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.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Social urbanism and equity planning as a way to address crime, violence, and persistent poverty: (not in) DC

In 2013 I was on grand jury duty.  Each jury had a specialization--ours was drugs and guns mostly, but we still dealt with murders, assaults, and other violent crimes.  

The lesson after three months was that DC spends billions of dollars each year--police, emergency services, health and social services, criminal justice, education, etc., in the communities where crime is persistent--just to keep the neighborhoods and people within them at equilibrium/the same--not to improve.

So I started thinking even more about this.  I had been thinking about it plenty, but more in terms of addressing crime:

-- "Crime prevention through environmental design and repeated burglaries at the Naylor Gardens apartment complex," 2013
"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

But that wasn't enough.  I had to consider equity planning ("An outline for integrated equity planning: concepts and programs," 2017, "Equity planning: an update," 2020), social urbanism ("Social urbanism and Baltimore," 2019). public investment in place ("Yes, public and nonprofit investments in the city spur further reinvestment and change: is this a bad thing or a complicated thing?," 2019, "Rethinking community planning around maintaining neighborhood civic assets and anchors," 2011) and more focused policing-community partnership initiatives ("Los Angeles police department "Community Safety Partnership"," 2014, expanded as "Creating 'community safety partnership neighborhood management programs as a management and mitigation strategy for public nuisances: Part 3 (like homeless shelters)," 2020).

And I realized that David Barth's concept of an "integrated public realm framework", which I thought about a lot in terms of both transportation and the conceptualization of civic assets as a network, was equally applicable to equity and community revitalization planning.

While I haven't ever combined these writings into a unified position paper, I did talk about it extensively with a campaign worker for Muriel Bowser in 2013 at September's 17th Street Festival when she was running for mayor.  (I talked with the policy analyst, Suzanne talked with Ms. Bowser.)

The recent two part set of articles on what an economic revitalization plan for St. Louis ought to look like goes a long way towards outlining such a concept in practical ways for a city overall or a city with areas of persistent poverty:

-- "St. Louis: what would I recommend for a comprehensive revitalization program? | Part 1: Overview and Theoretical Foundations," 2021
-- "St. Louis: what would I recommend for a comprehensive revitalization program? | Part 2: Implementation Approach and Levers," 2021

And wrt "East of the River" there are also these past pieces: 

-- "Wanted: A comprehensive plan for the "Anacostia River corridor"" 2012
-- "DC has a big "Garden Festival" opportunity in the Anacostia River," 2014
-- "Ordinary versus Extraordinary Planning around the rebuilding of the United Medical Center in Southeast Washington DC | Part One: Rearticulating the system of health and wellness care East of the River," 2018
-- "Schools #2: Successful school programs in low income communities and the failure of DC to respond similarly," 2019

(Another idea, not original to me, is to underground DC 295/I-295 ("DC and "city repair" of the urban grid," 2020).  

Photo from Interstate-Guide.

I also suggested when I was briefly affiliated with the now defunct Anacostia River Trust, to create a Trail/River Towns initiative, modeled after the Trail Towns and River Towns programs in Pennsylvania, for the River and the Anacostia River Trail, from DC to Greenbelt Maryland.)

There is a National Park Service map/brochure for the Anacostia River Trail (water and shared use).

My idea, being a place-based initiative, called for creating a "Deputy Mayor for East of the River" although parts of Ward 5, Ward 1, and to some extent Ward 4 have areas of persistent poverty and should've been included in such an initiative also.

(Some cities like Dallas, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia, and Toronto, Ontario have various initiatives that address poverty in focused ways, but definitely more broadly than an almost exclusive focus on jobs.)

I never heard from them again, but imagine my surprise to read about her adoption of this concept, uncredited, in a May 2014 article about the campaign in the New York Times.

When she was elected, she created a Deputy Mayor position, not place-focused as I proposed, but on achieving gainful employment, a "Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity," with a focus on creating a "pathway to the middle class."

In contrast to what I proposed, the position wasn't focused on wide-scale community revitalization, more on employment and the Department of Employment Services.  

While this press release touts great success from the position, the reality is that the places of persistent poverty remain economic laggards and crime and the murder rate has increased in these communities.  (When the original appointee was replaced, Mayor Bowser appointed the director of the Department of Child and Family Services to co-hold the Deputy Mayor position, demonstrating the lack of a broader approach.)

Which is the point made today ("Press releases aren’t going to prevent gun violence in D.C.") by Washington Post columnist Colbert King.  He writes that Mayor Bowser keeps introducing initiatives and press releases, but crime keeps rising.  

And despite complaints by Bowser Administration officials that the criminal justice system (in DC, because the city is still overall under control of the federal government, adult crimes are prosecuted by a unit of the federal Department of Justice) is failing to prosecute the perpetrators of violent crimes, the fact is that's not the case, according to data presented in the article.

Reading the comments, I realized that had Mayor Bowser done something more along the lines of what I suggested, the creation of a wide-ranging community revitalization initiative on the scale of social urbanism initiatives like those in Medellin--which have reduced murders by about 90%--likely, even in the face of the pandemic, crime and murders would have dropped, neighborhoods and life circumstances and achievements would have improved.

-- "Experiments in Social Urbanism"
-- "'Social urbanism' experiment breathes new life into Colombia's Medellin Toronto Globe & Mail
-- "Medellín's 'social urbanism' a model for city transformation," Mail & Guardian
-- "Medellín slum gets giant outdoor escalator," Telegraph
-- "Medellín, Colombia offers an unlikely model for urban renaissance," Toronto Star

The problem is that most elected officials aren't particularly visionary--and we have to grant them recognition of the reality that multi-generational poverty is a problem that takes more than a couple of four-year terms as mayor can reverse--and they want to make ideas "their own" -- for example "Deputy Mayor of Greater Economic Opportunity" as opposed to "Deputy Mayor for East of the River" -- usually dumbing down the potential of the initiative in the process.

Or as I wrote in the conclusion of "Social urbanism and Baltimore":

Righting disorder is a process that never ends.  Medellin isn't perfect. The city still is wracked by violence ("Medellin's efforts against crime prove fleeting," Washington Post), but I think the point is that there is never a "state of rest." And in any case, going from 6,391 murders to less than 500 (at one point) is a significant accomplishment.

But it must be recognized that this is an ongoing process, because the forces of disorder are always present, and only by continued investments in public safety, education, and civic assets can the chaos be countered.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


At 3:59 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Detroit Free Press: Detroit's Core City project revitalizes abandoned Detroit buildings, land.

At 9:07 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

"Black Toronto neighbourhoods see more homicides but less support for victims’ family and friends, report finds"

U of Toronto The Homicide Tracker
​2004 - 2020

This map was developed to visually depict the devastating, disproportionate prevalence of
homicide in predominantly African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) neighbourhoods throughout Toronto and illustrate the availability of resources designed to assist family ​members and friends of
​murdered victims in surviving the aftermath of unthinkable tragedy.

Social Determinants of Homicide (report)

also a previous Star article:

"Never-before-seen shootings data reveals the hyper-local toll of Toronto gun violence"

2. Victim advocates at Temple University Hospital, Philadelphia

At 2:01 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Mayor’s crime fighting initiative, Building Blocks DC, is shifting its structure

The article includes a link to a report analyzing two years of homicides, finding that about 70% of the homicides were attributable to a few hundred people.

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

In this article it says that 82% of those surveyed believe more money should be spent improving impoverished neighborhoods.

3 in 10 District residents do not feel safe in their neighborhoods, Post poll finds

At 9:39 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

"In D.C.’s poorest wards, Bowser touts advances as she courts a wary electorate"

From the article:

“Moving Big Projects Forward,” reads a headline in a 28-page taxpayer-funded brochure that Bowser recently sent to D.C. residents. The glossy mass mailing, festooned with more than a dozen photos of the mayor at various events, touts several Ward 7 and 8 developments, including construction of the “first full-service supermarket” to open east of the river since 2007. ...

Yet, others complained that Bowser is too aloof and voiced the long-standing frustration that their communities do not receive as much attention as more affluent White neighborhoods. In The Post poll, the mayor’s approval rating in Wards 7 and 8 was lower than in any other part of the city.

Chris Baker, 52, a project manager who lives in Congress Heights, said the development projects that Bowser trumpets do not alter his view that she is benefiting from plans forged before she became mayor.

“She helped get it there, but she’s not innovative and she’s not a visionary,” said Baker, who described himself as an undecided voter. “I thought there would be massive changes on our side of the river when she came in, but I haven’t seen it.” ...

On a brisk morning in early February, Bowser was at Marvin Gaye Park in Ward 7, surrounded by police officials as she and Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) announced a new anti-crime initiative to counter a surge in carjackings.

When the mayor took questions, Mandla Deskins, 35, a neighborhood resident, asked about a nearby playground “that is completely falling apart,” a place near where he said there had been a fatal shooting last summer.

The disrepair, he told the mayor, represents the city’s “failure” to provide “the most basic things.”

“What can we look forward to from your office as far as addressing, of course, the playground itself but also the surrounding community?” he asked.

“We are very engaged in this community, I think you know,” the mayor replied, before promising to “take a look at the park.”

I didn't get into the weeds on the concept, but the first thing should have been an asset mapping for the impoverished areas, and a rating program for physical condition and range of programs and offerings to effectuate necessary improvements.

But also community asset mapping along the lines of the ABCD Institute. Etc.


Post a Comment

<< Home