Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Baltimore trailblazer (Part 2)

Baltimore tot lot in need of community/city attention
by Kallan Lyons

Kallan is a journalist who has blogged for Journalists for Human Rights and has contributed to the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper. In 2013 she spent 6 months as media trainer in Ghana at the African College of Communications. She wrote this guest blog after attending the last part of the Baltimore SafeGrowth course.


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“I had an overall instinctual sense that I was not safe.” - Community member who uses the Tot Lot, Pigtown, Baltimore

When the SafeGrowth Tot Lot team in Baltimore met Edith Nelson, they knew they had found an ally.

Tasked with transforming the park in Pigtown into a safe space for families, they consulted with Ms. Nelson. As reported in the last blog, A Baltimore trailblazer - Part 1, Ms. Edith has played an integral part in the process.

Now with her support, the team plans to clean up the lot and capitalize on community partnerships in an effort to decrease criminal behavior in the area. The team brought new energy to the project with representatives from the community, the Mayor’s Office, and the police.

STEPS FOR CHANGE

Here are just a couple of the recommendations put forward by the Safegrowth team members who are determined to build on the foundation laid by Ms. Nelson.


Perfect location for movie-night screen or possibly community murals

Throughout the Baltimore SafeGrowth training, the team addressed potential factors inhibiting locals from using the space. Surrounding the park are several abandoned homes and a liquor store; in addition, the tot lot is poorly lit in the evenings. Instead of people gathering in the park for block parties and barbecues, frequent activities include drug use and drinking.

While Ms. Nelson often peruses the park for trash, picking up empty bottles and other items left behind, the job is becoming too big for just one person.

That’s where the SafeGrowth team stepped in. The team’s vision includes volunteer clean-up crews and regular outdoor programs led by community groups. They plan to contact owners of abandoned homes to negotiate improvements. Other strategies included:

  • building social connections by contacting the nearby school and church to involve them in activities such as mural painting
  • increased police attention to the tot lot
  • community events such as movies-in-the-park to build social cohesion
  • better signage, installing LED lighting, reinstalling benches and adding play equipment.

Prior installation of tot lot equipment needs regular community support and city maintenance 
The goal is to restore the Tot Lot to its original use:  a welcoming, family-oriented environment where parents and their children feel safe.  Now that the wheels are in motion, and with Ms. Nelson on their side, a possibility is being turned into a promise.

The Tot Lot transformation started with one woman, and thanks to the SafeGrowth team, it will resume with the community.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Ms. Edith and the tot lot - a Baltimore trailblazer (Part 1)

Tot lot in Pigtown - All photos by the Archer/Carroll Street SafeGrowth Team
By Kallan Lyons 

Kallan is a journalist who has blogged for Journalists for Human Rights and has contributed to the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper. In 2013 she spent 6 months as media trainer in Ghana at the African College of Communications. She wrote this guest blog after attending the last part of the Baltimore SafeGrowth course. 
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At the corner of Carroll and Archer Streets in Southwest Baltimore sits the Pigtown Tot Lot, a park complete with a playground and plenty of space for a community gathering. This Tot Lot was one of four projects chosen by one of the community problem-solving teams during the latest Baltimore SafeGrowth course (another project appeared in this blog earlier).

The brightly colored jungle gym is surrounded by an iridescent wall, and would never allude to the ominous ambiance: just under a year ago, four people were injured in a shootout next to the park. To many, the Tot Lot is anything but inviting.

Sidewalk conditions around the tot lot
Nicknamed ‘Charm City’, Baltimore’s beautiful row houses, Inner Harbor, and historical attractions have been overshadowed by its drug culture and rampant crime. The city of just over 600,000 has one of the highest homicide rates in the United States. Abandoned homes, poor neighborhood lighting, and a lack of community spaces are just a few of the contributing factors. In Pigtown, kids who grew up playing at the Tot Lot have gone on to become drug dealers on the park corner.

When you hear Baltimore, you may think of Freddie Gray or even the fictitious Omar Little from The Wire. One name you likely haven’t heard is Edith Nelson. Affectionately referred to by her community as Ms. Edith, the 76-year-old has lived in Pigtown since 1989, across the street from the Tot Lot. When she moved in, the park was nothing but weeds.

“For me, it was an eyesore,” says Ms. Nelson. “From that very day [that I moved in] I said I will not live here all my life and see an eyesore like this. That’s when I began to work on the playground, on the Pigtown Tot Lot.”

MAKING A DIFFERENCE 

In Pigtown, people came together to make a difference. Ms. Nelson began by collecting money door-to-door, selling pies and cupcakes at the local Credit Union, and calling on anyone she could to help with the project. She and her small group of supporters successfully raised the $15,000 required to redesign the space. Inspired by her enthusiasm, people latched on to her vision, first through financial contributions, then by coming out to plant trees, paint the playground and rejuvenate the park.

“I have albums from the very day that it happened and we had lots of children that really came out: we had a wheelbarrow and wood chips; our playground was wood - now it’s metal. We had a lot of people getting together back then.” Young and old gathered to reclaim their neighborhood and in the process, rediscovered their community.

Nearby housing in Baltimore's Pigtown
Decades later, as neighbors moved away, many of those early successes lost momentum and crime returned. But despite recent events, her contributions are still standing strong and that is what the SafeGrowth team could see. Ms. Nelson has remained the trailblazer: with the help of a local organization Paul’s Place, her community renamed one of the streets Edith Way.

Ms. Nelson says although there are fewer children around, she and several others continue to clean up the area, hauling dirt and planting flowers, and holding an annual cookout that’s free to anyone in the neighborhood.

The SafeGrowth team asked Ms. Nelson to attend their presentation at the course workshop. They knew her commitment is a reminder of the importance of building community. Though there have been some setbacks, she feels doing so is about volunteerism, friendship, and people working together to accomplish a purpose.

Colorful statement at Carroll/Archer street
If there is such thing as having a purpose in life, I believe Ms. Nelson has found one. Her kids have moved to other neighborhoods, but she says she’s not going anywhere.

“When I bought this house and moved into this community, despite all I saw, I still loved it and said I will live here forever. The Tot Lot has been my project, and as long as I am alive, and I have strength, I will never ever see it go back to where it was.”

Next Blog: The Tot Lot’s transformation started with Ms. Nelson. In part 2 - How the SafeGrowth team plans to move that forward. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The longevity economy and age-friendly cities - California AARP and SafeGrowth

Pasadena, the site of this week's AARP California conference on
Age-friendly communities

by Greg Saville

The New Orlean’s Hollygrove Livable Communities and SafeGrowth Project is now an award-winning success story about turning a troubled neighborhood back from the brink of crime. Starting in 2007 it was a collaboration of AARP Louisiana, Trinity Christian Community and Hollygrove Neighbors headed by Nancy McPherson and Jason Tudor at AARP. 

The AARP website describes how they launched the initiative through nuts-and-bolts teamwork, SafeGrowth technical assistance, and residents themselves who took a lead role. 

This week Jason Tudor and I introduced SafeGrowth to the California AARP community, having run a SafeGrowth Summit in Sacramento last year. The setting was the city of Pasadena at the AARP California conference "On the road to Age-friendly communities". 

Like all modern cities, in Pasadena cars dominate the street. Conference participants examined how age-friendly means walkability and safety
Pasadena is a smaller city in the Los Angeles metro area and it was the ideal setting for new ideas about the age-friendly city in the 21st Century, particularly in regards to safety and crime. With over $85 Billion spent yearly on age-friendly initiatives, and over $1 Trillion contributed to the U.S. by the ‘longevity economy’, clearly, crime and safety must be integral for planning cities of the future. 
   

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.