind-numbing
  • 2016 - 49 killed in an Orlando nightclub
  • 2015-  9 killed at an Oregon college
  • 2015 - 14 killed by a terror couple in San Bernadino, 
  • 2013 - 12 killed in a Washington DC Navy Yard 
  • 2012-  26 killed, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook school 
  • 2012 - 12 killed in a Colorado movie theatre 

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

By my own calculations, since 2014, the number killed in mass murders (more than 4 killed at a single event) totals 694 victims! That is less than 3% of total of homicide victims in those years. About 14,000 people are murdered in the U.S. each year. 

To be clear, most murders are not mass murders but rather domestic violence killings and gang and drug shootings. 

Most mass murders are not terror related
Still, mass murders are the most gut-wrenching. And most mass murders have nothing to do with terrorism. Over 90% of mass murders since 2014 resulted from domestic violence or criminal madmen. 

None of which solves the problem. 

It is difficult for me to ignore the same arguments of reason and evidence against off-the-shelf assault rifles that I offered four years ago after the Newtown, Connecticut school murders

MISSING THE MARK

Instead pundits blather on about terrorism, background checks, LGBT hate crimes and mental illness. They dismiss gun control, probably because with millions of firearms in private hands, gun control is a hopeless genie long out of the bottle. 

We are left to watch President Obama delivering his 15th mass murder speech. And in spite of it all, the American gun/murder formula continues to produce yet more atrocities year after year.  It’s like a nightmare that won’t end.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

"What attracts people most is other people"


Just as I was writing about homelessness and walkable public spaces I received a Vimeo from SafeGrowth friend Sue Ramsay in New Zealand. It is a 4 minute video uncovering simple urban design and social programming features that make a public space fantastic.

It is all based on William H. Whyte’s 1980 book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, and to a lesser extent his follow-up book, City: Rediscovering The Center.

Whyte was born 100 years ago and he became mentor to Jane Jacobs and inspiration for the New York place-making group Project for Public Spaces.

Screenshot from William Whyte: In His Own Words by Clarence Eckerson Jr., Streetfilms 
For CPTED practitioners, William H. Whyte is among the bright lights in the history of urban design. He invented the idea of urban carrying capacity - later called tipping points - used throughout 2nd Generation CPTED. Like any student of urban affairs and planning he loved cities. He envisioned  the return of the Agora to the modern city and, best of all, showed us how to get there.

His ideas for reclaiming civilized, walkable, and fun urban places are simple, obvious and oddly ignored in too many cities. Here are a few that show up in the video:
  • the wonderful invention that is the movable chair
  • musicians and street arts make a place fun
  • fountains cannot induce sitting unless there are decent places to sit
  • protect access to the sun
  • water should be accessible, touchable, and slapable
  • street personalities make a public place more amicable.
Thanks to Sue for reminding us about one of our pioneers.

Water in public spaces should be touchable and slapable - Screenshot from William Whyte: In His Own Words

Monday, May 23, 2016

Edgewater - I am not the Lizard King


Urban planner Jeff Speck equates dense, well-built and walkable cities with economic growth, environmental resilience and a safer, more livable life. In his book Walkable City he provides plenty of evidence to prove it.

This week I visited Edgewater, a small city (population 5,000) enveloped by the urban fabric that is Metro Denver. It is medium income, has diverse ethnic groups and comprises mixed residential with a commercial street of a few blocks. It is close to what Speck describes.

Edgewater street furniture, walkable streets, and human scale
From a city map it is undistinguished from surrounding Denver suburbs, until you look at its crime.

Orange and red areas showing higher crime areas, Edgewater shows lower crime rates in yellow - crime map from city-data.com
As the map above shows, except for a few crimes, its crime rate is far below surrounding neighborhoods particularly one crime hotspot to the north.

The question is why? Urban design is not the only reason, but as I’ve shown in blogs on permeability in Langley and High Line Park in Manhattan, it can matter a great deal.

PLANNING AND URBAN DESIGN

Planning students learn about early movements to plan cities. One history textbook that some read is Land Use Planning from 1959. A phrase in that book is instructive:
“The unit of design in New Towns is no longer each separate lot, street or building; it is the whole community; a co-ordinated entity…beauty as well as convenience is produced by the rational relations of the individual parts…”
Unfortunately that philosophy did not survive. Instead, land hungry developers gobbled up huge swaths of city edges to build suburban sprawl, regional shopping malls, supersized box stores and pedestrian-hostile commercial strips.

The idea of planned and walkable neighborhoods was lost. But not, apparently, in Edgewater.

Murals, bicycle racks, and even-grade sidewalk curbs for handicap accessibility 
EDGEWATER

Edgewater clearly works - even the quiet afternoon when I visited had walkers for whom I had to wait before taking photos. There are no more cops here than elsewhere, yet people feel safe and comfortable while walking. Why does it work?

Speck says there are four ingredients to walkability: a reason to walk, a safe walk, a comfortable walk and something interesting to see and do. Edgewater seems to capture most of them.

The residential streets are narrow and tree-lined. Most of them are within a 15 minute walk of the mini-downtown. That downtown is neatly streetscaped and has diverse uses such as restaurants, coffee-shops, a local pub, and other amenities that provide locals a reason to come here. The downtown has only 4 blocks and they are short, about 75 feet each.

Color, flowers and sculptures - Edgewater sidewalk 

Flowers sponsored by students from a local 4th Grade class
Shops are also easily walkable - the distance of one store to another, door-to-door, is no more than 15 feet. Street flower pots are planted by local school children, murals cover blank walls and street furniture, like angled benches, provides both interest and comfort.

THE ALTERNATIVE - THE LIZARD KING

Only a few blocks outside of Edgewater, in yet another pedestrian-hostile commercial strip, the automobile remerges as King. You can almost hear it holler: I am the Lizard King, I can do anything. (Apologies to Jim Morrison).

Just outside Edgewater, hostility awaits the walker - Cars are the Lizard King 
Here intersections are ugly and vast, speeds are high and walkers are treated like invaders. Such places force people to stay inside their car and avoid all social contact except during moments of road rage.

Speck says: "The worst idea we’ve ever had was suburban sprawl…the reorganization and creation of the landscape around the requirement for automobile use." We will probably need autos for a long time to come, but we need walkability even more. Let's get our priorities right.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Hostile architecture, CPTED and the homeless



A homeless man sleeping rough - photo by Franco Folini - Creative Commons

How often have we watched the bamboozled scientist in a dystopian horror film claiming: I am only the inventor of the new robot … I’m not responsible for how it is used! as we watch that robot trash the laboratory into smithereens?

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design - CPTED - is a powerful crime prevention technology that is vulnerable to misuse by the ill-trained or the untrained, especially regarding homelessness.

Last year the International CPTED Association ran a session on Homelessness and CPTED at its annual conference. The result was an ICA White Paper about CPTED and the homeless. Myself and Randall Atlas co-wrote the paper with the help of some dedicated ICA members. We submitted it to offer some practical and ethical guidelines to CPTED practitioners regarding homelessness.

A company in Seattle tosses homeless people's possessions into the garbage!
Photo by David Shankbone, David Shankbone (own work), CC BY 2.5
Homelessness is a complex problem and using CPTED tactics is risky business. We are ethically responsible for how we use CPTED! That is why we wrote the ICA White Paper. Turns out, it was just in time.

HOMELESS ENCAMPMENT ABATEMENT?

Last week a news article Privatizing the Clearing of Homeless Encampments described what recently happened in Seattle when CPTED became hostile architecture. A private company was hired by the city to abate homeless encampments (Translation - trash their property). According the the news article, that company’s logo was: Let us help you develop a CPTED plan to help deter unwanted issues!

By no means do I diminish the impact of homelessness on residents and their families, but deter unwanted issues? Do we really consider homeless people the unwanted? Do we think they are best handled with metal anti-sleeping spikes? Are we really helping by target hardening them away from our park benches?

The news article tells the official story:
City officials say they offer the people they encounter shelter options. But they admit that only about 40 percent of people kicked out of illegal homeless encampments end up in city shelters—most are simply shunted to some other location.
Surely we can do better!