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.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Homage to Jan - a village for the 21st Century

Common outdoor gathering area in Danish cohousing 
by Gregory Saville

Fifteen years ago, I visited Skraplanet in Denmark, one of the world’s first cohousing communities and spent an afternoon with architect and founder, Jan Gudmand-Hoyer. In 1964 Hoyer gathered with friends to figure out how to purchase homes in the pricey Copenhagen real estate market.

Home purchasing then – as today - offered few real choices of importance. Hoyer and friends discovered house architecture was boring and designed by someone else. Land developers already answered (or ignored) the critical questions of neighborhood living before residents even showed up:

  • What is the neighborhood like? Is it exciting? Is it safe?
  • How are the homes situated in relation to gardens, play areas, gathering spaces? 
  • What is there to do for kids and for adults? 
  • Where can I walk and socialize? Is there something interesting to see?
  • Who are my neighbors?  How do we work together?


Children's play area designed by residents at Skraplanet cohousing
Hoyer described this in his 1968 article The missing link between utopia and the dated one-family house. The result was cohousing – a new type of village, a style of intentional community in which residents form their own development company, hire their own builders, and create their own neighborhood. When cohousing migrated worldwide in the 1980s, it offered a unique form of equity housing and village living - usually within or nearby existing cities.

Private residence at Skraplanet with balcony and private gardens
Ultimately, cohousing became a safer and more sustainable housing option. It has appeared here numerous times in An alternative future and Avoiding a wire-esque future.

Posing with Jan before our tour at Skraplanet

TOURING WITH THE MASTER

Jan Gudmand-Hoyer taught me the nuances of cohousing planning. He proudly described some of the clever design techniques unique to this housing form. His community, Skraplanet, used modernism, an architectural style popular in the 1960s. At the time of my visit, the community was 20 years old and had found a green niche in the surrounding forest.

Jan died yesterday at 81. He and his cohousing pioneers offered the world a new kind of village for the 21st Century. Thank you, Jan. May we live up to your dream!

Modernist design with plenty of window views and greenery

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Coming to America - Reflections of an academic

Las Vegas Strip at night - photo Tarah Hodgkinson
by Tarah Hodgkinson

There has been a great deal of media recently regarding the immigration policies of the United States and the now blocked executive order banning citizens from numerous countries. During this madness, I traveled to attend the Western Society of Criminology’s (WSC) annual conference in Las Vegas.

Academic conferences have become a bit of a ritual. Go, give a talk, see some other talks, network with some new colleagues, catch up with old colleagues, and check out the local city. Unlike SafeGrowth trainings or SafeGrowth Summits where we teach how to address local problems affecting local people and create local solutions, most academic conferences are bereft of any action research and rarely, if ever, engage with the local community.

Rather, they present a string of experts in specialized areas, talking about small and trifling data, without any local voice or real change. Claims of “policy implications” often suffice for demonstrable action.

AT THE CONFERENCE

However, the vibe at WSC this year was markedly different than other academic conferences. It was clear that a number of those attending were shaken by recent political choices. Many of the annual award winners used their acceptance speeches to demand a call to action around what has been called, discriminatory, racist and Islamophobic policy decisions.

Alex Piquero, winner of the Western Society of Criminology President’s Award, gave a talk on immigration that undermined the misconception that immigrants commit more crimes.

Flamingo Hotel in  Las Vegas - photo Tarah Hodgkinson

On the street, however, it appears these divisive politics are emboldening a new generation of culture jammers. With their rights under attacks, citizens have taken to the streets, various prime ministers have promised to protect those who seek refuge, universities are making statements, staging protests and waiving application fees to those affected.

What can be done?

At this critical time, it seems that neighbourhood engagement is the key. In SafeGrowth that happens by empowering and training citizens to solve their own neighborhood problems and by rebuilding trust, collective efficacy, and social cohesion. These are the actions that help everyday citizens learn practical skills to destabilize the narratives that seek to divide, rather than unite us.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Greening the netherworld beneath overpasses


video
Via Verde greening project, Mexico City - Via Verde Yahoo Mexico news

by Greg Saville

Traditionally, the sheltered areas beneath highway and freeway overpasses are places of dereliction and decline. They are places where garbage gathers and the homeless seek refuge. Especially in car-centric cities, they are a blight foisted on us like an afterthought by traffic engineers. 

Thankfully, planners and citizen advocates are beginning to transform areas beneath overpasses into a green future. Examples include projects such as Seart Park in Mount Wellington, New Zealand, Underpass Park in Toronto and Seattle’s I-5 Colonnade Mountain Bike Park.

A friend sent the above video of an urban naturalization project - the Via Verde project - recently launched in Mexico City; it modifies support columns beneath an elevated motorway using ivy and thousands of plants. 

Via Verde project - greening dead space below overpasses - screenshot from video

Although it's in Spanish, even non-Spanish speakers can see the video is inspiring! The main goal is ecological, namely cutting the air pollution problem from Mexico City’s notorious traffic congestion. The design structure uses recycled bottles, an automated rainwater irrigation system, and many other environmental innovations.

But there are obvious psychological perks worth mentioning from a SafeGrowth perspective.

The vegetative covering on cement pillars not only improves the color and aesthetics of a bland area, but it is just the kind of greenery that reduces the stress and foul moods from traffic madness. It also insulates against a wall of traffic noise, a major fear generator in urban places.

Green walls to humanize Mexico City roadways - screenshot from video 

Then there are the social contributions, for example, parts of the structure were constructed by women penitentiary inmates who were paid for their work. If plants begin to yellow, local residents use social media to notify the city thereby encouraging citizens to claim an interest in underpass areas, further enhancing the natural surveillance.

To date there have been few examples of an environmentally based CPTED - the so-called 3rd Generation CPTED. That is a theory yet to emerge and the green underpass movement may be a perfect place to start.