Friday, September 29, 2017

Pumptracks and pro-social potentials

by Mateja Mihinjac

On this blog, we’ve written about the importance of giving youth a voice and engaging them in public life. When they can participate, or even drive, the development of services for their use, they feel especially empowered.


I like to explore hidden potentials in cities and one recent discovery in my hometown emerged as I enjoyed an autumn walk. It was a "Pumptrack", a continuous loop track intended for cyclists and skateboarders. Even more exciting for me was recognizing that track was situated adjacent to public housing thus providing youth with opportunities for prosocial activities, in this case, a recreational service.

Pumptracks are continuous loop tracks for bikes and boarders

The American National Recreation and Park Association stress that parks and recreation represent essential public services.

Apart from economic value, health and environmental benefits, the Association recognized that access to such infrastructure reduces crime and juvenile delinquency. From criminology, we also know that providing recreational and healthy activities for youth builds resilience and provides a protective factor against delinquency.

Siting the track adjacent to public housing ensures usage


When communities invest in their assets to assist with the development of youth and their potential, they communicate to young people that they care for them. Reciprocally, the youth develop an attachment to the community and contribute to its wellbeing. Thus, according to one report, “youth are valuable resources to invest in and not problems to be solved”.

Recreational infrastructures in cities are not extras! They offer an ideal platform for engaging and developing youth. Any future vision of the city must include them.

Integrating Pumptracks into urban park infrastructure

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Providence - breathing life into a bus stop

Trinity Square neighborhood, Providence, R.I. - photo Google Earth 
by Gregory Saville

Providence, Rhode Island, an hour drive from Boston, is among the oldest cities in the U.S. and one of the first to industrialize. Today it confronts post-industrial poverty and associated crime. Yet it retains a lively cultural life and, with considerable urban reinvestment and 5 colleges and universities, it is working to breathe new life into ethnically diverse neighborhoods.

Residents from Providence participated in the recent Chicago SafeGrowth training to learn concepts from 1st and 2nd Generation CPTED and apply them to a small-scale trouble spot. By mastering the concepts at one location they can more easily apply them to others. They chose Trinity Square, an area that suffered 15 violence crimes, 10 property-related crimes, and over 200 police calls for service in the 6 months leading up to the class.

Google Streetview of the Trinity Square bus stop prior to the SafeGrowth project - screenshot Google Earth


As the Providence SafeGrowth team describe in their report “most of the activity on that site is negative in nature and works against the progress of positive growth with high levels of drug activity, panhandling, homelessness, and abandoned property.”

Providence SafeGrowth team launches first Game Off at the cleaned bus stop
The team knew their first step was to work with local stakeholders and break down fear of crime and activate spaces with a series of organized activities. They started getting locals involved in positive social events. They chose a Trinity Square bus stop to install some board games and then launch a promotional program for regularly scheduled events.

Providence police are partners on the SafeGrowth team
Last week, on the inauspicious date of 9/11, the team ran their first weekly Game Off event, with residents from around the area. It was a smashing success as shown in the photos.

They plan to run this regularly. They are committed to establishing a more positive environment at this location and re-establishing the Trinity Square area as a neighborhood asset.

Congratulations to the Providence SafeGrowth team.

Friendly competition in Trinity Square's first Game Off event

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tackling the opioid crisis - Safe Injection Sites

Each year 30,000 people in the U.S. die from overdoses
By Tarah Hodgkinson

Safe injection sites have been a point of contention for several years around the world. Some claim drug use is a public health concern needing harm reduction strategies, while others claim drug use is immoral and should remain criminalized.

Over the last few months, I have spoken to public safety organizations and police across Canada. These organizations cover everything from domestic violence to traffic safety, but the topic persistently arising remains illicit drug overdoses. For example, British Columbia recently announced a health crisis resulting from increases in overdose deaths, a situation experts believe results from lacing heroin or meth with intense potency additives like fentanyl.


Thousands die each year from these overdose deaths, almost 30,000 in the U.S. alone, and the numbers are getting worse. While illicit drug use is not new, public response to it seems to be changing. Communities are shifting away from punishment and looking towards harm reduction techniques.

In Canada, none is more famous than Insite, North America’s first supervised, and legally protected, injection location where clients are given clean needles to use in a safe environment. Furthermore, they are given access to a myriad of health services such as nurses and substance abuse counselors.

In spite of a raft of political attacks by anti-drug organizations, and claims of imperfect science, the overwhelming preponderance of research results to date on the Vancouver drug injection site are positive. This includes a comprehensive 2011 study in the prestigious UK medical journal, The Lancet.


Other harm reduction models are also emerging across the country. In Ottawa, a managed alcohol program helps chronically homeless and alcoholic individuals seek stability and avoid binge drinking. Harm reduction is an important community-building step to address drug overdoses in Canada.

However, community-building also means better investment in prevention and drug use alternatives. There is still very little investment in long term solutions such as detox and recovery services, job opportunities, community supports and wrap-around models – all demonstrated to have a significant impact.

Hundreds of drug addicts shoot up at, and around, this rail line in Philadelphia
A well-known example is Portugal. Over 15 years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. Since doing so, drug use has declined and overdoses have plummeted. Portugal invested in health care, job creation and other social supports. These alternatives had a dramatic impact on drug-seeking behaviour.

The claim that there are not enough resources for this kind of harm reduction investment collapses when faced with contrary logic or evidence. The fact is it is far more expensive for the criminal justice system to tackle drug crime. Community reinvestment - the basic premise of SafeGrowth - is well worth the effort in dollars and lives.