Friday, September 2, 2016

SafeGrowth in the university - from the classroom to the street

Simon Fraser University main campus quadrangle - Image by Soggybread, Creative Commons
GUEST BLOG: Tarah Hodgkinson is a senior researcher in the Integrated Risk Assessment Instrument Research Group in Vancouver, Canada. She is a member of the International CPTED Association and a certified SafeGrowth instructor. She is completing her Ph.D in criminology at Simon Fraser University. 

Last spring, I had the pleasure of teaching a fourth year university class on crime prevention at the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. The course had not been offered in several years.

I was nervous as this was my first upper year seminar course, but I wanted to provide the students with an experience rarely seen on university campuses today. I wanted them to have a chance to guide their own learning, engage with their own neighbourhoods and finally write a paper that they could use for something more than just a grade.

I set up the class to include the SafeGrowth method and created a problem-based learning (PBL) format to teach it. In PBL the students work together in teams and select a real-life, complex crime problem in a neighborhood. Their learning is based on research-in-action.


In PBL students conduct a SafeGrowth® assessment on that neighbourhood and work to address that problem. In addition to their field work, students each read a different book that had been key to informing the SafeGrowth philosophy or crime prevention. They then participate in seminars with short interactive presentations on that week’s material, presented by the students themselves.

During their field work they practiced real-life learning in the same way a professional consulting team might engage a neighborhood: they conducted site audits, contacted city officials, learned more about crime mapping and developed an evidence-based plan.

They learned about search conferences and safety audits, not by reading about them, but by actually doing them. Their final paper was a report they could give to a city counsellor or funding agency – hence, not just for a grade.

Located atop Burnaby Mountain, the university overlooks Greater Vancouver - photo SFU
I had no idea how the students would respond since they were so used to lectures and tests. I was sure they would revolt. I feared the worst, but I got the best. When I trusted them to take chances, I saw them flourish. I saw them connect with each other, connect with their neighbourhoods, and learn that they too had a voice.


I asked them to write a thirty second pitch about what they learned. Their responses were shocking. Very few spoke about the content. Rather, they told me that for the first time in university they felt that they had made real connections, real friends. In an era when many lament the loss of integration and connection, they integrated and connected.

They discussed the rewards of engaging with their neighbourhoods and realized that they could do something immediately to make changes. They said they felt listened to and that they had finally learned something. In a class where I did not do any traditional teaching, the students learned something. Imagine!

Not only did they learn that learning-by-doing and this intensive collaboration style - the action-based method - is the philosophical lynchpin of SafeGrowth and successful crime prevention. They also learned when I gave up lecturing and classroom control, when I trusted them to work together on real problems that is when real learning happened. It is then when we truly start to solve community crime problems.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The POP conference is back!

Tempe Mission Palms Conference Center, Tempe, Arizona - site of 2016 Problem Oriented Policing Conference
After some bleak years of de-funding, the International Problem Oriented Policing Conference is back! After a funding hiatus in 2014, the 25th POP conference reappeared last year. This year the 26th conference will be in Tempe, Arizona,  October 24-26

The conference program says it all:
Problem-Oriented Policing Conference is often described by attendees as the most substantive policing conference they've ever attended. Each year, police officers and police leaders, and all the ranks in between, as well as crime consultants and crime researchers, come together to discuss what they've learned about trying to reduce different crime and safety problems.
Along with complimentary problem-solving conventions such as the recent International Police Problem-Based Learning conference and last year’s International CPTED Association Conference, the International POP Conference is one of the few global policing conferences focused on the daily business of everyday policing.

Problem-Oriented Policing section of the Office of Community Oriented Policing website 
The problem-solving conferences are based in practical cop experiences. In other words, they are real-life. This year’s POP conference does have topics tapping into recent controversies dominating the media - Police Legitimacy and Policing Terrorism - but the program is also loaded with crime and safety themes:

  • Introduction to CPTED (by yours truly)
  • Police and PTO/Problem Based Learning 
  • Homelessness 
  • Intimate partner violence, and 
  • Leveraging community engagement to reduce fear of crime.

Professor Herman Goldstein (retired), the remarkable scholar who started the problem-oriented policing movememt
There will be numerous Herman Goldstein Problem-Oriented Policing Award submissions from around the world. And, as always, Professor Herman Goldstein will attend the event.

Goldstein, the founder of problem-oriented policing, is the man who started it all. If you don’t know Goldstein’s history, it is online and well worth the read. The conference pays homage to his remarkable legacy.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Revisiting laneways

Navigating most urban laneways is an unsafe and unappealing journey 
A recent walk in  some urban laneways brought to mind mystery stories of Sherlock Holmes’ chasing murderers lurking in dark, foggy alleys.

In real life, laneways are a hidden and complex urban landscape we seldom consider in our formulations for safer cites. We write about them in our stories, but not until the New Urbanists reintroduced them as a modern feature of their residential street design did we refocus on them as a crime location.

Most experienced beat cops walk downtown laneways, especially at night, because that is where things happen. Burglars frequent them because they offer easy access to the rears of homes. And kids vandalize and steal from cars in them because laneways are traditionally hidden from view.

Attractive laneway design providing more than trash pickup
As I compared some lively laneway designs with others that were not (the top photo), it was obvious poor laneway design is not inevitable. Laneway research is emerging revealing other options. I have posted blogs on laneway life, laneway chic,  and permeable fine grain design.

Landscaping and porches at the rear laneway - no chain link fences needed
One Australian study on laneway crime suggests designers pay more attention to width/length, visibility from the ends, and the number of residences.

But our work in SafeGrowth, and my recent walks, suggests something different: laneway activation is much more than physical size and shape. It is also about creatively figuring how to retain car parking and trash disposal uses, while at the same time creating interesting places for socializing.

Territorial marker at the end of the laneway - a community garden  
That might sound unappealing at first. Yet the cool laneway in these photos features streetscaping, decorative lighting, a community garden at the end, and rear door porches to encourage laneway socializing. If designers provide an interesting option that residents need, they will use it and also keep it safe.

Providing lighting and window sight-lines to protect vehicles

Sunday, July 24, 2016


Sunset over New York
Public housing is an enigma in the fabric of the city. On one hand, most public housing is decent, safe and important. It provides an invaluable service offering affordable housing to those who, for various reasons, are left out.

On the other hand, far too much public housing results in the projects, unsafe warrens of drug dealers and crime.

In some ways, the worst side of unrepaired and ignored public housing emerges as a shadowland across the modern city, places that breed gang activity and fear. Our early SafeGrowth work began in such a place in Toronto.

The original defensible space writing of Oscar Newman was based on public housing in the 1970s, much of that in New York.

Public housing in Manhattan along the Hudson River

I recently spent time working in New York City. Anyone who studies or practices crime prevention will know the work of Oscar Newman, a Canadian-born, New York architect who created defensible space theory - also known in some circles as crime prevention through environmental design - CPTED.

Jake Blumgart’s Next City article about public housing in New York highlights the work of Newman with the New York City Housing Authority. It discusses his conclusions about design flaws and crime opportunity - the basic principles of 1st Generation CPTED - and how he later modified those early assertions about design and incorporated social factors into his formulations (after considerable criticism).

It describes Newman’s realization about the larger role of social structure of public housing - concentrating poor residents in one project, youth-to-adult tenure policies, and percent tenants on welfare. Those familiar with the Second Generation CPTED will recognize the revised ideas as the Capacity Principle. Second generation strategies in public housing show considerable promise, as reported by DeKeseredy.

Repairs underway at a public housing apartment in New York

A careful reading of early Newman’s Defensible Space, and especially his later Community of Interest reveals that he eventually came to consider design only one part of the crime opportunity equation. He was figuring this out as early as 1976:

"Research on residential crime patterns in 150,000 New York City public housing units has established that the combined effect of the residents' social characteristics and the projects' design affects the crime rate." 

Still, I doubt that Newman really calculated all the complicated shadowland equations of public housing. There is much work yet to be done.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Cities provide something for everybody...when they are created by everybody

Toronto neighborhood corner store - re-imagined
Today is America's Independence Day - the time for celebrating a government by and for the people. Sadly, local governance seems a long way off in the rhetoric that comprises this election season. So for solace, I turn to local governance on the street in the form of placemaking.

There are plenty of amazing street designs, laneway experiments, and examples of tactical urbanism that enliven and activate the street. The more people who walk and enjoy what Jane Jacobs called the street ballet the easier it is to humanize our neighborhoods and reduce fear and crime. This is the magic that is placemaking.

But did you ever notice how some versions of placemaking seem too expensive for the average person? Who has the time or money to redesign a laneway or install fancy lights, landscaping and pavement treatments?


An answer surfaced on recent trips to Toronto and Colorado Springs. The former took form in a small corner convenience store in a Toronto residential neighborhood.

Sitting areas, barbeques, relaxing space for socializing - A corner store with a purpose 
After suffering a burglary last fall and installing window bars, the owner decided to explore some inventive placemaking of her own. She transformed the front and side of her shop into a mini-market and outdoor gathering place and then invited locals to enjoy.

Inside the store she brings in local artists and artisans with samples of their work. With a vested interest in seeing their own work, and the chance to visit with others, locals and families frequent the corner store and create their own neighborhood nexus with very little cost to the storeowner.

Walls for local artists to show their stuff - free of charge!


Another answer appeared along a downtown laneway in Colorado Springs. In this case locals used color and paint to enliven an otherwise dead space.

Colorado Springs laneway made fun with paint highlights
Rather than an alley with dead spaces, poor lighting and droll walls, these shopowners painted walls, installed local art, and used overhead colored LED lights to bring some energy to the space. When a few people located their shops along the alley, the space turned into a social gathering place.

Dull wall space transformed with paint
It really is not difficult to trust locals and work with them in coming up with ways to turn spaces into places. Jacobs said it 50 years ago: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and when, they are created by everybody.”

Adjacent restaurant getting in on some laneway action with colorful ad-art

Monday, June 20, 2016

The nightmare that won't end

Police directing people away from the Orlando nightclub where 49 died
Our work to help neighborhoods tackle crime was overshadowed this week when 49 people were killed by a murderer, madman or terrorist in an Orlando nightclub! Two weeks earlier that murderer sauntered into a local gun store and shopped an assault rifle and handgun from a gun dealer who would later claim “I don’t make the law”

Mass murder is not at all the same type of preventable crime as other crimes that we tackle. On one hand it accounts for a tiny minority of violent incidents each year. Yet taken on whole, the annual American mass murder toll is mind-numbing
  • 2016 - 49 killed in an Orlando nightclub
  • 2015-  9 killed at an Oregon college
  • 2015 - 14 killed by a terror couple in San Bernadino, 
  • 2013 - 12 killed in a Washington DC Navy Yard 
  • 2012-  26 killed, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook school 
  • 2012 - 12 killed in a Colorado movie theatre 


By my own calculations, since 2014, the number killed in mass murders (more than 4 killed at a single event) totals 694 victims! That is less than 3% of total of homicide victims in those years. About 14,000 people are murdered in the U.S. each year. 

To be clear, most murders are not mass murders but rather domestic violence killings and gang and drug shootings. 

Most mass murders are not terror related
Still, mass murders are the most gut-wrenching. And most mass murders have nothing to do with terrorism. Over 90% of mass murders since 2014 resulted from domestic violence or criminal madmen. 

None of which solves the problem. 

It is difficult for me to ignore the same arguments of reason and evidence against off-the-shelf assault rifles that I offered four years ago after the Newtown, Connecticut school murders


Instead pundits blather on about terrorism, background checks, LGBT hate crimes and mental illness. They dismiss gun control, probably because with millions of firearms in private hands, gun control is a hopeless genie long out of the bottle. 

We are left to watch President Obama delivering his 15th mass murder speech. And in spite of it all, the American gun/murder formula continues to produce yet more atrocities year after year.  It’s like a nightmare that won’t end.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

"What attracts people most is other people"

Just as I was writing about homelessness and walkable public spaces I received a Vimeo from SafeGrowth friend Sue Ramsay in New Zealand. It is a 4 minute video uncovering simple urban design and social programming features that make a public space fantastic.

It is all based on William H. Whyte’s 1980 book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, and to a lesser extent his follow-up book, City: Rediscovering The Center.

Whyte was born 100 years ago and he became mentor to Jane Jacobs and inspiration for the New York place-making group Project for Public Spaces.

Screenshot from William Whyte: In His Own Words by Clarence Eckerson Jr., Streetfilms 
For CPTED practitioners, William H. Whyte is among the bright lights in the history of urban design. He invented the idea of urban carrying capacity - later called tipping points - used throughout 2nd Generation CPTED. Like any student of urban affairs and planning he loved cities. He envisioned  the return of the Agora to the modern city and, best of all, showed us how to get there.

His ideas for reclaiming civilized, walkable, and fun urban places are simple, obvious and oddly ignored in too many cities. Here are a few that show up in the video:
  • the wonderful invention that is the movable chair
  • musicians and street arts make a place fun
  • fountains cannot induce sitting unless there are decent places to sit
  • protect access to the sun
  • water should be accessible, touchable, and slapable
  • street personalities make a public place more amicable.
Thanks to Sue for reminding us about one of our pioneers.

Water in public spaces should be touchable and slapable - Screenshot from William Whyte: In His Own Words