Saturday, November 28, 2015

Watch out for the bears - words from a Mountie

A CPTED town with nature next door. Monkman Provincial Park near
Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia- photo Peace River District

“You know your CPTED designs work when bears use the walkways.”

Mike Clark, an old friend and retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police Staff Sergeant, spoke those words with a smirk and a twinkle in his eye when he began his CPTED lectures. No one knew what he meant because no one knew the wit of the storyteller.

Some may remember my blog about Tumbler Ridge, the world’s first CPTED town built in northern British Columbia. When planners and architects crafted plans for this new town in the mountains they visited Canada’s first CPTED course in Vancouver in 1982.

Former RCMP Fairmont Academy (now closed). Site of Canada's first CPTED courses.
- photo Creative BC
Police students and instructors on that course helped redesign the land uses and pedestrian walkways using CPTED. To my knowledge, CPTED had never before been implemented into an entire town at such an early stage with such depth.

Mike Clark was a student in that initial class. Eventually Mike was promoted and his first posting was commander of the detachment in that very same Tumbler Ridge, the town that he helped design. How many CPTED practitioners get to live in a town they themselves helped plan? Another first.

I met Mike years later when I ran that CPTED course and Mike became one of our best trainers. He often began his lectures about the success of CPTED in Tumbler Ridge with that bear story.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in British Columbia
were early CPTED adopters
He would tell us that, not only did residents frequent those well-designed walkways (thereby deterring burglars), but so too did local bears. While residents met in the safety of groups to socialize and walk, burglars worked alone. What happens when a lone burglar meets a bear while searching for a burglary target?

Unsurprisingly, Tumbler Ridge had low burglary rates, an irony not lost on my jocular friend.

Mike died a few weeks ago. Over the years I have written about well-known architects and criminologists, but none had the authentic, real-life spirit and pioneering CPTED experience of Mike Clark.

I am sad there will be no more CPTED bear stories from our affable Mountie Sergeant from Tumbler Ridge. Goodbye Mike - Maintiens le Droit.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Tactical Urbanism in Cairo

Cairo's locally constructed, do-it-yourself highway ramps - photo Next City magazine
GUEST BLOG: I met Angela LaScala-Gruenewald during work in New York City and she later attended our Philadelphia SafeGrowth training. Angela is a recent college graduate with research currently focussing on criminal justice initiatives and public safety. She offered this blog on tactical urbanism in Cairo, Egypt.   


The image above depicts what appears to be a strategic piling of dirt and trash; it serves multiple purposes -- an informal structure, a small seed of resistance, a necessary public good.

I first learned about this Do-It-Yourself highway exit ramp while taking a class at the University of Chicago. A teacher’s assistant flashed this photograph on the lecture hall wall and launched into a discussion on the control of space in Arab urban centers, and the tension between private and public, formal and informal, recognized and subversive movements – all motivators of the endless conflicts in the Middle East.

Take for example the use and transformation of public squares, from Tahrir Square to Yemen’s Freedom Square on the doorstep of Sana’a University. While there is nothing new about protesting in squares and fighting for control of space during periods of political change and popular uprisings, the significance of the transformation and importance of these spaces still hold.

Traffic chaos in Egypt's largest city - photo World Wallpaper
The highway exit ramp in the peripheries of Cairo plays a role in this narrative as much as the large downtown plazas. While thousands of protestors fought for control of Tahrir Square, smaller transformations took place across the city through growing informal construction projects in these peripheries and informal areas known as ashwa’iyyat (slums).


The ashwa’iyyat contain over 60% of Cairo’s population, but are largely ignored by Egypt’s government and denied access to public goods, such as highway exit ramps.The Cairo highway ramps served as examples of innovative urban design, part of the Do-It-Yourself movement, but less couched in the concept of the political.

Meshing these two perspectives together highlights the importance of informal transformations of public space, especially in communities fighting for access in the face of a negligent regime. The highway exit ramp in Cairo’s ashwa’iyyat brings the two together. It is a quiet protest simultaneously delivering a necessary public good. It is political and it is practical. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Century of the Neighborhood

Taking a break from deliberations at the 2015 SafeGrowth Summit
Engaged citizens from around the world
Four months ago I posted about President Obama’s eulogy following a racial massacre in South Carolina.

This morning we heard news of another massacre, this by terrorists in Paris. In today’s global village a tragedy for one is a tragedy for all. From that view, these are times of storms.

“When you come out of the storm,” said novelist Murakami, “you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”


Last week a small group of SafeGrowth advocates and some likeminded friends from around the world mapped a new way out of these storms in the first-ever SafeGrowth Summit.

One of the SafeGrowth work teams - two day of visioning the future
We met encircled by Canada’s Rocky Mountains in Canmore, Alberta. Hailing from different countries and cities small and large, participants included residents, artists, planners, police officers,  architects, criminologist, activists, but mostly active and engaged citizens.

Our task? Search for practical paths that build community resilience and lead away from crime and violence.

Four diverse teams found their own ideal visions. One crafted neighborhood hubs, a 21st Century shared public gathering space far beyond today’s community center. Another began building a tailored style of hands-on curricula to educate a new generation of neighborhood leaders.

Each team resonated with the idea that it is within the geography of the neighborhood where solutions arise.

Local graffiti artists running their first-ever art show for Summit participants
Following the Summit participants shared their ideas with residents of the 12 CSI Neighbourhoods at a social event on Calgary’s International Avenue, an event punctuated by the inspiring art show of local graffiti artists and music from a youth quartet from Calgary's Multiculural Orchestra.

We are writing Summit results to publish a book in the spring. For now teamwork continues; it continues to frame a way out of the storms of violence, crime and intolerance facing us in the years ahead. And it continues to verify, once and for all, the 21st Century belongs to the neighborhood.

Last day performance by a youth quartet from the Calgary Multicultural Orchestra 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Nightmare on Elm Street - CPTED and displacement

Halloween front yard spookiness - harmless fun in the neighborhood
Tonight is Halloween - that ancient Celtic harvest festival where children turn into goblins and threaten mere mortals with tricks or treats. Not really the stuff of serious nightmares, more the frivolities of fun.

Last week the International CPTED Association ran another successful conference with exceptional speakers from around the world. Presentations are online at the ICA website.

Saskatoon planner Elisabeth Miller, criminologist Tarah Hodgkinson and myself delivered our research on something that represents a real nightmare for 1st Generation CPTED practitioners – the return of displacement.


Displacement is an old enemy of 1st Generation CPTED. Moving crime from one  place to another violates ethical practice and the promise every crime prevention practitioner should make to do no harm.

Over the years a body of mainstream research has grown up around the idea that displacement isn’t inevitable and that crime levels are cut through displacement.

Research by Catherine Phillips at the Nottingham Trent University questions the orthodox view.

This year Elisabeth, Tarah and myself were able to test this for real. We examined a well-known disorder hotspot at a fast food restaurant in downtown Saskatoon. We were able to track disorder in years before and after the restaurant was demolished.

This is where a real-life nightmare begins.

Spiders target opportunities where-ever they arise - Offenders do the same

The mapping results suggested displacement to a nearby homeless shelter. Street interviews confirmed many of the same offenders moved there. But then results got scary.

While calls for police service declined throughout the area, this particular displacement did not seem to reduce calls nor create benefits. Instead it appears to have triggered an eruption. The homeless shelter calls increased nine-fold!

If our further research bears this out, displacement research will need a re-think because our findings suggest something very scary. Not the frivolities of Halloween fun but the stuff of serious nightmares.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The carless city

Oslo, Norway - a future downtown with no cars
It felt strange looking at a faded, black and white wall photo of a downtown street from 1900. No expressways. No cars. Only horses, buggies and Victorian dressed pedestrians. The Model T Ford was eight years away.

I wonder if those pedestrians had the foggiest notion of the transport tsunami that would befall their children a few decades forward?

Expressways and cars changed everything. Horses and buggies vanished. Expressways depleted cities of the middle class and led to deserted high crime downtowns. They triggered sprawl and, along with vanishing streetcar lines, the decline of urban villages. In return cars offered individual freedom to roam and opportunity to escape congestion and crime in congested downtowns.


Last week another mobility tsunami emerged - car free cities! Norway announced that the central area of the capital city Oslo will be car-free in 4 years. The Oslo council plans to permanently ban vehicles from their central city.

It’s hard to argue the plan isn't futuristic. SafeGrowth blogs in the past describe similar visions, a theoretical design called The Venus Project and an urban experiment called Masdar City, currently under construction.

Oslo, however, is the first existing major city with over a half million residents to attempt it for real. It is unclear how 60 kilometers of new bike lanes will help residents navigate Oslo’s -5C, snowy winters. Horse buggies perhaps? Yet their plan to create a carless city heralds a truly visionary future.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lights on, lights off

Front entrance to a Boulder neighborhood high school
Boulder, Colorado is a small and dynamic city at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains north of Denver. It is walkable, interesting, and generally safe for most residents.

Sauntering through a neighborhood one evening last week I photographed the high school pictured in these photos. High pressure sodium, it seems, is the lighting of choice. I have written about the visual appeal of sodium lights when bounced off brick walls. While lighting at this school was uneven with blind spots, it did allow nearby residents and strollers to view the school. The warm color was attractive for evening walkers.

This lights-on approach is popular in many schools.

Brick color shows well with sodium lighting, but uneven spread increases blind spots
One Handbook for School Safety and Security describes how schools should light up the entire school perimeter at night with enough illumination to detect movement at 100 yards.

Cringing at that, the Dark Sky Society argues for lights-off citing how some schools reduce crime at schools by turning lights out.

Lights-off also shows up in a booklet on CPTED Fundamentals for Schools by CPTED expert Tod Schneider. Tod writes:
Sometimes good lighting attracts misbehavior, while darkness drives people away. Many schools have gone to darkened campuses for this reason. School resource officers have found that good lighting made schools ideal hangouts after hours, while darkness discouraged kids from congregating

To light or not to light?
Lights-off is supported by at least one rigorous study, the Chicago Alley Lighting Project. That study uncovered an increase in crime after installation of lights. But the authors admit that may have masked the real results – better lighting means more residents can see, and report, more crime.

Ultimately, lights-on or lights-off depends on neighborhood context because the by-stander effect may make all the difference. Some neighborhoods are just not that connected to their schools and residents are unlikely to walk by, or look at, a well lit school.

Though I wonder, isn't that less about lighting and more about neighborhood culture?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Uncovering the Great Murder Mystery

The Big Combo - a 1950s film noir murder mystery
Photo John Alton, BigComboTrailer, Allied Artists 
In 2010 Vanessa Barker published an intriguing study just released on the internet: Explaining the Great American Crime Decline.

I love this study.

Barker reviews three studies on the crime decline: Frank Zimring’s The Great American Crime Decline, a report by Goldberger and Rosenfield and a book by Wallman and Blumstein, The Crime Drop in America.

You might think the crime decline topic is old turf with explanatory paths we’ve walked many times: less street cocaine, bigger and fuller prisons, tougher policing, smarter policing, legal abortions.

Alas, says Barker, none of those standard stories emerge from the research intact.


Barker moves away from standard stories onto Insights from Urban Sociology. Crime theorists will recognize references to collective efficacy and neighborhood structure. For those unfamiliar with crime theory, SafeGrowth is a megamenu of these same insights. Probably why I love the study...duh!

The changing structure of downtowns and changing youth culture falls squarely into these insights. Such changes help build more cohesive neighborhoods, not in places like Ferguson but in enough places to make a difference.

These insights include social and environmental factors this blog has held front and center, like business associations, non-profits, schools, social services, cultural activities, transport systems, and housing. They include examples of collaborative commons and social cohesion.

More prisons do not explain the crime declines

That’s when Barker drops the bomb! When she re-examined urban ecology studies on immigration she discovered how increasing immigration has helped reduce crime, not increase it!

“Sampson…suggests that increased immigration in the 1990s sparked urban renewal and economic growth in immigrant-dense neighborhoods like Queens and Bushwick in New York, the West Side in Chicago, South Central Los Angeles, and cities like Miami. The influx of immigrants corresponded with increases in income and decreases in poverty.”


I’d love to see that debate in elections now underway in Canada, and next year in the U.S. Sadly what we get instead is hollow sound-bite nuggets from a bunch of nattering numpties.

Case in point: Last week the NDP party in Canada proposed to hire 2,500 more cops. They want to cut crime on Canadian streets…streets where most crime is still declining!

Pockets of Crime expands urban ecology theory -
collective action by residents can turn the tide,
but only when physical conditions are right


Sadly the standard stories persist, lately in the theory that crime declines resulted from increased security worldwide (in technical terms, guardianship). And we are served up a buffet of advanced statistical techniques that hit and peck at data in shiny, new datasets.

It’s a kind of infinite monkey theorem for big crime data. Remember the theory that predicted the monkey who hits and pecks keyboard keys for infinity will almost surely end up creating Hamlet.

I say leave the monkey alone! Barker and colleagues are onto something, something we’ve known for a long time.