Monday, August 21, 2017

Cycling the Big Apple - I want to ride my bike!

Biking Manhattan - A scary proposition without proper design

by Mateja Mihinjac


During my recent visit to New York City, I was thrilled to witness the upsurge in cycling in this iconic city. As an avid cyclist, I love when cities provide infrastructure for bipedal commute.

Promoting physical and social connections through design, such as increased bike usage, fosters interaction and establishment of social ties. In SafeGrowth we know that this also influences safety and perception of safety.

New York City, the metropolis well known for its traffic congestion and yellow cabs, has followed the lead of several European and Australian cities and in the past decade expanded its cycling infrastructure. Cycling in the city has since 2005 increased by an astounding 260%, currently amounting to 450,000 daily trips.

In 2013, the city also introduced the nation’s largest bike sharing program Citi Bike, which currently offers 603 bike stations and 10.000 bikes across the city’s five boroughs. These bikes are extensively used by city dwellers and tourists alike.

Exploring Manhattan on a bike

CYCLING FOR HAPPINESS?

Replacing motorised commute with biking impacts health and social connectedness, two of the three most important contributors to happiness in urban environments.

Moreover, planning for environmentally sustainable cities that prioritize cycling and walking is intrinsically linked to socially cohesive communities.

603 bike stations and 450,000 daily bike trips across New York City

IMPROVING CYCLING INFRASTRUCTURE

Talking to locals revealed that despite great progress, cycling infrastructure could benefit from several improvements. The first was more bike lanes and Citi Bike stations outside downtown and affluent areas, a common need in other cities.

Ironically, those living on the peripheries of the cities and those less prosperous are the ones who would most benefit from biking connectivity.

The second issue concerns safety. A 2015 article reported 90% of bike lanes in New York City were unprotected, meaning the majority were lanes without a safety buffer between cyclists and cars. This is surprising knowing that protected bike lanes can reduce the risk of injury by 90% and also increase ridership.

Buffered bike lanes are a necessity for safety

CYCLING FOR CITIES OF TOMORROW

Promoting cycling in progressive cities like New York is an excellent avenue for developing environmentally and socially sustainable cities. Planners should encourage future expansions of bike infrastructure in less affluent areas and designers must follow guidelines for safety and buffered lanes.

Designing future cities around cycling will contribute to overall healthier and happier cities.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Purge the scourge of blank walls

Downtown telecom company bricks in windows and leaves us with a blank wall
by Greg Saville

Walking downtown a few days ago I came across a large telecommunications center that dominated an entire city block with blank walls. It is a sight that appears with increasing regularity in cities everywhere. The telecoms want to keep their innards secure, but they choose to locate downtown.

When meeting someone new we generally say hello, shake hands, and exchange pleasantries. The pleasantries are often meaningless. “Nice to meet you”! Perhaps. Perhaps, not.

But it is polite to greet someone well. It sets a tone for a civil relationship. There are consequences if you present an obnoxious face in public, or worse if you ignore them. It makes you look like a rube. You may think laws keep chaos at bay, but that is a legal conceit. In fact, sociologists, anthropologists, and well-trained criminologists will tell you it is everyday civil behavior - norms - that keep us civil and safe.

Shopping malls are the worst blank wall offenders

HOW TO ADDRESS THE STREET

It is no different for architecture in public places, especially downtown streets. Walking to downtown shops, waiting at bus stops, or simply enjoying a stroll are activities that make places hospitable and civil and mitigate uncivil behavior. We are embraced, or assailed, by how buildings address the street with their architecture. If they ignore the street with blank walls, they assault us. If they address the street in a civil way, they welcome us.

This is called streetscaping. Architects have many tools to do this well; building massing, permeable designs, paying attention to the pedestrian experience. Some call it placemaking. New York blogger Andrew Manshell has a great blog on this topic.

Community owned food co-op gets it right

Streetscaping does not mean addressing the street with blank walls, walls that ignore the street and the people on it. Blank walls on public streets are obnoxious, like the obnoxious rube. They tell us we don’t matter. Blank wall owners might benefit from our public utilities, public streets, and our fire, police and other services, but they could not care less how they address us on our streets. So their massive blank walls make our streets inhospitable... so what!

Sound familiar? That is the behavior of the sociopath. No consequence!

Green walls are in

DESIGN SOCIOPATHY

Blank walls are the architectual version of design sociopathy.

Back in the 1980s, William Whyte wrote about the poisonous effect that large blank walls had on city life. Boring convention centers, government buildings, megastructures, and parking garages with large blank walls on public streets all fell under his wrath. But in City: Rediscovering the Center it was telephone companies that offended most, especially a 55-storey blank wall in New York. Since then it seems the telecoms have not changed.

Sociopathic blank walls kill sidewalks and suck the energy out of urban life.

If there is anything contemporary planners (and CPTED practitioners) must do it is to kill blank walls in downtown architecture. There are many ways that can be done creatively - green walls, murals, tasteful windows placement.

We need to purge the scourge of architecture’s sociopath.

Creative paint schemes are an easy fix to blandness

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Neighbourhood Watch? Perhaps not!


by Tarah Hodgkinson

When you ask people to provide an example of crime prevention, the first program they mention is Neighbourhood Watch (or Block Watch). This is not surprising considering that for 45 years it has been implemented extensively. Police departments offer toolkits for residents and many neighbourhoods sport signs that say “Block Watch Community – All suspicious behaviours will be reported to the police.” 

Neighbourhood Watch originated in Seattle in 1972 when the Law and Justice Planning Office conducted a survey and found that residents were most concerned about burglary. They created a program to:

  • Train residents in target hardening techniques
  • Encourage willing residents to share information about their schedules 
  • Create a network of residents to watch after each other's houses, and
  • Report suspicious behaviour to each other and the local police. 

The program produced massive declines in burglary rates (48-61%). Thus, Neighbourhood Watch was deemed an exemplary project and, backed by the National Crime Prevention Council and most police departments, it took off across North America.


The ubiquitous Neighbourhood Watch sign. Are residents doing anything?

Some positive results continue today. For example, British research shows it cuts burglary in UK neighbourhoods by 16% to 26%.

However, Neighbourhood Watch has been subject to considerable criticism. Research demonstrated that expansions of the program in different cities produce positive results only in middle-class neighbourhoods that already had strong social cohesion. Other studies found that it tended to have negative consequences, including increasing fear of crime.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

So what happened to this exemplary project?

Current versions of Neighbourhood Watch have missed the mark in addressing crime problems and mobilizing residents to address them. Some accounts claim they do not encourage neighbours to organize around crime issues that they care about.

Instead, today’s programs are a shadow of what they once were; they play lip service to a once well-designed program by posting signs and handing out flyers. In most case, residents call their local police service to install signs and give residents information on how to secure their homes or notice suspicious behaviour. Unfortunately, they miss the point regarding what contributed to the success of the original program – people!

THE MISSING INGREDIENT

This is in direct opposition to the action research methodology that underpins SafeGrowth - to address relevant crime issues with local residents, not to or for them. When people and context are removed from the equation, all we are left with is a feel-good program.

We don’t need signs, flyers and more door locks. We need engaged neighbourhoods where police and residents work together on crime issues that matter most and then co-create lasting solutions. That is how we move forward.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Aerotropolis - Future city today?

Creative lighting at the Detroit airport pedestrian tunnel
by Greg Saville

A thought occurred as I pondered our Chicago SafeGrowth training and the upcoming presentations about work in 4 different cities. SafeGrowth teams are tackling crime and disorder at vacant land sites, a small open park along a heavily trafficked roadway, and a historic public square.

These are all cases where transport routes and locations intersect revealing flaws in local places and the social life of urban spaces. Problems like this point to geography.

The study of geography spans medical geography (epidemiology) and climatology to social geography and urban planning. My undergrad studies included all of those, but one of the most interesting was transport geography.

Vancouver International Airport - transport hub with cultural flavor
- photo Flights nation

GEOGRAPHY SHOWS THE WAY

There are no cities without transport geography. Moving people and goods requires organizing our cities and regions in efficient and ecologically sound ways - walkways, trails, roads, bike paths, rail, and airports. Locating neighborhoods, shops and businesses near, or far from, transport routes is the path to urban profit or debt. And poor transport geographies create niches for crime and fear.

Environmental criminology has for years attempted to use the mobility of people as a predictor for crime patterns (with mixed results). CPTED uses movement predictors of people to prevent high-risk paths and crime hotspots. Transport geography is a big deal. That led me to this; Is the modern hub airport a future city?

Detroit's indoor people-mover train

HUB AIRPORTS AS FUTURE CITIES? 

John Kasarda’s Aerotropolis claims the modern airport hub has evolved into a new urban form called Airport Cities. He means the area in and around the airport. Transport Geography journals describe hub-airports as a new kind of city.

I wondered, are airports, not just parts of larger metro areas but distinct cities unto themselves? If so, what lessons do they offer our neighborhood safety efforts?

Airports would not exist but for the populations of nearby urban places. Still, I practically live in airports nowadays and I am struck by the layers of complexity in them. They have all forms of urban design - restaurants, health food markets, resting places, hotels, medical facilities, lounging areas, physical fitness areas and spiritual centers for reflection. They have their own transport systems ranging from small trains, buses, moving sidewalks, and shuttles. In other words - a city!

Moving people in creative ways
True, you cannot own property in airports and you cannot actually live in them. And the only reason to go there is to go somewhere else. Yet, as I look at them, they offer fascinating lessons - good and bad - we might consider in planning safer places.

THEY ARE SAFE

First, once you get inside them, modern hub airports are safe. They have CCTV surveillance, electronic access controls, police, and security screening at the entrances. Shootings are rare. Consider the few recent cases like when a crazed gunman shot up LAX or a Fort Lauderdale shooter attacked passengers at the bag claim. All those occurred outside security.

The fact is once you are inside security, shooting risks plummet to near zero. There might be insane people who assault others or bar fights from drunk travelers, but these are quickly squashed by security and police. In modern hub airports you are much safer than most American cities. Guns simply don’t often make it into airports. Gun control, it turns out, works incredibly well! Airports teach us that.

Mother and child - Palm tree arboretum in Long Beach Airport, California

THEY ARE BIG

They are HUGE! Concourse B in Denver is a half mile (1 km) long. Detroit is a mile (1.6 km). The Dubai International Airport is the world’s second largest at over 18,000,000 sq ft, nine times bigger than York’s Grand Central Station. That’s big! It means airports must figure how to transport people quickly and safely.

Their solutions include moving sidewalks, pod-cars, light rail trains, and people-movers (short distance, mini-wheeled trains cheaper than light rail). And they are fast. I travel through long airports quicker than I can walk across a suburban 8-lane intersection at rush hour. Airports can teach us something about urban mobility.

THEY HAVE ART

Denver International Airport murals
Then there is the art. Airports have been installing murals, paintings, art galleries, music performances, and other displays of local culture. Airports might be for movement, but they realize the importance of de-sterilizing bland places and blank walls with art. Place-making in airports is alive. We should take heed.

In the 1980 sci-fi book Oath of Fealty, the future Los Angeles contains a self-contained mini-city called Todos Santos, a secure arcology built apart from the crime-infested dystopian suburbs of Greater L.A. Todos Santos reads like a modern hub airport.

Oath of Fealty predicted the building of the L.A. subway. Has it also predicted the future of cities based on hub airports? As futurist William Gibson once wrote, the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.

Paleo exhibit attracts interest in Chicago

Thursday, July 6, 2017

CPTED Event of the Year - ICA Conference 2017

Beneath the "Loop" in Chicago - site of recent SafeGrowth training

By Greg Saville

In partnership with our remarkable sponsor, LISC Safety, last month we introduced the SafeGrowth/CPTED program to Chicago. Four teams from different cities, including Chicago, are now well into their field work and project development.

Chicago is in some ways a coming home for CPTED. While the original ideas for CPTED emerged 50 years ago from books by Jane Jacobs and Oscar Newman in New York, it was a century ago in 1920s Chicago where America's first crime research emerged on neighborhood development, juvenile delinquency and crime prevention. And that brings us to the present state of CPTED!

THE 2017 ICA CPTED CONFERENCE

That early work on neighborhoods in Chicago is backdrop to this year’s International CPTED Conference in another great city, Calgary, Canada. CPTED practitioners will meet on Aug 7 and 8 under the theme My Street, My Neighbourhood, My City - CPTED In Action.

This year’s keynote will be delivered by LISC Safety director, Julia Ryan. That is appropriate given not only LISC's introduction of SafeGrowth/CPTED into Chicago, but also because LISC has been doing this kind of work for almost a decade. Julia will describe how LISC uses community development as a key to success.

Julia Ryan, ICA conference keynote, Calgary 2017

Other themes at the conference will include:

  • CPTED implementation, 
  • Building downtown partnerships, 
  • CPTED in Latin America, 
  • Citizen participation, 
  • CPTED in education,
  • Graffiti, 
  • 2nd Generation CPTED, 
  • Geodata and mapping, and 
  • Tiny Home Villages for homeless.

Speakers will travel to Calgary from across the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Honduras, Chile, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa, India, and Burkina Faso.

Nowhere in the world will you see such an international cast of talent and experience. This is a conference you don’t want to miss!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ljubljana, European Green Capital 2016 — Towards a 3rd Generation CPTED

By Mateja Mihinjac

Recent developments in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana resonate with ideas similar to Smart Growth, an urban planning method promoting human-scale design, ecological sustainability, sense of place, and opportunities for community engagement.

These ideas fit into a new theory now emerging as a Third Generation CPTED.

Ljubljana’s story begins with worsening climate conditions prompting numerous European countries to improve sustainability and the environment. In 2016 Ljubljana was awarded the prestigious title of a European Green Capital for its environmental sustainability work.

Lively Slovenska Boulevard now reserved for pedestrians, cyclists
and public transport

GREEN CITY

Ljubljana has undergone a major transformation in its city centre in the past decade. Changes include an ecological zone where pedestrian and bicycle traffic is now prioritized over motor vehicles. The city is committed to its zerowaste management program, expansion of green spaces, reduction in noise pollution and an increase in air quality.

As the public realm greens and becomes more attractive, satisfaction with the image of the city and its environmental conditions reflect the municipality’s commitment to a green agenda.

Attractive green spaces offer ample opportunities for social interaction
Photo Marusa Babnik
CPTED pioneers Jane Jacobs and Oscar Newman often cited famous urban planner Kevin Lynch who wrote Image of the City in 1960 and said the imagability of a city - the quality of the physical environment - evokes feelings that make a place interesting and “invites the eye and ear to greater attention and participation”. In SafeGrowth we argue that also makes it safe.

This is how sustainable environmental urban design leads to a Third Generation CPTED and how it can contribute to safety.

Accordingly, Eurostat surveys on Ljubljana showed the levels of satisfaction with public spaces, availability of green spaces and cleanliness increased since 2009 to nearly 90% satisfaction levels in 2015. Accompanying the green evolution is an improved quality of life.

LIVABLE CITY

Ljubljana’s focus on the city’s sustainable development created multiple activity nodes with opportunities for social interaction. Over 90% of the residents have consistently felt safe and trust in others in the city centre has increased from 57% in 2009 to 65% in 2015. Ljubljana also jumped to top 10 most livable EU capitals.

Preseren Square, the main piazza and activity node of Ljubljana

Ljubljana’s public realm achieves both First and Second Generation CPTED goals through increased social interaction and a higher sense of safety. In this case, much of that safety arises through integrating these CPTED components through sustainable technologies and green spaces. That is how a Third Generation CPTED might function in the future.

If Ljubljana successfully expands their green transformation of public spaces to the whole city, they may begin to realize a truly livable and socially cohesive city as advanced in its 2025 vision.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Connecting in third places

Australian hostels truly get how to do third places
By Tarah Hodgkinson 

One of the main tenets of SafeGrowth is social cohesion. I recently spent a few weeks in Australia as part of a conference and research trip. During this trip, I spent some time in hostels on the east coast of the country. I was reminded of the importance of shared spaces or third places and their role in encouraging social cohesion.

Third place is a term coined by Ray Oldenberg in his book The Great Good Place. Oldenberg claims that we have three places:

  • The ‘first place’ is the home, shared with those who live in the home. 
  • The ‘second place’ is the workplace. These places are where we spend the most time. 
  • The ‘third place’ then is the place where we find community and social life. He argues these third places are the anchors of community and social engagement. 

COFFEE SHOPS - MORE THAN COFFEE

Examples of the third place include local coffee shops, pubs, rec centers, barber shops, farmer's markets, community gardens and other places where people can come together, meet and socialize.

Third places are more than just a location outside of work and home to congregate. These places must have certain characteristics in order to become a third place. They should be neutral (no one has claim over them), they should be leveling (no one social status matters more), they should be free or inexpensive, they should be accessible to everyone, there should be regular faces and they should promote conversation over everything else.

Australian hostels get how to do third places. They boast numerous shared spaces including shared kitchens, recreation rooms, seating areas, computer areas and cheap cafes. This is ideal for the traveler trying to connect with others.

Gardens and parks - third places with flowers
This is vastly different than hostels in Canada and some in Europe, that operate more as a hotel, where the only shared spaces are bars and restaurants, which are not only costly but don’t encourage natural conversation.

What can Australian hostels teach us about community engagement? Oldenburg claims third places are the center of civic engagement and civil society and necessitate the steps of social change. They do so because they allow people to come together, to share ideas, discuss issues and mobilize for change.

When I stayed in hostels that had third places, I met fellow travelers with ease, learned about fun, entertainment hot spots and made friends, many of whom I am still in contact with. This did not happen in the hotel-like hostels. In neighborhoods, third places trigger social engagement and cohesion and this is the beginning of how we start changing neighborhoods for the better.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Renaissance Man was in charge

Retired police chief Norm Stamper at a recent Ted Talk

by Greg Saville

I first met Norm Stamper twenty years ago when he took over as Chief of the Seattle Police Department. He was a thought-leader with a PhD, an author, an advocate for community policing, he had decades of police experience in the San Diego Police. And now he was leading a major city police agency!

The Renaissance Man was in charge.

All this was a decade before troubles brewing in Seattle Police led to a federal government Consent Decree to repair a department that had gone wrong. You may remember Chief Stamper when he retired in 2000 shortly after the Seattle WTO protests, the so-called Battle of Seattle. We quickly forget how the loss of a great leader costs us all.

Norm will be the keynote speaker at this year's annual conference of the Police Society for Problem Based Learning. His message resonates now more than ever.


Norm's recent book, To Protect and Serve: How to fix America's Police, and the mandate of the PSPBL, provide the ideal recipe in a profession that so badly needs new ingredients. This year's PSPBL conference Stepping Into Innovation, Aug. 16-18 is in Tucson, Arizona. It will host a roster of talented speakers with tactics for success in training, education, emotional intelligence and problem-solving. Norm Stamper will keynote.

If you care about 21st Century policing, this is the conference to see.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The new amnesia


by Greg Saville

A new amnesia is creeping into crime prevention. And we are left with criminal justice fads: programs that are little more than old wine in new bottles; police “enforcement” teams as ineffective as they are discredited; new, unproven security technologies ad naseum

Few remember that, once upon a time, well-established community crime prevention and problem-oriented policing strategies actually cut crime. They were not abandoned because they no longer worked on modern problems. They were abandoned because the latest generation did not learn the lessons of history. In truth, new leaders obsess on foisting the latest fad on an uninformed public.

Someone forgot to teach them history.

BOOK REVIEW – DESIGNING OUT CRIME

Case in point: The book Designing Out Crime edited by Len Garis and Paul Maxim (2016).

There are some intriguing chapters in this book like Peters’ “Transitions and Social Programming”, particularly the discussion on homelessness. Another by Plecas and Croisdale is equally compelling: “Doing Something about Prolific Offenders”.

But then the story sours. Jordan Diplock’s chapter on “Designing Out Opportunities for Crime” is particularly narrow. It limits itself to a target hardening version of 1st Generation CPTED (including the discredited broken windows theory or the pseudo-scientific routine activity theory).


Target hardening with fences

It mentions how cities like Saskatoon established CPTED review committees to implement CPTED, but it fails to mention that Saskatoon's version of CPTED is actually called SafeGrowth and all design guidelines incorporate the social programming inherent in 2nd Generation CPTED.

The chapter also bypasses the literature of 2nd Generation CPTED, ignores theoretical progress in the last 15 years, and overlooks the practical progress made by hundreds of practitioners who promote CPTED around the world (including British Columbia) within the International CPTED Association.

This historical amnesia is surprising since the book proclaims, “Crime prevention is a societal matter that relies on a commitment from the entire criminal justice system plus the community at large”.

That's well and good, except it then presents chapters on technology, administrative tactics, and regulatory approaches that, while interesting, stray far from that proclamation about the community at large. Particularly worrisome is the obsession on target hardening, technical security devices, and other tech glitz, for example, a chapter on “Designing Out Crime Through the Use of Technology”. There’s not much community at large in that!

Technology can help or hinder - community engagement is the key

GOLDEN AGE 

Most disappointing is this: This book was written in British Columbia. In the 1990s British Columbia was the site of Canada’s first police academy Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) course taught to hundreds of officers, Canada’s first national POP conference, and its first government Commission recommending POP and crime prevention. 

That Golden Age of Crime Prevention and POP faded to dust, as demonstrated by books like this. It faded when police leaders and politicians lost focus and then defunded workable community crime prevention. It fizzed away like a bottle of stale Canadian beer.

This is the new amnesia. And it’s not restricted to British Columbia!

Why is this so?

To the credit of the book, a quote by a retired RCMP Sgt. Brian Foote offers the best answer. I worked with Sgt Foote in BC teaching CPTED years ago. Brian is among the most outstanding prevention practitioners anywhere. When Brian speaks, I listen.

“Overall, all we have ever really done is tinker superficially with crime prevention. As a consequence most of our crime prevention efforts are now on a pile of abandoned and untested criminal justice fads.”

How true that is. And how sad. Collective amnesia! We must learn this lesson and look elsewhere for a better future.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Baltimore trailblazer (Part 2)

Baltimore tot lot in need of community/city attention
by Kallan Lyons

Kallan is a journalist who has blogged for Journalists for Human Rights and has contributed to the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper. In 2013 she spent 6 months as media trainer in Ghana at the African College of Communications. She wrote this guest blog after attending the last part of the Baltimore SafeGrowth course.
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“I had an overall instinctual sense that I was not safe.” 
Community member who uses the Tot Lot,
Pigtown, Baltimore

When the SafeGrowth Tot Lot team in Baltimore met Edith Nelson, they knew they had found an ally.

Tasked with transforming the park in Pigtown into a safe space for families, they consulted with Ms. Nelson. As reported in the last blog, A Baltimore trailblazer - Part 1, Ms. Edith has played an integral part in the process.

Now with her support, the team plans to clean up the lot and capitalize on community partnerships in an effort to decrease criminal behavior in the area. The team brought new energy to the project with representatives from the community, the Mayor’s Office, and the police.

STEPS FOR CHANGE

Here are just a couple of the recommendations put forward by the Safegrowth team members who are determined to build on the foundation laid by Ms. Nelson.


Perfect location for movie-night screen or possibly community murals

Throughout the Baltimore SafeGrowth training, the team addressed potential factors inhibiting locals from using the space. Surrounding the park are several abandoned homes and a liquor store; in addition, the tot lot is poorly lit in the evenings. Instead of people gathering in the park for block parties and barbecues, frequent activities include drug use and drinking.

While Ms. Nelson often peruses the park for trash, picking up empty bottles and other items left behind, the job is becoming too big for just one person.

That’s where the SafeGrowth team stepped in. The team’s vision includes volunteer clean-up crews and regular outdoor programs led by community groups. They plan to contact owners of abandoned homes to negotiate improvements. Other strategies included:

  • building social connections by contacting the nearby school and church to involve them in activities such as mural painting
  • increased police attention to the tot lot
  • community events such as movies-in-the-park to build social cohesion
  • better signage, installing LED lighting, reinstalling benches and adding play equipment.

Prior installation of tot lot equipment needs regular community support and city maintenance 
The goal is to restore the Tot Lot to its original use:  a welcoming, family-oriented environment where parents and their children feel safe.  Now that the wheels are in motion, and with Ms. Nelson on their side, a possibility is being turned into a promise.

The Tot Lot transformation started with one woman, and thanks to the SafeGrowth team, it will resume with the community.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Ms. Edith and the tot lot - a Baltimore trailblazer (Part 1)

Tot lot in Pigtown - All photos by the Archer/Carroll Street SafeGrowth Team
By Kallan Lyons 

Kallan is a journalist who has blogged for Journalists for Human Rights and has contributed to the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper. In 2013 she spent 6 months as media trainer in Ghana at the African College of Communications. She wrote this guest blog after attending the last part of the Baltimore SafeGrowth course.

****

At the corner of Carroll and Archer Streets in Southwest Baltimore sits the Pigtown Tot Lot, a park complete with a playground and plenty of space for a community gathering. This Tot Lot was one of four projects chosen by one of the community problem-solving teams during the latest Baltimore SafeGrowth course (another project appeared in this blog earlier).

The brightly colored jungle gym is surrounded by an iridescent wall, and would never allude to the ominous ambiance: just under a year ago, four people were injured in a shootout next to the park. To many, the Tot Lot is anything but inviting.

Sidewalk conditions around the tot lot
Nicknamed ‘Charm City’, Baltimore’s beautiful row houses, Inner Harbor, and historical attractions have been overshadowed by its drug culture and rampant crime. The city of just over 600,000 has one of the highest homicide rates in the United States. Abandoned homes, poor neighborhood lighting, and a lack of community spaces are just a few of the contributing factors. In Pigtown, kids who grew up playing at the Tot Lot have gone on to become drug dealers on the park corner.

When you hear Baltimore, you may think of Freddie Gray or even the fictitious Omar Little from The Wire. One name you likely haven’t heard is Edith Nelson. Affectionately referred to by her community as Ms. Edith, the 76-year-old has lived in Pigtown since 1989, across the street from the Tot Lot. When she moved in, the park was nothing but weeds.

“For me, it was an eyesore,” says Ms. Nelson. “From that very day [that I moved in] I said I will not live here all my life and see an eyesore like this. That’s when I began to work on the playground, on the Pigtown Tot Lot.”

MAKING A DIFFERENCE 

In Pigtown, people came together to make a difference. Ms. Nelson began by collecting money door-to-door, selling pies and cupcakes at the local Credit Union, and calling on anyone she could to help with the project. She and her small group of supporters successfully raised the $15,000 required to redesign the space. Inspired by her enthusiasm, people latched on to her vision, first through financial contributions, then by coming out to plant trees, paint the playground and rejuvenate the park.

“I have albums from the very day that it happened and we had lots of children that really came out: we had a wheelbarrow and wood chips; our playground was wood - now it’s metal. We had a lot of people getting together back then.” Young and old gathered to reclaim their neighborhood and in the process, rediscovered their community.

Nearby housing in Baltimore's Pigtown
Decades later, as neighbors moved away, many of those early successes lost momentum and crime returned. But despite recent events, her contributions are still standing strong and that is what the SafeGrowth team could see. Ms. Nelson has remained the trailblazer: with the help of a local organization Paul’s Place, her community renamed one of the streets Edith Way.

Ms. Nelson says although there are fewer children around, she and several others continue to clean up the area, hauling dirt and planting flowers, and holding an annual cookout that’s free to anyone in the neighborhood.

The SafeGrowth team asked Ms. Nelson to attend their presentation at the course workshop. They knew her commitment is a reminder of the importance of building community. Though there have been some setbacks, she feels doing so is about volunteerism, friendship, and people working together to accomplish a purpose.

Colorful statement at Carroll/Archer street
If there is such thing as having a purpose in life, I believe Ms. Nelson has found one. Her kids have moved to other neighborhoods, but she says she’s not going anywhere.

“When I bought this house and moved into this community, despite all I saw, I still loved it and said I will live here forever. The Tot Lot has been my project, and as long as I am alive, and I have strength, I will never ever see it go back to where it was.”

Next Blog: The Tot Lot’s transformation started with Ms. Nelson. In part 2 - How the SafeGrowth team plans to move that forward. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The longevity economy and age-friendly cities - California AARP and SafeGrowth

Pasadena, the site of this week's AARP California conference on
Age-friendly communities

by Greg Saville

The New Orlean’s Hollygrove Livable Communities and SafeGrowth Project is now an award-winning success story about turning a troubled neighborhood back from the brink of crime. Starting in 2007 it was a collaboration of AARP Louisiana, Trinity Christian Community and Hollygrove Neighbors headed by Nancy McPherson and Jason Tudor at AARP. 

The AARP website describes how they launched the initiative through nuts-and-bolts teamwork, SafeGrowth technical assistance, and residents themselves who took a lead role. 

This week Jason Tudor and I introduced SafeGrowth to the California AARP community, having run a SafeGrowth Summit in Sacramento last year. The setting was the city of Pasadena at the AARP California conference "On the road to Age-friendly communities". 

Like all modern cities, in Pasadena cars dominate the street. Conference participants examined how age-friendly means walkability and safety
Pasadena is a smaller city in the Los Angeles metro area and it was the ideal setting for new ideas about the age-friendly city in the 21st Century, particularly in regards to safety and crime. With over $85 Billion spent yearly on age-friendly initiatives, and over $1 Trillion contributed to the U.S. by the ‘longevity economy’, clearly, crime and safety must be integral for planning cities of the future. 
   

Friday, April 21, 2017

Baltimore's Pigtown launches SafeGrowth

Abandoned lot in Pigtown tackled by SafeGrowth team
There were 2 murders, 3 shootings, 17 assaults, and 14 property crimes over the past 5 years at, and near, an abandoned lot on Ward Street in southwest Baltimore. One murder cost the life of a friend of a member in our latest SafeGrowth class.

Ward Street is in Pigtown, an up-and-coming area with Baltimore-style row houses, a reinvigorated commercial street, and a historic museum for the first American railway, the B&O Railroad (in the 1870s they unloaded pigs onto the streets for herding to nearby slaughterhouses – hence, Pigtown).

Over the years the area suffered a higher than average crime rate, numerous abandoned homes, and vacant lots like the one on Ward Street. But in recent years the area has started revitalizing and things are improving! Led by Ben Hyman, executive director of the nonprofit Pigtown Main Street association, the neighborhood hosted the first SafeGrowth training in the city of Baltimore.

Dark areas and poor lighting - SafeGrowth teams recommended improvements
The response to the training was outstanding. Participants in four SafeGrowth teams included residents of the community, Baltimore police, planners, local shop owners, university students, representatives from city hall, crime analysts, and others. One of those teams tackled the Ward Street vacant lot mentioned above.

TRANSFORMATION PLAN

During final presentations to the wider community, each team described their plans for improvement.

The Ward Street group was particularly impressive with their SafeGrowth Analysis and Transformational Plan. They recommended community engagement meetings, linking community groups to others across the city, and expanding programming within the lot itself. They plan to use community cleanup days to clean the lot, better activation with murals, signage, and improved lighting.

The SafeGrowth team provided a vision for changes to the abandoned lot - photo PPS
Integrating the police and the business association into their plan ensured a more sustainable way to cut crime at the lot and in the surrounding neighborhood. Their long-term vision was to create a community hub for local social and recreational activities.

As their instructor I was most impressed by the fact that, like the other three groups, they did this entire project in only 5 weeks, they fought time constraints and they battled a classic north-eastern winter snowstorm during their site visits and safety audits. How’s that for commitment!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Street art comes of age

Attack of the bees - Toronto parking lot mural

by Greg Saville

In the early years of CPTED, the skateboarder was the defiler of the public order and vandal of the public realm. Still today uncontrolled skateboarding causes damage to places. CPTED training taught how to target harden benches and use sand to disrupt wheel bearings. New anti-skateboarding laws and enforcement emerged.

Today the skateboard movement has gone legit. It's worth 4 billion dollars and has over 11 million participants. In 2020 it will be an Olympic sport. Skateboard parks populate every major city.

Skateboarding has come of age.

Kensington Market wall mural in Toronto
The same evolution is underway with graffiti and street art, the former defined as illegal, the latter not (both distinctions now fading into the Realpolitik).

We have written about murals and graffiti for years. SafeGrowth Advocate Anna Brassard wrote a few years ago about the graffiti/street artist world in her blog The Writing on the Wall. I wrote about a Graff War in Melbourne.

Today, as with skateboarding, change is underway. There are lists of World's Top Cities for murals. Penang in Malaysia is the leader. No surprise Berlin, Germany and Sydney, Australia are also leaders. Philadelphia and Melbourne aren’t (but should be). Krakow, Poland, Reykjavik, Iceland and Quebec City, Canada make the top ten.

Denver parking lot mural
I captured some street art and mural images in Toronto and Denver the past few weeks. I’m told by graff artists that the illegal practicing they do helps them refine their skills and produce these amazing legal works.

Perhaps if we can find a public practice place for street artists and legitimate display walls for their better work, we could minimize the illegal graffiti vandalism. Working with street artists, as these images show, can produce remarkable results.

Intricate design and sophisticated imagery - modern day street art

Friday, March 24, 2017

Me and my folks - A review of Robert Putnam's "Our Kids"

The Millennial generation reflects a new reality 
by Tarah Hodgkinson

There has been much commentary lately about the Millennial generation. They don’t work hard enough, they expect everything to be handed to them and they are apathetic.

However, a recent book by Robert Putnam (author of Bowling Alone) claims that much of the millennial struggle is not a product of a poor work ethic or inaction. Rather, the structure of North American society has changed to make it so that working class kids are struggling far more to achieve any success compared to counterparts in their parents’ generation.

We reviewed the Millennial generation five years ago in Peter Pan Kids and this latest offering by Putnam provides another look.

Putnam begins his analysis with an examination of why kids from his hometown of Port Clinton, who grew up in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, were generally successful despite class, racial and gender barriers while kids in Port Clinton today appear more financially segregated than ever before. He says there are several factors: the American Dream, families, parenting, schooling and the community.

Putnam brings to life the changing demographics of American society by combining current research with the stories of privileged and underprivileged kids and their families. He demonstrates that the Baby Boomer generation was successful in part because their era was relatively favorable towards upward mobility.

BOOMER VERSUS MILLENNIAL ADVANTAGES

Contrary to the notion that many Boomers are self-made success stories, Putnam argues they benefited from excellent funding for school programming, neighbourhoods diversified in both race and class, and strong social capital networks that created a sense of responsibility for each other’s kids.

By contrast, he claims that today there is a concentration of disadvantage, particularly for poor kids, caused by removing funding from childhood educational programs, financial (not just racial) segregation, and the loss of community and community responsibility for youth.

Fewer paths available for Millennials compared to Boomers
This is not only a sad story about the most disadvantaged youth in America today. Rather the opportunity gap imposes on all of us real costs or what economists term opportunity costs. Putnam demonstrates that the annual cost of child poverty in the US economy is about $500 billion per year (4% of the GDP).

Ignoring this opportunity gap costs a substantial amount of money and it also impacts politics. Kids from richer families are more confident that they can influence government; poor kids, with few incentives and few success stories, are less likely to even try. This means that the needs of marginalized groups are not being addressed.

WHAT CAN WE DO? 

The response will not be quick or easy. It took a long time for the structures that supported Boomers to fall apart and it will take even longer to repair. One stepping stone we need is supportive institutions, both public and private, to better address the economic disparities that poorer youth face.

That’s where SafeGrowth emerges. Community development, local rebuilding and cohesive, networked neighborhoods can assist in addressing these disparities at the neighborhood level.

Millennials, sometimes called the Peter Pan generation,
may offer more, not less, for future SafeGrowth programming

The SafeGrowth method helps to recreate social cohesion that can address many of the missing public resources. It brings neighbors together to demand more for their community, to work to create a better community, and to help introduce at-risk youth to people who can help guide them and give them opportunities they may not otherwise obtain.

SafeGrowth neighborhoods create an action plan. That plan contains a neighborhood vision that embraces all levels of diversity, breaks down class segregation, and gives all kids a chance at contributing and participating in community life.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Spaces between buildings - Brisbane laneways

Unattractive laneways attract undesirable behaviors

by Mateja Mihinjac

Towards the end of the past Century, a gruesome downtown rape shocked Brisbane, Australia. The incident occurred at 9 am in a laneway surrounded by the pedestrian corridor of the busiest spot in Brisbane, the outdoor Queen Street Mall.

This horrific incident went unnoticed by the city workers rushing to their offices. The victim, a young woman, remained helpless in the shadows of the bland gray facades of the surrounding buildings.

FAST FORWARD 20 YEARS

Today numerous Brisbane laneways have undergone a remarkable visual transformation aiming to imitate similar successes in Melbourne and Sydney.

Burnett Lane is Brisbane’s oldest laneway with a dark history of a prison exercise yard during the early penal colony days.

Burnett Lane buildings feature its long history

It was the first to undergo rejuvenation. The 600-foot laneway now boasts creative lighting and artwork that characterize its cultural and historical identity. It has a few small restaurants, cafes and bars, the largest vinyl record store in the Southern Hemisphere and a wine bar with late evening hours.

Winn Lane and Baker Lane, situated in the middle of the night entertainment district, also offer a mix of diverse opportunities in one place. They host day and night cafes, eateries, service shops and small retail shops that attract Brisbane’s artisan community.


Eagle Lane cafes
Once a forgotten place surrounded by tall buildings, Eagle Lane now offers a bar and a café, street parties, artistic installations and live music with pop-up gigs in the evening hours. It has become a popular post-work venue for city workers in the financial district.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WON’T COME?

More than a dozen other laneways across Brisbane’s CBD have sprouted since the City’s Vibrant Laneways program was introduced in 2006, and more are pending. However, according to critics the program leaves much to be desired since laneway culture in the city has yet to truly flourish.

They suggest that the City’s domination of the Vibrant Laneways program resulted in mechanically built laneways that failed to evolve over time. Instead, as predicted by SafeGrowth theory, they recommend the laneways should grow organically as a product of the creative and entrepreneurial activities of locals whereby the city assumes a cooperative rather than the leading role.

Relaxed dining in Winn Lane 
Confirming this idea is that fact the laneways attracting most people in Brisbane are those able to capitalize on their creative and economic potential to develop imaginative places. Elements that promote their vitality include permeability, accessibility, the absence of vehicular traffic and a positive image.

Truly vibrant laneways convince people to stop and linger, which in turn activates the area and reduces the potential for undesirable activities like serious crime.

Combining cafes, dining, retail and services in Winn Lane

SAFE LANEWAYS

For laneways to be safe, they need to move away from what Woodhouse describes as “forgotten space within cities, trapped in the dark and quiet spaces” offering nothing more than pedestrian thoroughfare and service delivery access.

Instead, as Carmichael claims, with collaboration between business planners, interest groups, and local governments, these precious micro-spaces can facilitate social interaction, promote safety and evolve into assets and anchors for community life in the 21st Century.