Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tactical urbanism

Entry into the Market Street Prototyping Festival in San Francisco - photo by Greg Lindsay Next City
The latest tactical urbanism in San Francisco is called the Market Street Prototyping Festival. It symbolizes the 21st Century form of public engagement. Public engagement is a linchpin for success when it comes to placemaking, SafeGrowth and all sorts of good things urban. Safety and crime prevention too depend on it, at least if you believe in life beyond target hardening.

Tactical urbanism is the key.



Tactical urbanism, coined from the book with the same name, is what Portland  has been doing for ages during the Intersection Repair projects. It is a low-cost and learn-by-doing strategy reminiscent of so many social action strategies of the 60s except this time the result is physical changes within neighborhoods that avoid long planning processes.

San Francisco is the latest to try tactical urbanism by welcoming artists, urban designers and others to set up their innovations along Market Street. A few selections occupying the upper register of my cool-o-meter: Data Lanterns that glow brighter to announce arriving trains, metal walls that turn into a musical instrument on touch, and street seats made from compacted mushrooms for composting afterwards.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Stories from skid row in Los Angeles



The recent story of LAPD Sergeant Deon Joseph triggered a flashback this week. For 17 years Sergeant Joseph has worked in the skid row of Los Angeles, a cluster of streets with over 3,500 homeless in a city of over 50,000 homeless. The YouTube "Stories from skid row" says it all.

My flashback was to a conference years ago in Vancouver. I was in the audience listening to a well known journalist describe stories about policing. It was one of those ah-ha moments, at least for the audience.

First he told stories about his personal experiences about officers he knew or came across on the street. They were positive stories about how those officers were conscientious and diligent. People needed help and the police showed up to help. It was all very glowing.

Then he told stories about rotten apples and police misconduct. They were stories from headlines in  other parts of the city or from other cities. He had read those stories in the press and recounted them to us. His conclusion? There are two different sides of police work.

Duh.

THE REAL STORY?

I pointed out to him that every positive story he told came from his life experience but every negative story came from the press. He knew his personal stories were true. So wasn’t he concerned that the press stories might be incomplete or biased? Nope! He seemed oblivious, probably because my point was more about the quality of journalism than the quality of policing.

Screenshot from Stories from Skid Row
There are plenty of negative stories about police. The federal investigation this week concluded racism is a part of the Ferguson police story. Also this week there was a tragic police shootings of a homeless man in Los Angeles. There are plenty of bad stories.

Yet occasionally the opposite shows up like the YouTube above or the NPR radio show that shines light on the complexities in Skid Row. No doubt those positive stories are forgotten in the bad press of the day. But the remarkable account of Sergeant Joseph and all his partners' exceptional work on Skid Row is important. That too is part of the real story.

Friday, February 27, 2015

In the world of our grandchildren

Community gardens humanize neighborhood life and cut crime - photo by cherokee street news 
In the world of futurist writing, dystopia reigns. Writers populating that world hunt current data and extrapolate to foretell future catastrophe. In Laurence Smith’s The World in 2050 the Arctic melts. In Jared Diamond’s Collapse we trigger our demise by ignoring the collapsing environment. In Gwynne Dyer’s Future Tense we are sowing the seeds of World War 3.

The problem is that the real future obliges the dystopians no more than the utopians. Remember the 1962 book (and later film) A Clockwork Orange about a hyper-violent future? In the 1960s our crime rate went ballistic and Clockwork seemed likely. Yet today crime rates plummet and, contrary to loud and ludicrous media pundits, urban violence is at an all-time low.


THE ZERO MARGINAL MESSAGE

The truth is data can predict only human patterns, not human potential. Nor can data predict our drive to survive collapse events. Predicting such things takes foresight, logic and optimism. Enter Jeremy Rifkin’s audacious book The Zero Marginal Cost Society and his story of a new kind of future.



An internationally renown economist and advisor to governments worldwide, Jeremy Rifkin is no stranger to global trends or deep thinking. His book is a tough slog in economic history, but well worth the effort if you want to know why economic systems unfold as they do. Agrarianism, Socialism, Communism and Capitalism - Rifkin dissects the Big Four and in the process rankles both far left and far right.

That alone is reason to read the book!

The trouble with those systems, says Rifkin, is they worked only for a time. Now they are mostly dead. And capitalism, outed by the Great Recession and the looming debt crash, is also obsolete. In its place emerges the Collaborative Commons.


COLLABORATIVE COMMONS

"The Collaborative Commons is ascendant and by 2050 it will likely settle in as the primary arbiter of economic life in most of the world. We are already witnessing the emergence of a hybrid economy…" (Rifkin, page 1)

The Collaborative Commons shows up in Zip Cars, children’s toy exchanges like Baby Plays, 3-D printing, MOOCS and crowdfunding, all early inventions of the new economic system.

Another is the L3C social enterprise corporation, a corporate model unimagined by capitalist theory. Not quite profit and not quite charity, the L3C uses marginal profits for maximum social goals - exactly the kind of thing predicted in Collaborative Commons (SIDE NOTE - I helped co-create a social enterprise for vetting private security companies who contract for public safety).

Jeremy Rifkin - photo psfk (pluz aziz)
Collaborative Commons show up everywhere. Nextdoor.com helps us solve everyday problems by connecting us with neighbors in a real (not virtual) place. Criminology’s most promising prevention theory - collective efficacy - is Collaborative Commons incarnate. Sampson’s book Great American City demonstrates that collaborative, altruistic behavior drives most successful and lower crime neighborhoods, exactly what SafeGrowth predicts.

Zero Marginal Cost is not utopian. It admits, for a time, prolific consumption will continue. Capitalism will survive in a niche to drive innovative technology. Yet its days of dominance, says Rifkin, are numbered. And every time we see the dynamism (and low crime) in community gardens, farmer’s markets, co-housing projects, food cooperatives, and micro-finance, we are reminded that collaboration has long been wired into our civic DNA.




Friday, February 20, 2015

Struggle to find the future

Berlin Wall 1984. The worst kind of access control in a different world - photo by spurlos

In 1989 an East German official made a public announcement that changed history!

He announced that citizens of the East German communist republic could visit the west unverzuglich. Until then East German citizens, like millions of others in Soviet countries, were hostages behind the Berlin Wall, that icon of the Iron Curtain dividing the world for decades.

The government had intended a program of liberalization and slow controlled visits. An East German radio correspondent asked "what exactly does unverzuglich mean in this context?" The official mistakenly said "it means straightaway".

Mayhem!

Citizens everywhere, and border guards, heard those words and within 15 minutes thousands of East Berliners were crossing unencumbered into the west. A half-century of isolation ended in a word. Fifteen minutes earlier they would have been shot!

Within a year the Iron Curtain was gone! Soon, so was the Soviet Union. No one anywhere predicted that. Not political scientists and certainly not intelligence services on either side. The world changed in an instant and no one knew where it would go.

Now we have globalization, escalating policing costs, Ferguson, police militarization, the decline of crime, and climate change. Berlin Walls are everywhere.

Today I finished reading a remarkable book that portrays a future worth building. It is Jeremy Rifkin's The Zero Marginal Cost Society.

Next blog: Part 2 - The Zero Marginal message.

Rifkin's message portrays an unexpected future





Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Great Crime Decline - A farewell to arms

Barcelona, Spain uses interior courtyards to civilize street life - photo Aldis Kurvaitis

News of armed regional conflicts around the world distorts the truth of local crime. That truth? Crime in developed countries continues a long plunge into lowly rates unknown for decades.

As Vanessa Barker notes in her research, criminology has no idea why.  Frank Zimring’s book on the The Great American Crime Decline does say why criminologists can't figure it out:

“The knowledge gap in current social science understanding comes almost equally from the unavoidable weakness of a non-experimental discipline and from avoidable provincialism and ideological blinders.”

Yikes.

With few workable theories on why crime plummets, public policy wanders

Crime plummets in places where police are underfunded, like the UK, and in places where police enjoy copious salaries, like Toronto.

Crime plummets before, during and after the Great Recession (kind of puts the lie to the idea that economic downturns trigger it or abundant times stop it). It plummets with or without mass incarceration, like the US versus Canada.

It plummets where security is abundant (vehicle immobilizers, gated communities) and also where security is scarce, like my own city where lighting is poor, gates are rare and burglar alarms a luxury.

THE MEDIA WEIGHS IN

The Economist Magazine says the reason crime plummets is that today’s crime-prone cohort, young males between 18- 34, are more civilized:

"Young people are increasingly sober and well behaved. They are more likely to live with their parents and to be in higher education."

Really? Well, in Better Angels of Our Nature psychologist Steven Pinker does suggest something similar he calls the civilizing effect.

The Toronto Star quotes government statisticians who stir new police practices, reduced alcohol consumption and inflation into their causation broth in a frantic search for an answer. Ultimately they have no idea.

In Portland neighbors redesign their intersections to build cohesion - photo Greg Raisman 
THE SOCIAL COHESION EFFECT

Through it all, two social cohesion ingredients persist:

  1. We are aging. Young males commit most crime, what criminologists call the age-crime curve. As their numbers decline so too does crime. Complex statistical models on demographics and crime  don’t show it. But complex statistical models rarely prove anything in social science. No biggie.
  2. Inner city neighborhood revitalization. Not everywhere, of course (Detroit). Yet enough cities around the world from Bogota to Boston have revitalized their inner city neighborhoods to make a difference, especially regarding housing.
The truth is crime has always concentrated in inner-city neighborhoods. It stands to reason improvements in the inner city - better housing, improved infrastructure - magnify the power that neighbors have to control problems through social ties, watching over each other and so forth (the social side of defensible space that Oscar Newman wrote about).

Then add aging demographics together with the civilizing effect and neighborhood redevelopment and you have a workable recipe, a one-two-three punch in prevention practice.

The social cohesion effect is good news in the 21st Century city, especially considering the persistent plague of urban homelessness, gangs and drugs. It’s especially positive for SafeGrowth practitioners and those who practice targeted community development such as LISC. It points the way forward.



Tuesday, February 3, 2015

SafeGrowth by pre-teens? Really?

Bus station murals in Auckland, New Zealand  - all photos by Fleur Knight

GUEST BLOG: Fleur Knight is a member of the International CPTED Association and is trained in SafeGrowth. She is a teacher at Murrays Bay School, Auckland, New Zealand where her role involves making learning as real as possible for students. Here she describes a project with teachers to integrate CPTED and Safe Growth into the teaching of 9-10 year olds for which she is gaining national attention.
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The social sciences strand of the New Zealand school curriculum states that students are expected to explore how societies work so they themselves can participate and take action as critical, informed and responsible citizens.

While this was the stated goal of the policy, I experienced a deep frustration after teaching activity-based social science that resulted in no external change to neighbourhoods or internal values changes to students.

Pre-teens organize murals. Artist demonstrates skills.
How can we expect them to participate and take action as members of future neighbourhoods if they are not taught, and do not experience, how they can achieve these lofty aims in real life? Obviously there is a need to involve our youth in positive relationships with neighbourhoods.

In June 2014, following SafeGrowth training in Christchurch, I took the learning of students to a new level that involved them not only applying CPTED but implementing SafeGrowth and community development directly with residents to improve a local bus station.

Over the past months I worked with a teacher and students and carried out a Safety Audit of Sunnynook Bus Station using safety maps. We identified issues with access control and signage. Those later became recommendations for improvement including more Braille for the sight impaired and artworks to humanize the station.

Humanizing bus stations through colourful art
Students conducted surveys, CPTED reviews, and interviewed residents about the bus station. Interestingly the artworks idea had traction. Most people indicated they wanted some murals at the station to help make it more inviting and welcoming. A number of residents even indicated they would participate but they didn’t think they had painting skills.

To start the community-building process the students contacted Auckland Transport and a local community centre for help. They also solicited the help of local artists, including student artists at the school, to provide painting skills.

Using data collated from the community they developed artwork that represents changes in Sunnynook from the early 1900s to present day. They then organized a Painting In The Car Park day to activate the community, implement the mural painting and illustrate how SafeGrowth works in action.

The results were dramatic both for the community and the students! Over 30 people turned out to paint murals and transform the bus stop. Seeing the impact, the Auckland Council is now considering replicating this model in other bus stations in the city. Most importantly I learned that integrating real life SafeGrowth projects into teaching curricula is a much more effective way to teach youth how to be critical, informed and responsible citizens.

Students interview residents for project research




Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Police Corps futures - a chance missed

A quiet Italian dinner at Thats-a-some Italian ristorante
Aged wine barrels for decor and fresh linguini smells embrace patrons in an ambience that anticipates a great meal in a quaint Italian restaurant, this one nestled beside a bay in Puget Sound.

What I didn't expect was the polished glass plaque about John Kennedy Jr. mounted innocuously beside the table and buffed for clarity both optical and sentimental. He and his wife Caroline, apparently, sat at this very table long ago no doubt enjoying the same ambience.

For me it was an irony. Over a decade ago I arrived in the United States, drawn by an idea hatched in the heady days of Kennedy’s Camelot, maybe even while toddler John Jr. hid under his father's desk in the Oval Office.

Memories from another time
I heard of the National Police Corps program for the first time in 1997. They needed an associate director for their program at Florida State University. It was a chance to modernize the stale world of academy training. It was a chance to educate cops in more advanced, community-based methods (like POP and CPTED) and fund their university education at the same time. It was a dream come true! I moved to Florida.

A NEW KIND OF ACADEMY 

Instigator of the Police Corps program was Adam Walinsky, former aid to Robert F. Kennedy. The goal: Create an intense liberal arts degree hinging on civil rights, critical thinking, and social justice. A year after we started, our Florida team designed just that. Then we added rigorous, hands-on academy curricula with an advanced educational method called problem-based learning. It was a leading-edge and integrated curricula unmatched in academies even today!

Unfortunately the program was later starved to death by underfunding. Two steps forward, three steps back. An opinion piece in Time Magazine recently said something similar.

Fortunately lessons did survive. The seed for problem-based learning in American law enforcement grew out of that era. The Police Society for Problem Based Learning proves the persistence of a good idea.

As I read of the latest federal task force to tackle police shootings I wonder; What if there had been some way to overcome the implementation obstacles and funding hurdles of the early Police Corps? What would policing look like today?