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.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Reducing homelessness - Tiny house villages (Part 2)

Impression of tiny houses - photo by Tiny Homes Foundation
by Mateja Mihinjac

Not long ago we blogged about Dignity Village from Portland, the first organised tiny housing homeless community. Similar villages have expanded elsewhere across the US and, together with Housing First strategies, have contributed to a drop in homelessness.

These villages offer more than just housing. They also foster a sense of community within a supportive, respectful and usually self-governing environment that empowers the homeless to rebuild their lives. Social cohesion emerges from respect for shared goals and each other’s well-being. Connectivity helps to integrate the homeless with the local community and outside service providers.

Volunteers and local community are integral to success - photo by Kwamba Productions 

Australia has recently introduced its first homeless village projects. The Tiny Homes Foundation from NSW received an approval for a 2-year pilot project to build 4 self-contained houses and communal areas while the Victoria-based Launch Housing announced it will build 57 tiny homes on a currently unused VicRoads land.

Tiny Homes Foundation is a blueprint for other Australian projects. It has forged strong collaborative relationships with service providers, volunteers, and local communities and it helps homeless people transition to permanent housing, employment, and society.This will ensure that the project remains true to “housing first, not housing only” approach.


LESSONS LEARNED 

Experience from existing projects provide some lessons as a step for solving the homelessness crisis:
  • community-driven groups with mixed expertise are integral to planning, delivering and running the project such as charities, non-profits, and other social groups
  • engage local residents in the process to avoid NIMBYism
  • charities, volunteers, private donations, fundraising, and crowdfunding represent the most common project initiators and supporters 
  • close relationships with local government to secure special zoning arrangements and building code restrictions
  • villages should be integrated into the society with easy access to the city, work, and social services
  • aesthetically pleasing architecture of the structures secures public support
  • media and publicity can be effectively used to draw donations and secure ongoing public support 
The community works together to create homeless shelters – photo by Kwamba Productions

FINAL THOUGHTS 

Homelessness is a human rights issue. It should not exist in the first place or be allowed to progress. Social policies need to reflect this if Australia (indeed countries everywhere), wishes to reach the goal of halving homelessness by 2025. Support for tiny house villages is the first step towards realising that goal.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Reducing homelessness - An Australian example (Part 1)

The future of homelessness is in our hands - photo courtesy of Tiny Homes Foundation

By Mateja Mihinjac

In 2008 the Australian Government released its first White Paper on homelessness in which it announced a plan to cut homelessness in half and house all rough sleepers (a British term for those sleeping in the street) by 2020. Seeing little progress, the leading Australian charities have jointly committed to reaching this goal by 2025.

However, one of the major reasons behind homelessness is rarely discussed - housing affordability.

SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM

Australia is one of the world’s wealthiest nations and it seems unacceptable that it cannot provide affordable housing to all citizens when a sizable number of homes remain unoccupied. Yet, in 2016 the number of those experiencing homelessness in Australia on any given night was estimated at 105,000.

Exact homeless figures are always difficult to estimate, but this amounts to around 0.45% of the Australian population, a national figure that has remained relatively stable since 2011. For comparison, England’s estimates are around 275,000 (0.5% of population) while the US estimates 564,708 (0.2% of population).

To make matters worse, concentrated homelessness has increased in major city downtown areas in spite of a slight downward trend around the world.

Rising numbers of homeless people are concentrated downtown  

THE PARADOX OF PUBLIC SPACE

The homeless frequently occupy public spaces of city centers which offer them safety and access to resources. Yet, as with other cities around the world like Denver and Miami, some Australian cities employ social cleansing by removing homeless groups or banning homeless camps as bad for tourism even though homelessness is not illegal.

For example, the Melbourne Mayor has recently announced a proposal for a complete ban of rough sleepers in the city. These practices displace the homeless to peripheries of cities, pushing them farther away from much-needed services thereby reducing their prospects of ever resolving homelessness. We can do much better!

Next blog – tiny homes and other solutions.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Til it happens to you - Sexual violence on campus



Bystander intervention videos help provide prevention guidelines 

by Tarah Hodgkinson

There were six educated, relatively privileged, Canadian women sitting at that table. And yet not one of us was free from the experience, or the fear, of victimization, especially on university campuses.

Last year I attended a Take Back the Night event with several women in downtown Vancouver. We took over the streets protesting women’s inequality and violence against women. A few of us gathered for dinner beforehand and began to discuss the issue of victimization and sexual assault. Soon the stories about each individual’s experience, the experience of her friends, her sisters, her cousins, her colleagues and other women came to light.

I realized how many of my female counterparts had been sexually victimized in one way or another and how much of this seemed to happen in and around our undergraduate degrees.

SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM

Recently Mateja blogged here about safety and prevention in elementary schools. We also need to discuss sexual assaults occurring across North American college and university campuses every day. Until recently little attention has been paid to this issue.

CBC News has tried to gather data on campus sexual assaults across Canada. They found that over 700 women had reported in the last few years, but this fails to acknowledge that more than 65% of women do not report sexual assault to officials. This is not surprising considering less than one percent of reported cases result in formal action.

Several schools in Canada also reported no sexual assaults in spite of the fact that research indicates almost 40% of women over the age of 16 have experienced sexual assault.

Comedic videos offer another way to humanize sex assault statistics 

Unlike the U.S., who has passed a federal law that all universities must report ALL crimes on campus, Canadian colleges and universities are not required to publish reported crimes like the number of sexual assaults.

Several universities across Canada have surveyed students and drafted new sexual assault policies in the wake of recent high-profile cases. But far too little is being done on the prevention side. While some universities have developed poster campaigns or coffee cups messages to draw awareness to the issue, few seem to have any active prevention policies.

Universities may claim that it is not their responsibility to address prevention and that the police or other agencies have that responsibility. However, the U.S. Department of Justice found that college-aged women (18-24 years of age) have the highest risk of sexual victimization of any group of women.

PREVENTION

Prevention can involve many things. Many argue that first we need to change rape culture and they are correct. However, these strategies will take time and in that time women are being victimized.

Some steps are already occurring. At Western University in London, Ontario, there is a dedicated CPTED expert who reviews buildings and grounds for potential crime opportunities. In Quebec, Bishop's University requires sexual violence prevention training for all incoming first-year students. The University of Toronto also offers something similar.

Several other universities across the country offer blue-light posts/poles in public areas that allow potential victims to hit a button and speak with security or notify them of their whereabouts. Others offer walk-home services, in which a male and female volunteer will walk a student home late at night.

Campus student patrols - a fixture at many universities

Some action has been taken, but these strategies are merely band-aid solutions. If universities are extensions of our neighborhoods, perhaps we need to create places where this conversation can be expanded further? For example, on university campuses many women’s centers exist, yet there are no centers for men.

Many criticize men’s centers by claiming that all places are men’s places but these centers could be headed by trained feminist men, in partnership with women’s centers, who can encourage nonjudgmental and open conversations about proper consent, among other things.

A non-university example of this kind of culture jamming center called the Dude's Club, already exists in Vancouver. This may be a better way to change the cultural narrative by creating a safe space to learn to act differently in public spaces.