Broken Windows Brigade: New Street Lighting on the North Shore = Safer Downtown Friday, October 14, 2011
In the arena of Sustainable Development, experts often speak of designing infrastructure and services to meet a “triple bottom line,” that the contruction, use, and maintenance of a project are economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. It’s easy to define the economic and enironmental sustainability of a project by simply asking “can it financially support itself?” and “does it accrue the lowest negative environmental impact possible?” Determining social sustainability is less exact, but crime prevention is a perfect example.
Recently, the Office of Sustainability for the City of Chattanooga completed a space-lighting project on the Walnut Street and Veterans Bridges and throughout the North Shore, arguably the “‘smartest’ urban lighting system in the nation.” A coordinated set of clear, bright, highly efficient LED street lights - connected to a digital network - gives city officials (particularly the Police Department) remote control and surveillance of the entire system, substantially lowering operations and maintenance costs. With plans to eventually expand the project throughout the downtown area, projections indicate the system should save the city $30-50 million over the next 20 years in energy savings.
The Broken Windows Brigade views this project as “a step in the right direction” as the lighting of public spaces definitely influences the amount of crime occurring within an area.
Considering recent issues with delinquent behavior in Coolidge Park, the completion of this project should prove to be a valuable tool for ongoing crime prevention on the North Shore.
Posted by in Safety
Anti-Crime by Design Wednesday, September 21, 2011
How can creative design address a large social issue?
The Design Council and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment in the UK have recently joined forces to offer design support to various groups and organizations in their local cities. Their goal is to improve collective quality of life through encouraging effective design for public infrastructure and social programs. Their “Design Out Crime” initiative, specifically, aims to promote the use of traditional security measures with new forms of application.
In partnering with the UK’s version of Neighborhood Watch, called Our Watch, the DC/CABE launched a study of the effectiveness of the program and how it could be improved. They compiled a list of best practices from groups around the UK and the US, highlighting a dozen or so points consistent in the most successful groups. They also determined how they could support the proliferation of those best practices through design elements.
DC/CABE deduced their observations into three categories of potential work: greater youth/diversity engagement, better resources for Our Watch members, and increased/improved public perception of the program. Within these categories, the group identified 9 general actions that should be taken, such as challenge stereotypes and maintain member longevity.
To carry out these 9 actions, DC/CABE went through 3 distinct design phases: service design, branding/communication strategizing, and constructing a new website and promotional materials. In general, this redesign will allow grassroots crime reduction in the UK to evolve with the technological and social changes/challenges of the 21st Century. Crime has historically decreased in areas with solid Neighborhood Watch/Our Watch groups, and these improvements will help solidify them.
This type of “redesign” work addresses one of the most critical questions regarding modern community management (presented on the Design Out Crime webpage): to what extent can grassroots voluntary organisations that grow organically, free of central control, be engineered to increase their efficiency - without destroying the autonomy that attracted members in the first place?
The Broken Windows Brigade is currently working with some of Chattanooga’s neighborhood associations to address this exact question relating to urban crime.
Posted by in Safety
St. Elmo Park Build Monday, September 19, 2011
Stronger Neighborhoods Wednesday, September 07, 2011
While speaking with Kip Harkness—the Director of the Stronger Neighborhoods program—about the commendable redevelopment work happening in the urban districts of San Jose, CA (shown below), one idea resonated boldly throughout the conversation: stronger neighborhoods are delivered through consistent, dependable actions, not just repetitive conversations about problems. Among his enthusiastic remarks, Mr. Harkness continually reiterated that even though encouraging residents to continually discuss relevant issues is important—whether through neighborhood associations or other forums-—leading initiatives to increase public safety, like other causes, usually boils down to engaging positive, influential leaders and empowering them to actively manage the solutions.
As simple as it sounds, that objective is often complicated. Identifying optimistic individuals who “give energy rather than suck it out of you,” as Mr. Harkness put it, is difficult enough, but determining an effective strategy under which those leaders can act can be equally cumbersome. In organizing Stronger Neighborhoods, officials of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency focused foremost on building relationships within local neighborhoods. Rather than immediately bogging themselves down with research, public meetings, and strategy sessions, they intentionally pursued one-on-one conversations with obvious leaders in those communities. Mr. Harkness revealed that “when going into a new community to do good work, personal discussions are usually deeper and more meaningful than larger discussions in a public setting…people won’t hold back as much; they will give honest, thorough opinions.”
Possibly the most important practice during these conversations were what he calls “statistical snowballing.” At the conclusion of every one-on-one discussion with neighborhood residents, the officials would ask “who are 2-3 more people with whom I should speak who feel the same way you do about these issues, who will offer constructive feedback and not just the usual complaints?” Through this method, officials compiled a postively biased distribution of community members, who they could engage in a future solution.
Speaking of solutions, the headlining effort organized by Stronger Neighborhoods and its partners is called Neighborhood Wellness Walks. Oriented mainly toward restoring health/wellness, the walks are also organized to clean up trash, make notes of degrading infrastructure and blight, and to generally animate their neighborhoods. The beauty of this effort is in its simplicity. Community leaders are able to organize quickly and engage neighbors face-to-face. Because of the many benefits the walks can deliver to a neighborhood, those involved can easily knock doors and say, “Hey, a bunch of us are going for a walk around the block, you should come!”
A group of people walking around doesn’t initially seem like a legitimate approach to solving community issues, particularly crime. However, Mr. Harkness shared that in many of San Jose’s urban neighborhoods holding the worst crime-rates, the walks are addressing a myriad of problems:
1.) In one neighborhood, annual violent crime reports dropped from 240 to 9 in just a few years.
2.) Because the neighborhood feels safer (according to surveys), parents are becoming more involved in school-hosted functions, and therefore more interested in the quality of their children’s education.
3.) More kids are staying in school, and test scores in many of the neighborhood schools have risen.
4.) Overall, there has been a 73% increase in physical activity, much of which is performed within those neighborhoods.
5.) Over 100 broken street lights were reported and fixed over a few years (while they were in disrepair, the City of San Jose was paying roughly $7,000 a year to maintain those broken lights).
The Stronger Neighborhoods program has found a way to collectively increase real and perceived public safety in San Jose’s neighborhoods, so how will the City of Chattanooga find its way?
At one point during the conversation, Mr. Harkness unhypothetically asked, “What is the number-one reason people volunteer in their community?” After responses such as “because its fun” and “they’re passionate about the cause” were offered, he rightly intruded saying, “Most people get involved with community improvement events simply because someone asks them to do so.” As the Broken Windows Brigade continues to organize resources and explore solutions to crime in Chattanooga’s downtown neighborhoods, two truths captured in this discussion with Mr. Harkness will continue to guide our work: we should focus on action and we should actively engage/empower residents.
The Thin, Blue Line Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Hundreds of variables influence the operations of a city and its communities. Like with an audio-equalizer in a recording studio, governments tinker with the arrangement of inputs (funding and personnel) to assure services are delivered and opportunity for growth is discovered in the most utilitarian way. Often the resulting “sound” has the harmony and depth to soothe and productively inspire its audience, the local citizens. Other times, only “noise” resounds.
Chattanooga’s city budget is roughly $185 million this year, and we decide who gets to allocate those funds by whom we elect and what we demand of them. This is often played out as shareholders holding stock in our city. However, the actions of our elected officials and their hired administration should be a direct reflection of our social values as a community, not just pertaining to financial interests. The application of public policy has digressed from values-expression to merely our desire to save money. Morality is falling victim to frugality.
This trend is dangerous.
There are plenty of legitimate reasons to justify the usage of funding within each government department, but the Broken Windows Brigade would argue that the police department is unique. Known in theory as “the thin, blue line,” police forces are the one subtle, yet crucial division between open democracy and chaotic anarchy. Plus, they are the only department working all day, every day.
We would all like to trust the nature of man to do good, that we could focus more on civic progress and less on civic maintenance. Unfortunately, as we have cumbersomely observed in London over the past few weeks, when even a small group of people gain the collective motivation and leverage to diregard the basic sanctity of the law, the unrest spreads, and life cannot carry-on as usual. Without upholding adequate public safety services, we are never far away from pure chaos.
We like to think such riots would never happen in the States, but they have before, and they can again. We have ONE public service in place to prevent and counter act such ground-shaking events - law enforcement. Like most government entities, the Chattanooga Police Department’s funding and resources are currently in jeopardy. It is understandable that officials must make tough financial decisions during tough economic times, but we - the people of Chattanooga - must seriously consider the potential catastrophes of an ill-equipped, unempowered police department in a growing city.
The history of crime in Chattanooga shows where officers reside, problems subside. The simple presence of a police officer will prevent an immeasureable amount of anti-social behavior. Within the city, the men and women behind the badges are our “safety net,” and right now this net is bearing an ever-increasing burden as the population of Chattanooga increases and their support does not. Of all ways we can decide to save money as a city, should we “turn down the volume” on our public safety?
Broken Windows Bridage would enjoy your comments (write on our Facebook Page wall).
P.S. - Check out THIS ARTICLE about the real possibility of London-style riots happening here, and how “Broken Windows Theory” is evolving with the use of social media!