Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The writing on the wall

Graffiti or Art? A replica of Picasso's masterpiece Guernica has hung at the U.N. 
Anna Brassard is a Canadian urban planner and consultant specializing in SafeGrowth and urban design. Her consulting firm Brassard and Associates is based in Calgary. She kindly submitted this Guest Blog about her son.

I got the call about my son that no parent wants to get – especially a parent who has spent the greater part of her career practicing SafeGrowth. I was scared for him and furious with him at the same time.

My son is an artist. He is incredibly talented...and he loves graffiti art. We’ve had many heated discussions about what is wrong and right with graffiti.

Graffiti art can be stylish, modern and fun
To him it is creativity, self-expression and a way to be recognized by his peers – important to the young adolescent. To me it is vandalism and contributes to blight in communities. He complains that there are no legitimate places for he and his friends to paint; that there are no “free walls” in Calgary.

I understand his frustration!

The work that he and friends do is incredible. Other cities have embraced graffiti and use it to enhance their communities. Calgary is not one of those places. They do have programs to wrap utility boxes and paint underpasses but these are not easily accessible.

Graffiti takes many forms
I should have seen the writing on the wall. He got caught!

This was a blessing in disguise. He entered a restorative justice program called Up The Wall offered by the Calgary Boys and Girls Club, City of Calgary Culture and the Calgary Police Service. He has spent 4 hours, twice a week for the past 3 months in this program and he has loved it.


I attended the art show on the final day of the program and it was outstanding! Art work done over the weeks on display: painted walls, painted shirts and most of all faces beaming with pride as parents, friends, mentors and organizers admired their work.

Art on display on graduation day
Embracing graffiti culture isn’t about legitimizing vandalism or giving them free reign. It boils down to the age-old problem of one generation’s respect for another. In this case it is about the respect for public and private property versus respect for artistic expression and its place in society.

I learned from my son this can’t be a one-sided conversation. It will take all of us to find solutions and create a multi-coloured picture of our city, not one in black and white.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Criminology's Nobel Prize 2015

The 2015 Stockholm Prize in Criminology - criminology equivalent of the Nobel Prize 
Imagine this:

...a large, white passenger van driven by an off-duty cop filled with some top criminologists recently arrived at the Toronto International airport. Destination? A conference retreat centre bathed in amber tinged autumn leaves on a lake in northern Ontario. Purpose? Gather world-renown criminologists, skilled practitioners and engaged community members in a unique search conference to explore new paths for crime prevention and environmental criminology.

It was 1988 and I was the driver. The conference was the final project in my master’s degree. My passengers included Ronald V. Clarke, dean of criminology at Rutgers University and Patricia Mayhew from the UK Home Office. Was I intimidated?


This month Mayhew and Clarke won the 2015 Stockholm Prize in Criminology for their work creating situational crime prevention. Roughly equivalent to the Nobel Prize, the Stockholm Prize is the most prestigious criminology award in the world.

Grounds of retreat center north of Toronto - 1988 Conference in Research Futures in Environmental Criminology

The drive north in 1988 was the first time I had met Clarke and Mayhew (and most of the other scholars) and I was anxious to make a good impression. Even then they were giants in the field.

At one point I dropped them off briefly at what I thought was a regular restaurant to pick up more arrivals. On return I discovered, to my horror, my precious cargo was being lambasted by a hard rock band of the heavy metal variety bashing away on cymbals and electric guitars.

“You know,” said Clarke, barely audible with the roaring din behind us, “they are really quite good.” He added with a genuine smile, “This is some excellent rock!” Academic prestige, I learned, does not require malignant egos.

Mayhew and Clarke's open hearted and non-pretentious manner helped make the conference a success (later published as Crime Problems, Community Solutions). They were truly exceptional people.

Ronald V. Clarke, co-winner of 2015 Stockholm Prize with Patricia Mayhew (photo not available)


While Mayhew went on to co-develop the U.N. International Crime Victimization Survey I came to know Ronald Clarke professionally. Years later I presented him with the International CPTED Association's lifetime achievement award. We served as judges together on the Problem Oriented Policing Award Program. From Ronald Clarke I learned how a classy scholar does robust scholarship.

By pioneering situational crime prevention Mayhew and Clarke helped legitimize CPTED arguments at a time when, as Clarke writes, C. Ray Jeffery’s CPTED and Oscar Newman’s Defensible Space “were both given short shrift by criminological reviewers.”

Their Stockholm Prize is well deserved. Congratulations to them both.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Take me to your leader

A few weeks ago a police chief went ballistic online (it's now viral) and in a moment of anger told some harsh truths.

It has been a grueling few months for public safety. From controversial police shootings, protests, and riots to the bombastic vitriol of talking heads on mainstream media, saturated in opinion, starved in knowledge, devoid of balance.

Then I received news of struggles by some SafeGrowth practitioners under attack from bureaucrats and politicians in a few different cities.

For some of them political currents wane and crime slips from the Mayor's agenda. For others austerity budgeting undermines SafeGrowth as finances are redirected, typically to programs less effective and evidence-barren.


Truth is when leaders lose focus it is easier for them to revive comforting myths  from yesteryear - more cops, more technology, more CCTV, more generic social programs...whatever! These are myths with which they easily identify, myths their populations want to believe.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn staying on point - an interview gone viral
Anyway back to the chief, his moment and a video gone viral!

Disclaimer: I know and respect this Police Chief. Ed Flynn is Chief in Milwaukee, a police agency that supports SafeGrowth and, thanks to some help with our friends at LISC and some great beat cops, it's a city where SafeGrowth has been successfully applied to tackle neighborhood crime. 

Sometimes it takes leadership gumption and foresight to stick with what works, even if it's unpopular and doesn't grab quick headlines. Where are the leaders with that gumption, that foresight?

When this video appeared I had my answer.

In my view Chief Flynn speaks for everyone committed to, and working in, public safety everywhere. Note to self - So this is what passionate leadership looks like!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Exciting times in Middle Earth

Gollum greets visitors at Wellington, New Zealand airport - photo Mateja Mihinjac
Arriving in Middle Earth you might expect Frodo Baggins, not surprising if you land at Wellington airport where a monstrous Gollum sculpture reaches for a salmon instead of the One Ring. Tourism promoters here are on a roll.

New Zealand is a lyrical land with people not quite Elven and certainly not Orc, yet totally marvelous. No wonder the Lord of the Rings was filmed in this beautiful country. And there is reason for jubilation beyond tourism, this time from SafeGrowth innovations in Christchurch.

Reopening the trolly line in downtown Christchurch - photo by Nathan
Following the devastating 2011 earthquakes, Christchurch adopted a forward-thinking redevelopment plan. Central to the plan was a belief that “good urban design creates attractive, safe and functional environments” and “careful design…can help make places less susceptible to crime”. How true! My favorite was their commitment to neighborhoods as the best way to organize development - exactly the philosophy of SafeGrowth. 

Then, amid the massive rebuilding efforts, CPTED expertise arose in the form of a Crime Prevention Team led by Sue Ramsay. In harmony with the redevelopment plan, Sue launched SafeGrowth programming. I reported some early work last year in a blog post.

The SafeGrowth work in Christchurch has been exceptional. Two neighborhoods – West Riccarton and Phillipstown - now have multiple projects underway.

Phillipstown community centre - police and citizens together in SafeGrowth teams


One team created a model asset map. Another, the Paeora Reserve team, found funding to install solar tables and couches to activate a public park. In Phillipstown, SafeGrowth followed a neighborhood policing team who conducted successful problem-oriented policing to cut crime (winning a national award for policing excellence). That cleared the way for SafeGrowth strategies to build cohesion and establish sustainable community development so problems don’t return. Now the team is cracking negative stereotypes of their neighborhood.

In West Riccarton the Harrington Park team concluded; “Most of the recommendations can be owned by the people of the neighbourhood who can then develop their utilisation of the park easily and without major financial input.” 

That's the difference between a resident and a responsible citizen!

West Riccarton team members planning improvements to a local park

This is impressive work! Christchurch seems to have learned an essential lesson – that the hackneyed phrase community development has little meaning without legs. It cannot materialize without a coherent planning method like SafeGrowth. Without that, it is filled with fail.

More importantly, community development cannot really happen without attention to safety and perceptions of safety. The SafeGrowth efforts in Christchurch reveal a city rising from the ashes of a tragic earthquake! These are exciting times in Middle Earth!
Community members and police collaborating on walkway safety

Monday, November 17, 2014

Yarn bombing as placemaking - Adventure in Adelaide

Mall's Balls - popular meeting place in Adelaide's Rundle Mall

GUEST BLOG – Mateja Mihinjac is a criminologist at Griffith University, Australia completing her doctoral research on CPTED implementation. She is a member of the International CPTED Association. She recently attended the Asia-Pacific ICA CPTED Forum and kindly submitted this blog.

In mid-October, the ICA hosted a 2014 regional Asia-Pacific CPTED forum themed Better CPTED - Multidisciplinary Design for Safer Places.

The participants came from many different backgrounds thus bringing to the table a rainbow of strategies. Despite the differences we all agreed better and safer places emerge from the special features that make places more attractive and the people who use those places. I found great examples on the streets of Adelaide.

The nicely maintained Victoria Square offers numerous opportunities for social activities, meeting spots and sheltered seating areas. Walking down the pedestrian Rundle Mall I found The Mall’s Balls   - a common meeting point for people in the mall.

Dame Roma Mitchell statue
Looking for examples of people being users and co-creators of such special places I discovered some yarn bombing - dressed-up Rundle Mall Pigs and a statue of Dame Roma Mitchell on the North Terrace. They instantly attracted my attention and reminded me of the yarn bombed road barrier from Melbourne in a blog from a few months ago.

Turns out that the pigs and the statue were not isolated cases and that yarn bombing is popular throughout Adelaide, especially since 2012 when even the statue of Queen Victoria received a makeover. Yarn bombing is now part of Adelaide’s community events and it all started from local people aiming to create better places for and by themselves.

Rundle Mall yarn bombed pigs
Yarn bombing and its “softer” version known as yarn storming (in the UK) manifests community pride and provides a personal touch in public places. It is  widely considered a feminine form of graffiti or artistic vandalism.

Creative approaches such as knitting are one channel for the public to express and partake in public life. What I find neat about this approach is that it empowers those who traditionally wouldn’t participate in public activism and allows them to have a say in their own communities.

Placemaking surely comes in many forms.

Sheltered seating in Victoria Square

Monday, November 10, 2014

Enforcing a higher standard

Nowhere have I seen a better example of the gulf between combat cops and community cops than in these two recruiting videos. A friend recently sent them to me with the comment "Police recruitment videos speak volumes about livability of a place…"

Yes, they do.

Both cities are low crime and only one murder has occurred in either community over the past few years. Both have higher than average income levels with similar demographic mixes.

Newport Beach, California has 85,000 residents and Decatur, Georgia has 20,000, although both are adjacent to large cities (Los Angeles and Atlanta). While Decatur is smaller, the relative police strength is similar with both cities under 200 officers per 100,000 residents.

In social science this is gold! Social conditions are never the same and cross-jurisdictional comparisons are always imperfect. But it would be difficult to find two communities that are more apple-to-apple similar for comparing police services.

Except they don't compare. At all!

Who knows if policing reflects recruitment videos. But culture often shows up in videos like these. After all, each department had to approve them for public release so they obviously think these are the best images that represent what they are all about.

That is a frightening thought!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Time for a little common ground

Mark Lakeman at Ted Talk last weekend. 
Neighborhood collaboration infers there is a reason to do so and a place to do it.  In SafeGrowth the reason is simple; crime and safety. But why do we need a common place to collaborate and how do we get that? Aren't community halls enough? Don't we have adequate common places for that now?

No we don't!

In  the Ted Talk below my friend, Portland architect Mark Lakeman tells us why. Mark has appeared on this blog before about Safety With a Potluck. Here he is on a roll! It's fascinating how he starts slow and builds tempo to such an obvious conclusion that somehow escapes how we currently build neighborhoods.

I remember sitting next to a colleague last year when Mark presented this idea during a keynote address. My colleague, clearly uncomfortable with the unconventional method in Portland's  Intersection Repair program, whispered: "What about the home owners near the intersection who don't want to participate?"

"Oh," I should have answered, but didn't, "do you mean the one's who prefer isolation and alienation? Or do you mean you don't understand how intersection repair accounts also for their need for privacy?"

Mark answers this when he describes Monopoly as the economic motif for how we plan cities and a game we all grew up with. We don't even question the logic of Monopoly as a way of doing business. Mark does! That's an idea worth spreading.