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
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: change-innovation-transformation, civic assets, crime, criminal justice system, equity planning, policing, public safety, social urbanism, Transformational Projects Action Planning, urban design/placemaking