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.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Police officers aren't always the best placemakers

Image from a street artists news webpage.

The Associated Press reports, in "Could Times Square's pedestrian plazas disappear to get rid of panhandlers?," that NYC Police Commissioner William Bratton suggests that one way to get rid of aggressive pandhandlers and other problem people in Times Square would be to remove the pedestrian plazas that were created there during the Bloomberg Administration.  From the article:
One possibility being considered is a separate zone just for the women. Another is to require them to obtain a license. And then Bratton shocked the civic-minded by suggesting that the city do away with the pedestrian plazas.

"I'd prefer to just dig the whole damn thing up and put it back the way it was," he said in a radio interview Thursday morning.

When de Blasio was asked about Bratton's comments a short time later, he confirmed that it was an option the task force has discussed.

"That's a very big endeavor and like every other option, comes with pros and cons," said the mayor, who added that the plazas would be given "a fresh look." ''You could argue that those plazas have had some very positive impacts. You could also argue they come with a lot of problems."

Image by Robert Miller via the New York Post.

Problems with aggressive street artists and panhandling have been increasing ("Why Times Square is becoming the worst place on earth," New York Post). The Times Square Alliance has called for licensing costumed artists performing in the public space.

Although apparently the issue is more complicated and the ministrations are coming from a much higher level than the Police Commissioner.

According to the newspapers ("Violence in Times Square could send businesses fleeing" and "The business fears behind the sudden Times Square furor," New York Post), what's driving the issue is concern that the problems are hurting the market for commercial office space.  From the New York Times article "Mayor de Blasio Raises Prospect of Removing Times Square Pedestrian Plazas":
But there was some support for Mr. de Blasio, from an atypical pool of bedfellows.

Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, which represents large corporations, said many employers in Times Square “would be happy to have the plaza disappear.” "It’s not the plaza itself; it’s the activity going on in the plaza,” Ms. Wylde said in an interview. “I’m not questioning the urban planning, traffic management purposes of the plaza. The issue is whether or not it’s creating an atmosphere that is creating inconvenience and potential danger.”

Giving street space back to pedestrians on Broadway Avenue in Manhattan, New York CityBroadway, Manhattan, New York City.

From an urban design, placemaking, and public space perspective, the creation of public plazas along Broadway Avenue in Manhattan has been seen as a major step forward by cities, a step that is increasingly emulated across the country ("Broadway Boulevard: Transforming Manhattan’s Most Famous Street," Project for Public Spaces; "New York Traffic Experiment Gets Permanent Run," New York Times).

In many ways, NYC is a special case, and hard to generalize from.

They have extremely liberal interpretations of public speech laws as it relates to dressing up and playing to tourists and asking for money ("Topless in Times Square: A Legal View," New York Times).

The most typical government response to problems is "elimination," the suggestion for getting rid of the pedestrian plazas is typical of this, when the real problem is unruly people.

Granted that's a lot harder to deal with and an ongoing issue, but it addresses the problem directly and fundamentally without diminishing quality of life for the majority of people.

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At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Christopher said...

What a terrible idea. They just finished the permanent plazas. But frankly, there was no commercial office district there before the plazas. The new law and banking buildings that have gone up in that area came because of the plazas. So the plazas have done nothing to hurt the real estate. Quite the opposite.

At 9:10 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'm not sureThe law/banking buildings don't have much to do with the plaza. 9/11, getting out of Downtown, then the global financial crisis (Morgan buying the bear sterns building) have a lot more to do with banks and their law firm followers moving in.

I'd note that Cuomo solved the problem on Sunday by having police arrest the topless ladies for tax evasion.

DeBlasio clearly does't even understand what levers are available to him.

I have some pictures of the Uline under construction from the train. Was up in NYC over the weekend.

At 1:06 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

Suzanne's intrigued by Rick Springfield, who played in Hershey, PA Sat. nite. We didn't go... I mentioned to her that the Hershey Arena used the same concrete construction process as the Uline. That method enabled the unobstructed view/eliminated the need for pillars.

2. wrt DeB generally, he's not a great example for the victoriousness of progressivism. Or my form of progressivism is different, in any case.

At 1:53 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

The Uline is going to look good. Several other people on the train commented on it as well.

Given the overall success of the infill station, I'm surprised that more of them have not been proposed. The Potomac Yard station will also be a success.

NYC politics are seriously weird and not going to pretend to understand it. That said, I can smell ineffective politicians from a distance -- they smell of fear carries in the wind.

Anyone up to recall Bowser?

At 3:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI: Times Square has been pretty cheesey for my entire life... just sayin'...

At 4:57 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt "recall," the problem is that people think recall is the end game. It's not. It's the beginning (like finished plans, I always say they are the beginning, not the end).

There was a guy on the concerned4DCPS list always pushing recall, recall, recall.

And I kept saying, sure, do it. But then who do you get in the person's place?

cf. what happened with Gray Baker, and the attempt at a recall of Scott Walker.

At 5:00 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I am seriously behind in reading (which will continue because of a funeral I am going to). Anyway, the WSJ had an editorial called "Times Squalid" which shocked me because it took the position, "don't just try to eliminate, act and manage." But I think that was just a way to turn the screws on DeBlasio, whom the conservatives aren't enamored with.

As Christopher points out, the police officers union is taking every opportunity to say that whatever DeBlasio is doing is contributing to quality of life problems, and this is another example.

At 7:31 AM, Anonymous Charlie said...

Not just the union but national republicans.

That is not to say that both have a point.

Plus, like Thomas Jefferson , Thaddeus ward , warren Harding and bill Clinton you can. Attacking them for being black

At 7:33 AM, Anonymous Charlie said...

Also the beggars in nyc are more energized. Was there last weekend. Gf went to atm. Beggar asked for money. Followed her into atm booth

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

In college, for a long time I was fascinated by Latin America (although not enough to have learned Spanish), at least academically. Back then it was the time of "bureaucratic authoritarianism" and military civic action programs (and a few years after the fall of Allende).

But the military civic action programs in Peru, I remember being very interested in.

Anyway, after 9/11 (and not just because in my reading of schlock fiction, yes, I've read "Far Pavilions" about India and Afghanistan in the 1800s by M.M. Kaye), I said the problem with military action is that you need nation building, and the soldiers really ought to have MAs and PhDs in anthropology.

Instead, we send killers as the day-to-day ambassadors for our country (not that organizations like AID or the now defunct contractor Agency for Educational Development are any better when it comes to being on the ground).

The same goes for police officers. By default they are civil action professionals. But they aren't trained that way, and who's to say it's even possible to train them that way, to be simultaneously warriors and social workers.

NYC needs a special detail and a large one at that for that whole area where the cops are super well trained warrior-social workers.

I can't imagine that's something the police officers union is up for, but probably neither is Bratton and the subtlety of it likely escapes DeBlasio too.

cf. DC and the need for embedded police officers-social workers a la the LA CSP.

in any case, people like your girlfriend shouldn't have to put up with that level of being accosted and threatened either.

At 12:54 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Getting off topic, but imbedding anthropology and other PhD into the military during Gulf War 2 and Afghanistan was very common.

And if you buy into the "Eating soup with a knife" (it's a book) that is also very much part of the counter insurgency process.

In terms of crimes, yes, also part of it. All part of your Marshall plan, and the idea that gang areas need more police not less police.

that said,the crime in NYC and more here that people are complaining about is targeting white people either on purpose (soft target) or accidental (the recent shaw shooting). This is exactly why we need to go back to stop and frisk.

I agree that is s shame that all black people feel targeted when only 30% of young black males are criminals.

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

know about that book, haven't read it. But given my age and going to school in the early post Vietnam era (UM's Institute for Science and Technology did research on night vision/infrared detection systems to use heat signatures from campfires to go after insurgents), I know some about that stuff.

wrt African-Americans and stop and frisk, the problem isn't so much the "only 30% are criminals" it's that almost everyone in the targeted communities gets stopped, often multiple times, and experiences "abuse" from the process at one point or another and it colors their judgments, e.g., "jump out squads."

the other weird element, based on living north of H Street for 15 years when it wasn't white... most of the families, even though they were middle class, had at least one "bad seed." So because they were family, even though they were criminals/up to no good/had been jailed, etc., their families had a predilection to support them, this colored their judgments about the police and police being "unreasonable."

It also comes down to street vs. middle class culture, the stuff that Elijah Anderson writes about. The problem, like you say, of "white people being targeted" is that in DC the "bad areas" and the good areas are adjacent, and every once in awhile, crime perpetrators realize that opportunities are readily available close by.

They commit "pattern crimes" and generally as the police recognize the patterns and deploy in response, the perpetrators get caught. (Also because they stick out in the areas where they commit crimes.)

Also, over time, criminals respond and change their practices to encourage success (e.g., "muggings" are usually done in teams, with a getaway driver and prearranged pick up points, and a perpetrator team as more than one attacker and/or having a weapon facilitates compliance/reduces the likelihood of resistance).

Ironically, rec centers and the like do two things that foster crime. 1. the teams for each center create competition between centers as loci for neighborhoods, and people develop rivalries, beefs, etc. 2. the other thing though as people go to different rec centers in nicer areas, they identify what they think of as soft targets, and commit crimes in those areas, until the opportunities are identified and perpetrators caught.

it cycles as the demographics become "favorable" to committing crimes, being poor, etc.

At 1:14 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I meant to augment that comment, that civic assets (not just rec centers) can be problems even though they are constructed with the aim of providing neighborhood, community, and individual improvements.

At 2:06 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well the book isn't quite what you think, then.

I've argued with Nagl that what he wants is really just more independence for special forces command (and a 6th military force). Certainly still a hard lesson for the army to drink. Very off topic.

Also this:

for what a local bank could really do.

RE: Yes, the fact that everyone is a race has to deal with the problem of 30% of young males is a unfair burden. Almost like if I blamed you for slavery and British imperialism because you are white.

Turning the cheek DeBlasio style doesn't work very well either.

The local crime wave would be a good time to take back the power of prosecution from the highly discredit US attorney's office.

Funny story about H st. The only friend of mine who moved there was a SF guy and how I know Nagl. We talked about moving to H st with a young family. He said he came outside, bought some beers for the guys, and explained he was so excited to be living here as his last job was teaching Green Berets how to kill you.

At 3:42 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Last point first. In college I came up with Richard's Rules, four rules to run my life, based on real experiences.

#2 is "don't fuck with people who are taught how to kill."

I came up with it one day when a guy on my floor, taller than me, in engineering, and unbeknownst to me at that moment, a ROTC student, burst into the RA's room and demonstrated how to eviscerate someone with a bayonet.

(FWIW, #3 is "always shoot twice." Based on movies like "Kiss of the Spiderwoman" but came up with in response to the ending of the movie "Exposed" with Natassia Kinski and Rudolf Nureyev, where RN shoots the bad guy who's writhing on the floor and Kinski runs to RN and embraces him but the guy on the floor had enough in him to pull the trigger one last time, shooting RN in the back...)

2. I did read that NYT article and it is AWESOME. I am gonna do a little piece on NO and will mention that article as well as two articles in the New Yorker. The one on the "natural experiment" of individual change of location thereby better than circumstances is equally great (and troubling from the standpoint of someone like me who advocates investing in places to improve the lot of individuals).

At 11:22 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt "the book" I think I'm thinking of the Australian.

At 8:38 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yep, Kilcullen, Nagl, my SF friend from H st, all part of CNAS.

(I'll even admit to doing some consulting work for them)

So, absolutely, within the military there was a recognition of this need.

Just as there is in police world. Have a long discussion with that last night with a police detective as we were downloading video from the 5th crime this summer around my building. Versus one last year.

That said, two additional points:

1) Even with the power of CNAS (tremendous 7 years ago) it gets absorbed into a larger bureaucracy very quickly.

2) The number of bad actors is limited (both "terrorists" and criminals) and you need to remove them quickly. The current view is it more effective to just use a predator to bomb them.

I did pose my theory that partial weed legalization is to blame for increased crime to the detective. He shut it down, thought it was the vice squads.

At 9:27 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

did you read the thread in POP the emails between a citizen and Lanier? She argued that the decentralized "vice squads" were increasingly unproductive.

And it's not like MPD has eliminated the pattern crime units within the districts or the focused crime suppression teams.

I can't claim to know enough to have a solid insight.

There were a couple interesting responses in the thread (1) one broke down crime by police district, and generally there is a rise, not huge, but a rise and (2) the other pointed out that most of the increase in murders is in 7D.

I would think that decriminalization, given the lack of legal outlets for purchasing, could lead to an increase in criminal activity, with gangs trying to respond to the likely increase in market and increase their market share.

But as pointed out in the discussions on synthetic drugs, the reason they are increasingly popular is because they don't show up on tox screens, unlike marijuana. And the PCP-like effects on some users are leading to another type of crime and public health crisis different altogether from the rise in homicides.

But we'd have to do some qualitative analysis of the crime reports to get a better sense for what's going on.

plus, there's always been complaints, justifiably probably, about the not very good follow up "detecting" skills on the part of many of the investigative resources of the MPD.

If the investigation side is weak, then criminals don't "get caught" until they finally do, committing crimes in the interim.

About 20 years ago, I subscribed to Chicago Magazine because I was thinking of moving there and I remember a cover story about the worst crime areas of the city and how a very select number of people committed most of the crimes.

That's just like the terrorism thing.

(wrt CNAS, just like I read Far Pavilions, I read some schlock fiction about a West Point graduating class from just before the Korean War and the next 20 years of their lives, including of course, Vietnam. One of the characters was big on special forces and he got abused/destroyed because of his focus on the little army when the "Big Army" didn't want to hear. Having read that stuff, as well as _Armageddon_ by Uris about the military occupation of Germany especially Berlin, I was always "shocked" that neither the counterinsurgency learnings from Vietnam nor the post-war learnings about the necessity of military government in focused ways for rebuilding a nation seemed to be referenced wrt Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Sure they did stuff, but so f*ed up.)

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

the detective yesterday suggest the vice squad in 3d had made 500 arrests in 2015 (up to may) compared to Lanier's claim of 800 some arrests citywide.

And you've got the deterrent factor. You can spot a police car several blocks away.

Detetive did also claim he spent all his time looking at cameras now rather than arresting people.

My two cents is they spend too much time on geography and place, and not enough time on tracking individuals. I said the said this about CNAS.

When you look at what happened to Petraeus and McCrystal, you get a sense of the elite arrogance of the COIN adherents as well as a cryptic conspiracy to take them down.

At 12:02 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

as usual, very perceptive point. Two of them actually (especially on the arrogance of power).

Yes, crimes are committed by individuals. So crime should be addressed just like a public health vector.

Speaking of your CNAS contacts, I recall an initiative o using terrorist tracking systems pioneered in Iraq for dealing with gang crime.

oops, I've overstated it:

Oh, I guess not: (this was the initiative I remembered)

e.g., Lanier's point about people getting out of jail and settling scores.

That's why those people should be getting special monitoring along the lines of the old Boston program that I mention all the time, but it turns out incorrectly.

The David Kennedy "street-based" violence program discussed in the Mother Jones article is different

from the "Boston Strategy to Prevent Youth Violence", and the sub-element called "Operation Night Lifht" where police and probation officers work together and regularly meet with/check in/monitor parolees.

... but I thought that's what CSOSA did now?

The Chi. Magazine article, I can't claim made the same point--I don't remember that far back. But obviously if you focus on the people committing most of the crimes, you'll be successful in interdicting crime.

But then, crime becomes politicized because politicians have to respond to peoples' expressed fears, rather than the reality.

Yes, crime leaks out into the nice areas and people go ape shit. It's aberrant for the most part, not part of a pattern. And the police having to deal with it limits their ability to respond to more problematic places/people.

At 1:33 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Bowser just proposed spot checks on ex-cons and probations this morning. Much as above. Low hanging fruit.

At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a discussion here (can't remember the topic) a few months back, I mentioned that I was in a two-month-long, several-days-a-week Grand Jury stint.

It was very eye-opening... lots of drugs, guns, young (mostly illegal) gang members, and drug-induced craziness and stupidity. (The US Attorney on one of the gang cases said that these issues are completely correlated to the young, male, hormonal demographic.)

One of my fellow jurors was a recently-retired Justice Department attorney with two adult children who graduated DCPS. Whenever the 18-23 of us didn't/couldn't come to an evidence-based conclusion to return an indictment, she would always remark say not to worry. In her experience, it was remarkably certain that the individual would be back at some future date.

With another one of my fellow jurors being a stickler for details on the new DC MJ possession laws, a couple of the cases had to be sent back and charges dropped or amended. And on many of the drug and gun charges, there were some concerns aired about entrapment.

My biggest concern (as you have pointed out also, R) with MPD patrolling in cars and on foot in known "hot spots" where all of this activity goes on is it seems to be dealing with symptoms rather than the underlying cause of these symptoms.

FYI, Charlie: My nephew is a Russian-speaking GB stationed in Europe (went into AR school right out of high school) and when I expressed concern about his first tour (Afghanistan), he said, "Don't worry. ARs go in and do all the prep work and the Seals follow to do cleanup." He and his team spend all their time training troops in other countries.


At 11:03 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Besides your observations, the other thing that stuck with me is a kind of imbeciality in escalating and committing violence as part of "beefs" between families.

E.g., recently the thing where a mother was killed, and maybe someone else, I can't remember. This started with a young kid of the mother's throwing rocks at someone.

I remember a bunch of assaults (not deaths, fortunately) escalating in similar ways. E.g., a mother gets involved with the other mother, because their daughters were in a fight.

And wrt murders, the problem of rec center athletics being a source of ongoing competition between neighborhoods, brawls, fights, escalating into murder.

And then the taunting of the police by parents of perpetrators.

2. So at one level it's systemic and structural but another personal and individual.

My "solutions" in terems of the provision of civic assets and programs are aimed at the structural but that will take decades to have effect.

In the meantime, it seems like generations of people are lost forever.


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