Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Crime time revisited

Over the years I've written a lot about crime and policing because for many years it was (and still is) a problem.  For example, a bunch of pieces mostly from 2006 were in response to crime problems in DC and Philadelphia.

-- Crime time
-- Crime time #4
-- Crime Time #7
-- Crime Time 2008

code of the streetsI am a big fan of the work by Professor Elijah Anderson (Streetwise, Code of the Streets), the concepts behind "Broken Windows" policing (although I agree that the way many police departments interpret the concept goes far beyond the idea, and is more focused on arrests) (original 1982 "Broken Windows" article from The Atlantic), and  approaches by David Kennedy which were used in Boston to such great effect (see Crime Time #7 for citations).

I moved to the city in  September 1987, just as the "crack epidemic" was peaking, and as it happened I moved to a place (4th and I Streets NE) which was just a few blocks away from a major drug distribution area.  So I lived in an area of the city where dozens of people were murdered over a few year period.  .

Living that close to that level of violence, gives you a different perspective on crime, even with upticks, because today the number of murders in the city is one quarter or less of what it was at its peak.  And in general, the level of crime is significantly reduced from what it was--and this is a fact more generally nationwide, even if we don't exactly know why this is the case.

Still, blog commenter charlie frequently makes the point that public safety is a key issue in terms of urban revitalization and that crime reduction from the city's peak has been key to the city's more recent increase in population ("Census Bureau: DC keeps growing, albeit at slower pace," Post).

Even so, while I empathize and of course, even one crime is too many, it is hard for me to take seriously claims by newer residents that things are out of control.  (It's not unlike how people equate having a night time liquor license to the equivalent of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, which if you've ever been there, you know that it is impossible for there to be the equivalent of that level of "anything goes.")

I remember once going to my house in 1990 and driving on the 500 block of I Street NE where 5th St. was closed at either end because of unrelated murders at H and K Streets...

From "Spate of gun violence in D.C. continues" in today's Post:
Crime Triangle poster[Mayor-elect] Bowser is getting an earful on crime.  Scott DeGraw, who has lived in Petworth for eight years, wrote to her last week after a series of shootings and funfire struck the Northwest Washington neighborhood. ...  'The crime has never been so constant, or so violent, despite whatever statistics you like to point to the contrary.'
Of course, Mr. DeGraw is wrong.  Crime in DC is significantly reduced compared to peak years.  Many of the crime spates are "pattern crimes" that are repeated by criminals until they are caught (e.g., the Post has a piece today about a guy nabbed for carjacking who had a propensity to rob convenience stores, 7-11s in particular).

My old joke, since most murders occur between people who know each other -- "to protect yourself from murder, just don't have any friends" -- seems apt, although the reality is that murder, while it attracts public attention, doesn't affect the average citizen very much.

And a lot of the increase in nonviolent crime---thefts from auto etc.--are the result of complacency and people not being cautious.

(E.g., two of my old rules, "don't buy gas at night in the city", "don't use ATMs at night in the city," I still practice.)

chi-plan-crimes-graphicChicago Tribune graphic (truncated from the original).

In preparation for a longer piece, I have been looking at special reporting initiatives by the Chicago Tribune ("Plan of Chicago") and the Dallas Morning News ("Future Dallas") on improving their respective cities.

Crime and public safety is an issue ("Curb crime. Save Chicago." and "How Chicago can revive its troubled neighborhoods," CT; "DPD has evolved with more officers on streets, more technology and more contact with community advocates," DMN) in those cities, in Chicago particularly, which has one of the nation's worst murder rates, which as pointed out in an excellent Post article from over the summer ("Chicago Soul") is in part the fallout or unintended consequences from tearing down public housing and redistributing residents across the city, upending "turfs."

I don't know how we can deal with every crime because at some level it will never be able to be  completely eradicated, although I do believe that judicious Broken Windows strategies, people not doing stupid stuff that puts them at risk, as well as focusing on addressing poverty in substantive ways can make a difference.

But there is a lot that can be done.

More recently, pieces such as these made the point that the city could do a better job with adopting more systematic crime eradication practices:

-- Planning applied to crime reduction
-- Crime prevention through environmental design and repeated burglaries at the Naylor Gardens apartment complex
-- Suburban building forms in the center city--Does this contribute to crime?

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At 10:55 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Happy New Year, from Chicago.

The reason I enjoy reading your stuff is not that I agree with you (always) but that we are interested in the same things (urban life) and your analysis can be useful.

In Chicago, I can see the failure to continually invest in mass transit rail is what is killing the city.

Well, that and the big buildings and the wind effects.

I was visiting the Logan Square area last night -- my great-grandparents lived there -- and broke one of your gas station rules. Sorry -- it was cold!

In terms of crime, sure things aren't as bad a 15 or 20 years ago.

In terms of violent crime. This isn't a shock. We have an overbuilt trauma system to keep you alive, and a lot of the gang bangers all killed each other.

What people don't like and don't want to deal with is the endemic levels of property crime in urban areas.

The problem with broken windows theory isn't the theory. It is the continued application of technique when the level of property crime is reduced.

At 11:19 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Happy New Year to you too!

While I don't necessarily write in a manner that invites feedback--I tend to write comprehensively and overly thorough anyway, but in part it is to prevent a savaging of my arguments--I actually want feedback.

Your comments, which I value highly, challenge my arguments, identify gaps in my thinking, generate new and significant insights, and help me improve my understanding and argumentation.

I wish I had a few more commenters, and commenters like you.

It does show that the Internet doesn't have to be full of troll commenters, which sadly shapes comments on traditional media sites like newspapers.

But accept that you are rare and valued!

2. ANYWAY, speaking of your great insights, years ago you mentioned transit's killer app being efficiency. That's seemingly obvious, but frequently forgotten.

And before that, David Miller then Mayor of Toronto, who initiated the "Transit City" plan f*ed up by his successors, made the point that you can't be a transit city if you don't continually improve and expand transit, which was the point of transit city, not unlike how Paris has added surface transit (trams) as an element of service in the outer city.

So yes, center city competitive advantages are based on two major elements which in turn support the third, historicity (architecture, urban design) and transit, which is efficient because of the walking city-transit city era urban design, and in turn both support density, which supports the provision of amenities, walkability, etc.

Chicago, as it has declined, has lost the ability to invest in transit, just as in NYC, where the cost of transit provision exceeds the ability of the center city to fund it, so it gets taken over by the state, and then becomes subject to extranormal politicizing and downgrading of the center city agenda as it relates to transit. E.g., in NYC see the Second Ave. Subway issue, or in DC, the focus on streetcars as opposed to Metrorail expansion.

I don't know Chicago well enough to know if it has the need for expansion, but it sure needs investment in the existing system.

But, it sure is frequent, compared to WMATA.

3. Logan Square is where a colleague, Lynn Stevens, took me around a few years ago, when I was in Chicago for the Main St. conference, and she in turn introduced me to Aaron Renn of Urbanophile (who has been way better at monetizing blogging, he's now a fellow at the Manhattan Institute! - yay Aaron!).

It seems reasonable safe to buy gas there...

My rule is really, don't buy gas at night in the inner city, but the outer city is usually safe enough to do so. Even so, in the holiday times, when crimes spike, I may extend that to the outer city as well.

e.g., filling up gas in the rental car on Sunday, we did it in Kensington, having gone to one of the Black restaurants in Garrett Park.

4. Agreed about property crime. I don't like to write about it much in fear of jinxing our current good fortune. Other than flowers being stolen, flip flops from the porch, and a wheel off my bike in 2010, we've been ok. But it is a problem around us.

I think it's what cops call pattern crimes. People see an area that seems fecund to them and "new" like Takoma (this is the fallout in part of rec. centers, which end up introducing residents of one part of the city to another, including people up to no good) and do a bunch of crimes. Eventually they get caught, but in the interim, the cops aren't too good at communicating, and people get agitated.

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Oops, again, your last line is a great sum up of the issue with BW in practice, and the kind of succinct statement that I wish I would have come up with.

The problem with broken windows theory isn't the theory. It is the continued application of technique when the level of property crime is reduced.

But it's also when the level of violent crime (murder, assault, robbery) declines as well.

You've hired all these cops, and they need stuff to do (like the problem with the decline of fires, and the maintenance of personnel levels for firefighters).

Plus, as I wrote about in the other entry, it's not clear that cops have the tools to be systematic in thinking about how to reduce crime from patterns (e.g., night time lighting, apartment buildings, etc.).

E.g. I get upset whenever I see stories on tv about bike thefts from apartment buildings. It's so obvious from the images that the racks are substandard, not to mention the general access issue.

Cops should be doing visits to buildings on CPTED issues, just as the fire marshals do wrt reducing potential safety and combustion issues.

At 11:29 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Relatedly, I've been one of the only people in the city to write against needing to hire more cops. For one, crime has declined. For another, we have more cops per capita even excluding all the various federally-related police that operate in the city on a patrol like basis (Park Police, Capitol Police, Uniformed Secret Service, Federal Protective Service).

E.g., we have 4/9 the number of cops as Los Angeles, but 1/4 of LA's population.

But like that post about LA's Community Safety Project, it's clear that in some areas of cities we need to change how cops are doing their jobs, and this will have extranormally positive impact on crime reduction.

2. But Lanier argues that because the city's population is increasing, we need to add police officers commensurately, to maintain the per capita percentage as the population grows.

maybe it would be better to invest our public safety resources differently in order to get better return.

P.S. if you have time, since you're in Chicago, check out that Tribune "Plan for Chicago" series.

At 12:17 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well, Chicago is well I started this intellectual journey in 2004 in an urban renewal conference. Don't ask.

I'm not bashing the El -- it is what it is -- but the number of garages downtown suggests that a large percentage of the work force is driving to work.

Huge number of big box stores. Terrible layouts.

Bikeshare is here. Winter biking is possible.

Downtown street parking (bad contract) not as awful as I thought. Cheaper than DC?

In terms of BW, yes, I think the theory works well with reduction of violent crime but strangely not so much on the property level crime. I'd say the police need to get more granular. DC in particular is way over policed.


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