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, August 11, 2020

The fine line between urban/center city chaos and order

There are a couple of pieces, one not quite a screed ("The UWS is falling apart, and lefties seem too woke to care," New York Post) and the Bloomberg Opinion column, "New York and San Francisco Can’t Assume They’ll Bounce Back," about the decline in urban order in the face of rioting, violence and looting around Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

Crime is rising in a number of US cities right now, in particular shootings and murders, but not so much other crimes, and there are a variety of theories for why this is so ("The murder spike in big US cities, explained," Vox).

WRT BLM-related violence, it seems to be perpetrated by a preponderance of whites ("How reckless White allies could lead to the reelection of Trump," Washington Post), but also recognize that some of it is fomented by supremacists seeking to spark disorder and discredit BLM, such as in Minneapolis ("Minneapolis police say 'Umbrella Man' was a white supremacist," Minneapolis Star-Tribune) and Oakland ("Suspect in officers' killings tied to Boogaloo group," Los Angeles Times).

Looting I think was more opportunistic and tended to be a more racially "diverse" phenomenon.  Clearly some groups organized specific forays against businesses, seeing the opportunity.

While I understand the need to seriously reconfigure how we deliver public safety services:

-- "Is it too late to change the messaging on "Defund the Police"? How about "Reconstruct Policing"?," 2020
-- "Towards a public safety model that is broader than policing," 2020

the idea of "defund the police" scares the hell out of me, because I have first hand experience of living with widespread disorder, from 1987 into the early 2000s, living in Washington, DC, when the 1990s were especially terrible because of the crack epidemic, bad policing, and other problems.

I can't provide a full recounting of all the bad experiences with crime that I dealt with during that time, but they include:
  • at least three muggings (I happened to get away each time, although my glasses were broken once and I was punched another time)
  • attempted muggings
  • a crazy assault when I was locking my bike which caused blood and injury (I got the guy arrested and he served time, but the reality is that he was mentally ill)
  • stolen (rental) car
  • multiple stolen bikes or stolen bike parts
  • thefts from my yard
  • thefts of my stuff when at restaurants
  • multiple burglaries of my house
  • rape of my then wife during the commission of a burglary (which led to our divorce, although we might have gotten divorced eventually anyway)
  • etc.
Besides my personal experiences with criminal acts, the neighborhood where I lived was full of disorder, from trash to vacant houses to a major crack distribution area. 

There were at least a dozen murders a year in the neighborhood, some within a block of my house at particularly bad corners or at businesses.  The H Street commercial district was pretty gnarly too, with a lot of crime, vacant properties, street robberies, robberies of businesses, tons of litter etc.

(As a result, community policing matters were some of the issues I aimed to address when I first got involved in neitghborhood issues around 2000.  A few years later, I was featured in a Washington Post article on Labor Day in 2003, about city advocates fighting the overconcentration of liquor stores, the sales of singles, etc.  It's oddly not available online, but is in articles databases.)

So arguing that police have no legitimate role in maintaining order makes no sense to me.

Furthermore, doing some experiments of my own picking up litter, and seeing the impact of nuisance properties led to my fervent belief in the theoretical basis of broken windows theory--that better maintained places are safer than those that aren't.

Obviously, the "Capitol Hill Occupied Protest/Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" ("The CHAZ Has Become America’s Fascination," Seattle Met) in Seattle was no bed of roses ("Capitol Hill residents and businesses sue city of Seattle for failing to disband CHOP," Seattle Times) even if alt right media blew it out of proportion.

Even in the best of circumstances, some people join in and seek to take advantage of the situation for their own purposes.

Getty Images.  

And the reality is that not everyone is pure of heart.  Some people are evil.  Others have mental health or substance abuse demons that make it difficult for them to function in society, etc.

So we need forces to help us maintain order.  And volunteers don't normally measure up when it comes to dealing with serious disorder.

That traditional police forces need to be much better controlled, trained, and resourced is another issue.

And I am the first to argue that public safety service delivery should be conceptualized much differently from at present:

-- "Crime prevention through environmental design and repeated burglaries at the Naylor Gardens apartment complex," 2013
-- "Los Angeles police department "Community Safety Partnership"," 2014
-- "Night-time safety: rethinking lighting in the context of a walking community," 2014
-- "Crime time re-revisited: a set of programs focused on reducing crime," 2015
-- "The state of "broken windows" versus "problem oriented policing" strategies in 2016: Part 1, theory and practice," 2016
-- "The state of "broken windows" versus "problem oriented policing" strategies in 2016: Part 2, what to do," 2016
-- "Police response to mental health matters," 2016
-- "Who identifies problems and addresses them at the metropolitan scale? No one, at least when it comes to mental health-related police shootings," 2016
-- "Revisiting intimate partner violence/murder," 2017
-- "Seattle Times article on the need for changes to 911 services and emergency response," 2018
-- "Broken windows/collective efficacy: Baltimore; Newark; Grand Junction, Colorado; Pittsburgh; Albany," 2019
-- "Social urbanism and Baltimore," 2019

I wrote this in the second Broken Windows piece from 2016:

One of the problems that many people ascribe to the #BlackLivesMatter agenda is a kind of "nullification" as it relates to crime ("Black Lives Matter should also take on 'black-on-black crime," Washington Post).  To an outsider, it appears as if there is a kind of preconceived notion within the movement that anything "the government" does concerning crime and public safety is anti-Black and moreover, unjustified.

While I can see why many people would have strong reason to believe that, it is in fact a stretch or overstatement.  There is no question that the current paradigm isn't working (past blog entries: "Police misconduct and grand juries: a separate prosecution and grand jury system is necessary," "How police departments become corrupt," and "Police officers aren't always the best placemakers")

But at the same time there is no question that there is crime and it disproportionately impacts low income communities and people of color.

I believe that communities need a strong agenda for dealing with crime while recognizing that the public safety agenda is often built on a racist foundation, and much more resources need to be put towards community improvement, simultaneous with and not subservient to "order maintenance."

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


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

Some big difference:

1) Looting now is primarily being directed at "center city" / high end destinations rather than at stores that served the back community;

2) Nobody should be shocked at number of increases in shooting as police back off. That said, number of homicides isn't on the same scale. I think since BLM around an addition 3500 black people have been killed since 2016. That's a large number -- about the same as the number of black people lynched over an 80 year span -- but doesn't correspond to the number of shooting increase. 2020 does look like it may match the beginning of the 1980s drug war in an absolute increase but over time that will drop.

3) "Defund the police" appears to be very unpopular going on month 3 in public opinion polls.

4) twitter ephemera:

5) For the life of me I don't know why don't focus on increased taxation on handgun ammunition. Highly regulated product and not the easiest to make at home.

My cousin who is a doctor in the UK gave up working for the NHS and went into a consultative practice. She got tired of midnight knife wounds. So shooting as a proxy for urban violence is just that -- a proxy.

At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

more twitter:

(And yes, its' from Fox but widely reported)

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

re: 1 and 3

2. Obviously if everyone is committed to mayhem, there aren't enough police. What I am saying is that in large part public safety is a product of people's willingness to be law abiding.

When police back off, when they are seen as oppressive, it doesn't create conditions that favor order.

My joke about DC's large number of police was after the Freddie Gray riots--DC has 2x more the number of local police officers that Baltimore has--"now I understand why DC has so many police officers..."

5. You mention a tax on ammunition. I hadn't thought of it. But your mentioning it also makes me think about excise tax on guns.

E.g., gasoline excise tax in Europe. Or how the process of being approved for a drivers license in countries like Germany is so difficult and expensive. And how the Netherlands and maybe Denmark have a 100% excise tax on the purchase of a new car.

But a tax on ammunition would be a lot easier or at least a great first step.

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt knife crime/weapons substitution, I understand why your cousin would be fed up, but a difference between knife and gun crime is that people are more likely (not completely) to survive a knifing.

I remember that came up with a crazy person run amok in Japan stabbing people. Many more survivors compared to mass shootings.

Still, criminologists like Ronald Clarke and Herman Goldstein (problem oriented policing) make/made the point that the majority of crime is situational and environmentally shaped (design and other factors in the environment not "you had a bad childhood") and instead most of our focus in crime policy is on people/individuals.

Measures like taxes on bullets is a way to have a structural approach. Among many others.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt your first twitter, around the beginning of the George Floyd protests, NGC ran the documentary "LA 92" about the Rodney King riots.

It's 2 hours long almost.

It showed how so many of the business owners felt helpless, that the LAPD backed off.

DK if you saw the story about the wack job in PA who stole some cigars, shot at police etc., and his defense that he hasn't responded well to covid related restrictions.

One of the comments on the article made the point that the reality is that a huge preponderance of people in the US are on the edge mentally, tightly wound, easily set off (definitely a reason to restrict access to guns).

It's the same, unfortunately, with order. I would have no idea what the numbers are.

But like how 30% of people want to live in cities, 40% in the suburbs, and 30% in either, maybe 30% of the people are on the edge and willing to engage in mayhem if the conditions present themselves.

I understand burning down the Minneapolis police station, maybe. But hundreds of businesses on Lake Street. Businesses in St. Paul?

At 1:08 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt Twitter #2, when I said I didn't agree with everything Lex Scott of BLM Utah believes, she said in response to complaints about destruction and looting, that her focus is on people's lives. (She also made the point that BLM Utah only sponsored like two protests, that most of the other protests, and the ones that included destruction weren't sponsored by her organization).

My issue is personal experience in witnessing how long it took neighborhoods in DC to recover from the 1968 riots. And at least they recovered, while areas in other cities like Detroit and Baltimore still haven't recovered 50+ years later.

DK if you saw the hullabaloo about David Shor, who was booted off a list and lost his job because he made the point that research shows that wrt social change, people are ok with protest but not with protest that ends in violence. That it reduces their support.

Anyway, that dude's justification is f*ed. I understand the need for significant investment in disinvested neighborhoods and to counter structural racism. Stealing from Gucci isn't that. It's not even akin to giving a $ to someone who is homeless.

At 1:19 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt the NYT article, haven't read it yet. But yep, if the reason for extranormal revenues (tourism, business workers, night time entertainment) has dissipated, than super high rents aren't justifiable or sustainable.

(This is separate from the Fifth Avenue "landmark" store phenomenon, when companies decided it was no longer worth paying super premium prices mostly for marketing, when sales/s.f. didn't cover the costs of the operating the store.)

This gets at your long term point about commercial property values declining as a result of retail decline and how this will have to come around in terms of lower valuations and lower taxes and the impact on city budgets.

In the pandemic, the reality is that "regular" retail of buying goods is mostly ok so long as there are restrictions on the number of people in stores, there is space in the aisles, wearing masks, good ventilation, etc.

Maybe not for apparel and changing rooms. Or not trying stuff on in the store and having liberal return policies.

But food and drink, concerts, entertainment, restaurants and bars, amusements, sporting events, etc. that's totally screwed until there is a reliable vaccine.

Yes, I'd like to go to a restaurant. But I'm driven by reason. The risk is too great.

I'm tempted to consider outdoor patio in a couple of circumstances, but even then, because we live with two people 83 years old, one of whom seems to be susceptible to respiratory issues (but is pretty healthy having survived sepsis but at the cost of dementia), it's wrong to introduce that potential risk.

Unfortunately, the majority of our experiences buying takeout from restaurants that didn't used to focus on it have been really negative.

At 11:40 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Salon has an article,

about how legacy African American politicians losing primaries to more progressive black politicians is a function of white gentrification.

This has come up in DC over the primary election victory of Janeese George over Brandon Todd, although he is at least one generation younger than William Lacy Clay of Missouri.

Brandon Tood is 37. George is younger, 32, as is the Brooke Pinto, 29, ho won the seat in Ward 2.

So it's not just about age.

While Ward 4 is still an African American majority demographically, "new residents" are more highly educated and more likely to be white (or Hispanic or in interracial marriages). This is making a difference in local politics as people with the length of their residence, become more sophisticated in their understanding of local issues and politicians.

It's taken 4+ elections, but progressively leaning people probably have realized that black politicians like Adrian Fenty, Muriel Bowser--both went on to become mayor--and Brandon Todd are Democrats and better than Republicans, but they aren't leading edge progressives.

There is a changing of the guard and there is a change in people's expectations from government and about policy.

Clay's loss to Cori Bush isn't much different than Rashida Tlaib's primary rematch victory over Brenda Jones, the 60 year old chair of the Detroit City Council. (Although you can be 60 years old and not over the hill in terms of progressive politics...)

Tlaib is 44 years old, has very strong constituent services--she opened up four "neighborhood service centers" in her district--and has strong credibility as an involved and engaged activist in the community.

At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts, and I'm really sorry about what happened to your ex-wife and to you.

You have alluded to it in past writings that I've read, and I was sorry to learn it was more awful than I could have imagined.

Sending you support and appreciation!

At 9:40 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

! Thanks.

At 9:40 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

At 4:46 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

POLITICO: Opinion | What About the Cops Who Watched George Floyd Die?.


Post a Comment

<< Home