Thursday, October 27, 2016

SafeGrowth Summit in New Orleans

Search Conference participants enjoyed the French Quarter after sessions
Tarah is a senior researcher in the Integrated Risk Assessment Instrument Research Group in Vancouver, Canada. She is a certified SafeGrowth Advocate and is completing her PhD in criminology at Simon Fraser University. 

Two weeks ago, the ever expanding SafeGrowth program, in partnership with Louisiana AARP, held our third SafeGrowth Summit. Six teams from across the country joined us in New Orleans, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Birmingham, Baton Rouge, Los Angeles and of course New Orleans.

Our week included a very special visit from Nobel Laureate for Storytelling, Katrice Horsley from the UK, who was an incredible addition to our team (this will be the focus of an upcoming blog). Suffice to say, many of us walked away with a plethora of new skills for neighbourhood development.

One conference participant presenting preliminary SafeGrowth plans 
As always, the search conference involves a stage of visioning. Sometimes this part is as important as the action plan. Participants envisioned a future where people could work, live and play in their neighbourhoods. They envisioned places that were no longer car dependent. They envisioned extensive public transit networks, renewable energies, and neighbourhoods full of festivals, diversity and acceptance.

The results of this session were inspiring and resembled similar results from other search conferences. We realize that today, when groups are asked to envision a desirable future, what emerges are ideas for walkable, diverse, multi-use, and sustainable neighbourhoods.  The results of the planning stages of the search conference included numerous plans for changing each of the neighbourhoods represented at our event.

Additional work occurred throughout to refine plans
In one city, discussions focused around expanding community engagement strategies on a new metro transit system. In another, engagement included safety on possible shuttle service and a Rails-To-Trails project. On yet another, sidewalk and intersection safety initiatives are leading to the possible development of a cross-city neighborhood exchange program to help build social cohesion between different neighborhoods in the city.


By the end of the event the teams began to incorporate tactics to work with neighborhoods, residents, and stakeholders early in the planning stages. They saw the value in directly involving neighbourhood organizations before moving forward with any changes.

The concept small is beautiful resonated throughout. Finally, the conference highlighted the storytelling skills of Katrice who entertained with her unique way to share lessons of change and hope. We agreed that this will definitely become an important feature of SafeGrowth in the future.

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.