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Crime Has Been Lost in Urban Discourse. We need to bring it back.

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Seattle is a model of urbanism. The City scores high in the walkability rankings, and they pioneered many urban policies that other cities have followed. Houston Tomorrow actually brought a speaker in from Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods, to see what we could learn from them. But last week video surfaced of Aiesha Steward-Baker being brutally attacked in one of Seattle’s bus tunnels.

The relationship between urbanism and crime is not new. Oscar Newman wrote “Creating Defensible Space” in 1974. Jane Jacobs talked about it even earlier. But nobody seems to talk about it any more. I searched for ‘crime’ on two of Houston’s urbanism websites. Houston Tomorrow had just one article that directly addressed crime and urbanism. NeoHouston had an article with a picture of Andrew Burleson climbing a fence. A Google search was a little more fruitful, but not much.

In the absence of educated discourse, people have developed pretty far-fetched ideas on crime and urbanism, and cities have stopped listening to neighborhood crime concerns.

The far-fetched ideas aren’t worth going into. But neighborhood crime concerns are. A perfect example is happening in Northeast Houston. The City is building a bridge to connect the Songwood and Wood Bayou neighborhoods. People in Wood Bayou support the bridge. It will unite the two neighborhoods and make them both more walkable. People from Wood Bayou will have easier access to Brown Park. But people in Songwood are fighting the bridge because they fear it will bring crime to their neighborhood. Nobody is working on ways to help with Songwood’s crime concerns while also giving Wood Bayou the access they need. They’re just building a bridge.

We could change this if we bring crime back to our discussions on urbanism. Aiesha Steward-Baker was attacked in a bus tunnel in one of America’s most forward-thinking urban cities. If that isn’t reason enough, what is?

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You also seem to ignore the fact that this was a about some sort of personal grudge and has nothing to do with "urbanism."

That and two security personel who had their hands tied and were more concerned with CYA than the victim.

Try again.

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Correlation does not equal causation, and all that jazz...

Suggesting crime is a byproduct of urbanization is as absurd as suggestion rural living is a relative utopia. And that just ain't true. Crime is a result of many things, examples of which include (but, as always, not limited to) education standards, poverty, reproductive rights, policing priorities and the economy at large. Crime may be exacerbated by human proximity related to urbanism, but it in no way is caused by it.

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Correlation does not equal causation, and all that jazz...

Suggesting crime is a byproduct of urbanization is as absurd as suggestion rural living is a relative utopia. And that just ain't true. Crime is a result of many things, examples of which include (but, as always, not limited to) education standards, poverty, reproductive rights, policing priorities and the economy at large. Crime may be exacerbated by human proximity related to urbanism, but it in no way is caused by it.

The notion that urbanization causes crime is one of the far-fetched ideas that I didn’t want to repeat. You’re absolutely right that crime is a result of many things. A personal vendetta. Poverty and Desperation. Mental Illness. The list goes on….

Criminals will commit crimes. But what makes a criminal choose one location over another?

Usually criminals like to be out of the way, and in the dark: where they think they won’t be caught. They like easy access: to get in, commit the crime, and make a clean getaway. They don’t want to be confronted by alarms, barking dogs, or concerned neighbors. Criminals don’t want real police officers around, because they don’t want to be arrested.

The trouble is that urbanists have lost sight of these concerns. Jane Jacobs’ vision for cities grew out of crime prevention. When’s the last time anyone talked about that? Everyone assumes we’re “Creating Defensible Space” in streets and public spaces. But are we really?

This was a about some sort of personal grudge and has nothing to do with "urbanism."

Seattle's urbanism didn't cause the attack. But since Seattle is a model for urbanists, maybe the attack will shock them into a newfound concern for public safety. This is really what I'm hoping for.

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Few subjects pertaining to large cities, also known as "urban areas", have been studied, discussed, researched, dissected, funded and generally been the top concern of residents as crime and its prevention. To suggest otherwise is to simply ignore the overwhelming amount of information on the subject. And, to use one isolated incident in one city as proof of your assertion is beyond absurd.

EDIT: I should probably point out that my response is not an indication that I believe that crime prevention, both in educating residents and in urban design, is not a laudable goal. It is simply a statement on your over-wrought introduction to the subject, as well as an indictment of your laying of blame for one assault at the feet of the un-named and un-defined 'urbanists'.

Edited by RedScare

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Seattle's urbanism didn't cause the attack. But since Seattle is a model for urbanists, maybe the attack will shock them into a newfound concern for public safety. This is really what I'm hoping for.

And do what? Implement some new reactive policy that doesn't solve any core problems? Talking about crime in terms of development seems counterproductive and a waste of time. Crime is an issue that goes far beyond urban development and the construction of a bridge, and putting the desires of one community over another less economically advantaged community in the city reeks of elitism. You may as well institute an unwritten rule that the po' folk can cross the bridge to work as house servants and to toil in the fields, but by sundown they'd better be back on their side of the bridge or else.

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Few subjects pertaining to large cities, also known as "urban areas", have been studied, discussed, researched, dissected, funded and generally been the top concern of residents as crime and its prevention.

Your lack of citations proves my point. Everyone just assumes that since crime is such a big issue, urbanists must be discussing it.

I believe that crime prevention, both in educating residents and in urban design, [is a] laudable goal.

The problem is that crime prevention has been lost in discussions on urban design. Law enforcement and criminal lawyers (naturally) still talk about crime, but they’re not the ones designing cities.

Talking about crime in terms of development seems counterproductive and a waste of time.

Urbanists need to talk about ways to make public spaces less attractive as locations for crime.

Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying that crime should be the only thing urbanists discuss. I am certainly not saying that urbanism is the only thing that affects crime. Nor am I saying that urban design could ever eradicate crime from the City. I am only saying that we need to bring crime back into the conversations we have about urbanism.

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The problem is that crime prevention has been lost in discussions on urban design. Law enforcement and criminal lawyers (naturally) still talk about crime, but they’re not the ones designing cities.

What urban planners actually do is develop a piecemeal framework (that is codified and enforced by lawyers) within which architects and developers can design and build individual projects. Though a common conceit, it's a fallacy of composition to say that urban planners design cities.

Edited by TheNiche

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The problem is that crime prevention has been lost in discussions on urban design. Law enforcement and criminal lawyers (naturally) still talk about crime, but they’re not the ones designing cities.

lol....it's getting chilly.

Urbanists need to talk about ways to make public spaces less attractive as locations for crime.

Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying that crime should be the only thing urbanists discuss. I am certainly not saying that urbanism is the only thing that affects crime. Nor am I saying that urban design could ever eradicate crime from the City. I am only saying that we need to bring crime back into the conversations we have about urbanism.

remember bill white said there was no problem.

Edited by musicman

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Urbanists need to talk about ways to make public spaces less attractive as locations for crime.

And ruralists need to make trailer parks less attractive as locations for meth production.

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And ruralists need to make trailer parks less attractive as locations for meth production.

Some areas have Crime Watch signs. But you know you're really in a shady area when you start seeing Meth Watch signs.

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And ruralists need to make trailer parks less attractive as locations for meth production.

Precisely. People designing public spaces in rural areas should design spaces to be less attractive to crime, too. (And also people designing public space in suburbs; and those designing public space in exurbs....)

My post was never intended to instigate an urban versus rural cat-fight.

So are you endorsing some sort of prescriptive code on bldg public security?

If it comes to that through study and research, then yes - it could be part of the building code.

Before that, though, we need to ask the hard questions on crime in urban design. And we need to demand real answers from the urbanists. They can't keep saying 'oh, crime isn't a problem - now let's talk about how cool our Livable Centers are gonna be.'

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I'd love to participate in this thread, but there are two problems. One, who are these 'urbanists' of which you speak? You keep denigrating their work, yet you have neither identified them nor their work. And, two, can you point to at least one instance where 'they' have said that crime is not a problem?

Thanks in advance.

Oh, and having watched the video of the assault, I'd like your opinion on what should be done to solve THAT problem. I have my ideas, but I'd like to hear yours, in light of your urbanist rants.

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I'd love to participate in this thread, but there are two problems. One, who are these 'urbanists' of which you speak? You keep denigrating their work, yet you have neither identified them nor their work. And, two, can you point to at least one instance where 'they' have said that crime is not a problem?

Thanks in advance.

Oh, and having watched the video of the assault, I'd like your opinion on what should be done to solve THAT problem. I have my ideas, but I'd like to hear yours, in light of your urbanist rants.

In all fairness to WAZ, it's true that urbanist monologues (and I use the term "monologues" because discourse on the subject is consistently framed from the perspective that urbanism is above reproach, question or doubt) rarely bother to tackle crime as an issue in lieu of addressing what I like to call "puppy issues" such as walkability. He has a valid point that crime is largely swept under the rug by this bunch.

If there are any doubts, browse through a few ULI magazines.

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In all fairness to WAZ, it's true that urbanist monologues (and I use the term "monologues" because discourse on the subject is consistently framed from the perspective that urbanism is above reproach, question or doubt) rarely bother to tackle crime as an issue in lieu of addressing what I like to call "puppy issues" such as walkability. He has a valid point that crime is largely swept under the rug by this bunch.

If there are any doubts, browse through a few ULI magazines.

Perhaps these "urbanists" feel crime is beyond their purview or their realm of expertise. Perhaps they feel crime is a policing issue (or an educational issue, or a blah blah blah, etc) and that they'll stick to designing urban space for walkability and other puppy issues that fit within their realm of expertise.

Then again, as Red pointed out, the "urbanists" are been left largely undefined. Are they city planners? Are they architects? Are they development financiers? Are they a consortium of all of these and more? What role do the urbanists play? Is there anything they can actually do to prevent or eliminate crime? My past studies lead me to conclude crime is far more complex an issue than can be solved with the design or placement of a building. Crime is a social problem, not an architectural problem. Walkability on the other hand... that can be determined by the design and placement of buildings.

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Perhaps these "urbanists" feel crime is beyond their purview or their realm of expertise. Perhaps they feel crime is a policing issue (or an educational issue, or a blah blah blah, etc) and that they'll stick to designing urban space for walkability and other puppy issues that fit within their realm of expertise.

More accurately, I think that urbanists would generally rather sweep the entire issue of crime under the rug. From a PR perspective, they know that they can't overcome the perceived notion that urban areas automatically translate to a higher rate of crime. Trying to talk about how crime relates to urban form reminds people that crime is part of the urban form. And that's not good PR; it doesn't advance the urbanism movement.

There are exceptions. It emerges on occasion with respect to special issues such as subsidized housing, and even got a little press with respect to the reconstruction efforts in New Orleans and Galveston.

(Btw, I didn't use the word "puppy" in my last post. I used a similar word that in fact has very little to do with even half of the population of puppies.)

Then again, as Red pointed out, the "urbanists" are been left largely undefined. Are they city planners? Are they architects? Are they development financiers? Are they a consortium of all of these and more? What role do the urbanists play?

Urbanism is a movement; those that ascribe to the movement are urbanists. Urbanism was not originally the purview of architects. It mostly had to do with city planning, which was professionally and academically removed from architecture. But since architects have a god complex, they have largely co-opted the movement under the heading of "landscape architecture" and other bogus terms. Architecture also has its tentacles embedded in fields such as sociology and economics, much to the detriment of everybody involved.

Urbanists can be found in many professions, most notably urban planning and architecture. But professions ranging from developers to bankers to structural engineers to city councilmembers have had some significant level of exposure. The extent to which individuals in these professions buy into it is largely dependent upon their perceptions of how urbanist design principles will be received by consumers, clients, or constituents. But the general public is largely ignorant of such issues.

Is there anything they can actually do to prevent or eliminate crime? My past studies lead me to conclude crime is far more complex an issue than can be solved with the design or placement of a building. Crime is a social problem, not an architectural problem. Walkability on the other hand... that can be determined by the design and placement of buildings.

There probably are some prescriptive codes and public infrastructure projects that would influence the types of crime that occur. Case-in-point: I used to live in a garden-style condo complex just south of the Medical Center. It was a neighborhood specifically referred to by Andres Duany, a high-profile urbanist and architect, as being exactly the opposite of how a neighborhood ought to function or be laid out. His observations were based solely on aesthetic issues. The population density in this neighborhood is tremendous, it is one of the few residential neighborhoods with easy access to the light rail, and the crime rate per capita is moderate. But TMC workers park their cars along the streets every single day for free to catch transit to work, and those cars have a knack of getting broken into. It makes sense that those cars would be easy targets. A vehicle is randomly-placed, nobody that lives nearby owns it (and most residents can't even see past their landscaping and fences onto the street), and the owner of the vehicle is a mile away and won't be back until after their shift is over. Take those crimes out of the stats, and what is left is one of the lowest crime rates in the city. And there is a reason for that, too. Each garden-style complex has about 300 units in two- and three-story buildings with one way in or out, video-monitored access gates, and perimeter fences. Most complexes hire security guards. Common areas have long sight-lines, and the effect of such hard boundaries between public and private spaces mean that someone cautious of their personal security can more quickly size up their situational risks. Whenever there is a spree of residential burglaries in the area, HPD easily communicates with the managers of each of these complexes and apartment or condo management would relay information to individual residents, typically using flyers posted over common-area mailboxes...meaning that 100% of households saw it, not just the nosy 'neighborhood watch' crowd. That information typically included a description of the perps and the make, model, and color of their getaway vehicle. And even if you didn't know half of the people that lived in your building, you knew faces and whose cars belonged where. In spite of the crushing sense of anonymity that was fostered by the built environment, suspicious activity wasn't difficult to detect. A single-family neighborhood typically doesn't have either the physical or political infrastructure to be so easily able to communicate crime issues.

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Well, at least you described what you believe an 'urbanist' to be. We still have no idea what the OP uses as his definition. However, your description of what you perceive to be a great layout of dense housing for the purposes of lowering crime, it is exactly this layout that is criticized in high crime neighborhoods, such as the courtyard style apartment complexes in Gulfton (yes, architecture's effect on crime IS discussed, if only one would look for it). The courtyard complexes are fine when the complex is inhabited by law-abiding 'nosy' citizens. However, when the complex declines, those very same courtyards can (and do) become the drug dealers marketplace. Because the courtyard is hidden from street view, passing police cannot see what is going on behind the walls. These courtyards must then be patrolled by foot, at great expense to the residents or taxpayers.

Studies show that it is the hidden areas that breed crime, not the exposed ones. Open areas can be viewed by the non-criminals. This is why courtyards can be troublesome. It is also why street level transit stops are less crime ridden than subway terminals, the front doors are more secure than the back doors. Of course, an open area is not safer if no one is around to watch it, which is a big reason why the per capita crime rate in a dense city like New York is lower than a less dense city like Houston, Dallas or Atlanta. It is much easier to work alone in these cities.

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The courtyard complexes are fine when the complex is inhabited by law-abiding 'nosy' citizens. However, when the complex declines, those very same courtyards can (and do) become the drug dealers marketplace.

Er... so, as I wrote earlier, it has nothing to do with architecture. In this case the architecture is only aiding an already entrenched social more that coincides with the decline of the neighborhood the complex occupies. The architecture and urban design doesn't cause the crime. Having "urbanists" address crime is reactive window dressing. It means nothing but it makes everybody feel warm and fuzzy, like one of Niche's puppies.

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The architecture and urban design doesn't cause the crime.

I don't think that you'll find any thoughtful person that would disagree with agree with that statement. Whether we're talking about something as innocuous as architecture or as potentially destructive as a firearm, these are just objects. Objects don't cause crime. They may enable or deter it, however, which is what makes such objects fair game for policy discussions.

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Demographics and value systems change over time, should 70's and early 80's developers been held to a more stringent code? Probably, or is it more likely that the resultant sprawl would have still conceded to entropic development and ended up as a high crime neighborhood ever further out from the city center than currently?

Crime does equal part or whole of the idea of the urban form; but that is, if anything, a false connotation perpetually blared from televisions. It is a social problem, whereas to react with the skill-set of design is symptomatic of a communication breakdown on a societal level and only produces artifacts of fear. The prevalence of obliques, fractured symmetries, and a general lack of cohesion makes it a cakewalk for criminals to operate in this town. My misspent youth can attest to this.

Crime is best dealt with by the idea of surveillance, check your RCP.

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T he "urbanists" are been left largely undefined. Are they city planners? Are they architects? Are they development financiers? Are they a consortium of all of these and more?

Urbanists are people who study cities, towns, or rural areas, and come up with ideas on how to change them. They can be city planners by trade, or architects (like me), or developers, or almost anything else you can think of. In my book, all you need to be an urbanist is a realistic idea of how to improve a city, town, or rural area.

What role do the urbanists play? Is there anything they can actually do to prevent or eliminate crime?

As I said before, it is impossible to completely prevent or eliminate crime. Urbanists need to talk about ways to make the public spaces in cities less attractive as locations for crime.

To that end, there is a long list of questions to ask. Like where should we put new police stations? Should they be a few big police stations, or many small kiosks? Should there be cameras on the streets? Where are the cameras and who's watching them? Which roads should get light standards and which shouldn’t? Should parks be fenced-in or open to neighborhoods? Should the public have access to drainage culverts and detention ponds? What do you put under an elevated freeway? Should there be something down there, or should it be left vacant?

The list of questions goes on, and on. Architects ask similar questions every day, but the scale is limited to single buildings and campuses. Urbanists are not asking these questions on a city-wide scale. Not in Houston anyway.

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Demographics and value systems change over time, should 70's and early 80's developers been held to a more stringent code? Probably, or is it more likely that the resultant sprawl would have still conceded to entropic development and ended up as a high crime neighborhood ever further out from the city center than currently?

Crime does equal part or whole of the idea of the urban form; but that is, if anything, a false connotation perpetually blared from televisions. It is a social problem, whereas to react with the skill-set of design is symptomatic of a communication breakdown on a societal level and only produces artifacts of fear. The prevalence of obliques, fractured symmetries, and a general lack of cohesion makes it a cakewalk for criminals to operate in this town. My misspent youth can attest to this.

Crime is best dealt with by the idea of surveillance, check your RCP.

The following multimedia presentation presents itself as a barely-related inoculation countering the heinous crime that is constituted by your unadulterated pretension.

Ah, that's better! ^_^ Translation of the above: SPEAK NORMAL.

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The following multimedia presentation presents itself as a barely-related inoculation countering the heinous crime that is constituted by your unadulterated pretension.

No prescription prevails to remedy this polysyllabic belligerence. O, woe! Forsooth, I surmise some individual person procured a thesaurus lagniappe on the day commemorating the holy St Valentine.

But anyhow, I still don't see in how everything you and WAZ wrote there's anything done beyond treating crime as a symptom rather than an illness. To effectively combat disease you need to address the underlying issues. The same is true with crime. Rearranging the urban landscape and building every new building to be open like the Athenian Acropolis still doesn't solve the mentality of criminality. Again, I think that is window dressing. Hell, the biggest thing affecting crime stats is the legality and availability of abortions for unwanted children (according to University of Chicago economist Stephen Levitt). And that's a policy issue - no amount of building design or police station placement variations will affect that at all... unless your urban plan is to install a ton of anti-propagandist signs to counteract the fundamentalist rightwing policy swing in this country.

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I can't speak to what "urbanists" have said about crime, but I can refer to what Peter Moskos said in his great book Cop in the Hood.

He said that the rise of policing from cars and 9-11 have turned police from being proactive to reactive. No one responding to a 9-11 call ever stops a crime (unlike 9-11 calls for fires or medical emergencies, in which lives are often saved). The cop on the beat had more of a relationship with the neighborhood, was a visible presence, heard things from folks, etc. (This was also pointed out by Jane Jacobs, of course.)

Moskos was writing about Baltimore in particular, and Baltimore is pretty "walkable", especially compared to Houston. Beat cops and even bike cops are just less viable in most of Houston because of its sprawled out nature. (And, Moskos added, cops hate being made to walk the beat--in Baltimore, it was seen as punishment.)

But in walkable (or at least bikeable) areas of Houston--i.e., ones that adhere more to "urbanist" concepts--beat cops on foot or bikes make more sense and would possibly have a stronger deterrent effect.

The main issue would be how to get the cops on board. If your choice is to be in a safe, air-conditioned car or to be on foot or on a bike in the blazing heat, what would you choose? Moskos's suggested solution was to pay beat cops more. After all, the operation of police cars is expensive, so every cop not in a police car is saving the department money--use that savings as incentive pay to get cops out of their cars and onto the street.

Again, this is not remotely practical for most of Houston. But in certain neighborhoods with highly urban characteristics, I think it would help.

Edited by Robert W. Boyd

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The following multimedia presentation presents itself as a barely-related inoculation countering the heinous crime that is constituted by your unadulterated pretension.

Ah, that's better! ^_^ Translation of the above: SPEAK NORMAL.

Get a job already, I think your losing it bro.

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No prescription prevails to remedy this polysyllabic belligerence. O, woe! Forsooth, I surmise some individual person procured a thesaurus lagniappe on the day commemorating the holy St Valentine.

But anyhow, I still don't see in how everything you and WAZ wrote there's anything done beyond treating crime as a symptom rather than an illness. To effectively combat disease you need to address the underlying issues. The same is true with crime.

So crime is an illness; and urbanists should stand back and let the doctors cure it? What if that disease is incurable?

I’m not sure I would accept your illness analogy. Crime is its own beast. It has some elements of a disease. It also has some elements of weather. (Crime patterns resemble weather patterns to me). And then there’s the perception of crime; broken window theories; the obvious link between urban blight and perceived crime. Like my list of questions, this one goes on and on.

Urbanists are shooting themselves in the foot if they ignore these things. (Or maybe I should say – urbanists are shooting cities in the foot if they ignore these things.)

I can't speak to what "urbanists" have said about crime, but I can refer to what Peter Moskos said in his great book Cop in the Hood.

He said that the rise of policing from cars and 9-11 have turned police from being proactive to reactive. No one responding to a 9-11 call ever stops a crime (unlike 9-11 calls for fires or medical emergencies, in which lives are often saved). The cop on the beat had more of a relationship with the neighborhood, was a visible presence, heard things from folks, etc. (This was also pointed out by Jane Jacobs, of course.)

I was not familiar with the work of Peter Moskos, but I’ll check it out. This is exactly the sort of thing that’s been lost in the discussions of urbanists.

Most urbanists agree that Houston will get more dense in the next 25 years. It'd be very interesting to see if we put cops back on foot as our City rediscovers density.

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Most urbanists agree that Houston will get more dense in the next 25 years. It'd be very interesting to see if we put cops back on foot as our City rediscovers density.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Their conclusion depends entirely on how you deign to quantify city-wide density. It is insufficient to quantify density in terms of political boundaries, because political boundaries are senseless, yet that is the most common means utilized by the press and by politicians or special interests. A more useful method is to calculate a formula by way of which population density declines as a function of distance from a city center...however that is biased against seaside cities...also, since so few constituents as a percentage of the population of constituents know how to interpret inverse functions, it's just not very practical for policy purposes.

And that's all to say that this discussion is pointless.

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This is exactly the sort of thing that’s been lost in the discussions of urbanists.

Just because you say it, doesn't make it true. For all of the things you claim are not being discussed, I say that they are. Houston is investing in crime analysis programs, is constantly debating the merits of different patrol strategies (car, bike, foot, horse, neighborhood policing), and debates where to place new substations or storefronts from time to time. Your gripe appears to be that they have not invited you to the meeting. I do not find your absence from planning meetings to be cause that crime fighting is not being discussed.

I am constantly surprised by the statements of the uninformed on matters that I happen to know are being addressed. For whatever reason, crime and police matters seem to draw the most comments. Not a day passes that I do not read something from left field about what the police and city are doing or not doing. Your comments on Houston in this thread strike me that way...that because the RDA has not had a design competition to design the crime proof urban dwelling, Houston is not taking crime seriously. If you were actually in a position to be involved in the discussions, you might see what is being discussed.

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I'll take crime in Seattle (or, rather, the lack thereof) over the crime in Houston anyday. Should I be a fan of "Urbanism" ?

Edited by N Judah

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Just because you say it, doesn't make it true. For all of the things you claim are not being discussed, I say that they are. Houston is investing in crime analysis programs, is constantly debating the merits of different patrol strategies (car, bike, foot, horse, neighborhood policing), and debates where to place new substations or storefronts from time to time. Your gripe appears to be that they have not invited you to the meeting. I do not find your absence from planning meetings to be cause that crime fighting is not being discussed.

I am constantly surprised by the statements of the uninformed on matters that I happen to know are being addressed. For whatever reason, crime and police matters seem to draw the most comments. Not a day passes that I do not read something from left field about what the police and city are doing or not doing. Your comments on Houston in this thread strike me that way...that because the RDA has not had a design competition to design the crime proof urban dwelling, Houston is not taking crime seriously. If you were actually in a position to be involved in the discussions, you might see what is being discussed.

Red, I swear to you that WAZ is right. (And as you well know, I don't make a habit of backing him up.) There are other fields where this subject matter is discussed obsessively, and you're involved in them. But in the real estate development and architecture circles, crime as it relates to urban form is swept under the rug. It shouldn't be, but it is. It isn't a subject that most residential or commercial tenants care about...and when they do, there are proprietary measures that tend to get implemented. It's just not as sexy an issue as pure aesthetics or pseudo-environmentalism, unfortunately.

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I don't dispute that statement at all, which is the basis of my statement. WAZ, an architect, is simply not involved in the discussions. But, rather than call out architects and developers, as you have, he deflects criticism from his own industry by blaming all of the others who actually DO discuss these matters.

And, let's face it, there isn't THAT much to discuss in the public sphere in addition to what is already being done. The police and the city do what they can (generally), but the planning departments cannot order most buildings torn down, nor can they order very expensive retrofits (although they do THAT as well, as evidenced by the rules on convenience stores regarding unobstructed windows and surveillance systems). The big issues, the ones WAZ is complaining about , are issues within his own industry. Rather than blame 'urbanists', how about we talk about why architects are still designing secluded courtyards in apartment complexes, when we know they are magnets for crime? Why does the city planning department need to pass an ordinance for something that architects should already know?

This is my gripe with this thread premise...that it is the city planners' fault. It is not. It is the fault of individual developers and their architects, and as you and I's example on courtyards proved, it is not a black and white issue.

Many of these issues (I dare say MOST) are not even best solved by city planners or 'urbanists'. Take auto theft. Auto theft rates dropped dramatically, not because of anything a city planner did, but because American automakers began making ignition systems harder to defeat, and by marking parts, making them harder to resell. But, there are also statutes that make it illegal for owners to leave their car unlocked or keys in the ignition, since these are the most common ways theft occurs. How about burglary? Most common sense solutions are also the best. Leave a car in the driveway, so it looks like you are at home. Keep a barking dog in the house or in the yard. Trim shrubbery away from entrances and windows. What do these have to do with city planners, or even architects, for that matter?

The only crimes that can realistically be affected by city planning are those committed against strangers on the street, such as robbery. Even there, it is better dealt with by individuals than the city. Certainly, METRO can look at the design of its transit stops, making them well lit, clean and with unobstructed views. Wow, I solved METRO's problem in one sentence. But, what does the city do with parks? I can think of some very expensive solutions that I would not pay for, but the most obvious is free. Encourage citizens to be aware of their surroundings, and not hang out in parks at night. How tough was that?

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So crime is an illness; and urbanists should stand back and let the doctors cure it? What if that disease is incurable?

I’m not sure I would accept your illness analogy. Crime is its own beast. It has some elements of a disease. It also has some elements of weather. (Crime patterns resemble weather patterns to me). And then there’s the perception of crime; broken window theories; the obvious link between urban blight and perceived crime. Like my list of questions, this one goes on and on.

I wouldn't read into the disease metaphor too deeply. I used it to illustrate a point. I didn't intend for it to be the point. I'm pretty sure I've used the term "window dressing" several times in this thread to describe what you propose, and that's the point. Unless you address the underlying issues that promote a culture of criminality, no amount of feel-good demolitions or police walking a beat will do anything to eliminate or reduce crime. It may reduce the visibility of crime, but it won't reduce the actuality of crime.

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Get a job already, I think your losing it bro.

Wow.. I'm truly sorry if this offended you. I've recently been laid off and am just frustrated by the arch profession atm. I read that you have enlisted and I hope you do well on your ASVAB. Good luck and take care.

As far as crime research is concerned perhaps organizing a study of high crime nabs could be done in pursuit of finding the positive deviance to construct a real time theory towards turning the tide of crime.

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Wow.. I'm truly sorry if this offended you. I've recently been laid off and am just frustrated by the arch profession atm. I read that you have enlisted and I hope you do well on your ASVAB. Good luck and take care.

No harm done. You were right that my earlier comment was devoid of tact. I couldn't help myself at the time...and am easily distracted by Zeppelin lyrics. :D

And you're also right that I need to find something to do with myself.

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I'll take crime in Seattle (or, rather, the lack thereof) over the crime in Houston anyday. Should I be a fan of "Urbanism" ?

Lack thereof? Surely you jest. While Houston has a higher rate of homicides and aggravated assaults, no doubt owing to our love affair with guns, Seattle, on the other hand, is a veritable den of thieves. Their rates of burglary, auto theft and larceny dwarf ours. Imagine, the walkability city has a higher rate of auto thefts than the auto-centric city. Who knew?

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Lack thereof? Surely you jest. While Houston has a higher rate of homicides and aggravated assaults, no doubt owing to our love affair with guns, Seattle, on the other hand, is a veritable den of thieves. Their rates of burglary, auto theft and larceny dwarf ours.

Let the bodies hit the floor / let the bodies hit the floor!

Yep, no jest, not funny. I meant what I said, alright.

You know, it's easy (*really* easy) to find a gun in WA state, too!

Imagine, the walkability city has a higher rate of auto thefts than the auto-centric city. Who knew?

It's actually not that far fetched. Much nicer cars + I am pretty sure there are a lot of people there who don't bother to lock their car doors.

Edited by N Judah

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Personally, I would enjoy Seattle in spite of its higher rate of crime, not because of it. But, that's just me.

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That would in fact be quite different from the mentality of the Seattle residents, who just enjoy the city without "spiting" anything!

Edited by N Judah

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So....yes, I don't buy the "urban = crime" story one bit. I think NYC now has one of the lowest if not the lowest violent crime rate among major cities? And that's about as urban as you can get.

If two rednecks out in BFE have a dispute over a tractor and one of them pulls a gun and blows the other away, it's pretty much of the same nature as that girl's murder in Seattle. Crimes that are a result of interpersonal strife (e.g. domestic abuse/assault/murder etc.) can't much be prevented. Now, getting killed out in the open with guards watching might be a problem that can be solved by allowing those guards to actually intervene, which isn't an urban problem but a policy problem. But if it happens behind closed doors, there's not much that can be done.

I do agree that property crime in Seattle may be higher because of a general perception of "safety" there. We all want to think we live in some utopian paradise where you can leave your doors unlocked, but anyone who does that is liable to get a rude awakening. No wonder all the smalltime burglars and car thieves go to the suburbs - it makes sense to go after low-hanging fruit where people's guards are down. Then people there act like there's a sudden crime wave and they want to move further out or whatever, when their own complacency is the root of the problem.

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So....yes, I don't buy the "urban = crime" story one bit. I think NYC now has one of the lowest if not the lowest violent crime rate among major cities? And that's about as urban as you can get.

If NYC were so geographically large as the City of Houston such that it included portions of New Jersey, then it may not retain it's ranking. ...that is, if the ranking is accurate, which I sort of suspect is the consequence of some statistical manipulation. The concept of "crime rate", for instance, isn't necessarily cut-and-dry where city vs. city comparisons are concerned.

Also depends on how you define "urban". Does the vicinity of Houston that is off of Laura Koppe Rd. count? It's in the City of Houston, a "major city", but it's certainly low-density.

Edited by TheNiche

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But, that's just you?

I'm pretty much in love with Houston. Then again, I don't need other people to think it's cool in order to enjoy it myself.

If NYC were so geographically large as the City of Houston such that it included portions of New Jersey, then it may not retain it's ranking. ...that is, if the ranking is accurate, which I sort of suspect is the consequence of some statistical manipulation. The concept of "crime rate", for instance, isn't necessarily cut-and-dry where city vs. city comparisons are concerned.

Also depends on how you define "urban". Does the vicinity of Houston that is off of Laura Koppe Rd. count? It's in the City of Houston, a "major city", but it's certainly low-density.

It's incredibly low-density, but still it has crime. So... maybe crime isn't an urban discourse topic afterall?

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This will be my last post to this thread. I just wanted to end with two notes.

First, I am certainly criticizing other architects. In the 1990s it became fashionable for architects to study, dissect, and dream about cities. Architects and other urbanists talked about transit, flooding, density, urban streetscapes, the environment.... But somehow crime never entered into the discussion.

Second, window dressing matters. If you think that the built form of cities has no impact on crime, you're missing the point. Perceived crime has as big an impact on neighborhoods as crime itself. People need to BE safe in their neighborhoods, but they also need to FEEL safe in their neighborhoods.

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If NYC were so geographically large as the City of Houston such that it included portions of New Jersey, then it may not retain it's ranking. ...that is, if the ranking is accurate, which I sort of suspect is the consequence of some statistical manipulation. The concept of "crime rate", for instance, isn't necessarily cut-and-dry where city vs. city comparisons are concerned.

Also depends on how you define "urban". Does the vicinity of Houston that is off of Laura Koppe Rd. count? It's in the City of Houston, a "major city", but it's certainly low-density.

I wouldn't call anything outside 610 and even portions inside "urban." Just because a large city annexes something doesn't make it urban. It is still (decayed) suburb. There is really nothing that sets it apart from, say, the 1960 area to the north which is in unincorporated Harris County.

Wouldn't think the geographic size matters much, especially if we keep it on a per-capita basis. In raw numbers NYC will have more murders and robberies than Houston, though not per capita, and for its compact size you might be more likely to be close to one happening, but you're less likely to actually be the target. If that makes any sense. NYC still has upwards of three times Houston's population.

If urban form (using the term quite loosely in this instance) has any effect whatsoever on crime, I'd think low-density sprawl would be harder to keep a good police presence especially with manpower issues like HPD has dealt with as of late. That's a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of that ground is old suburban areas once perceived as "safe" but whose original residents have long left it for something newer.

Edited by jfre81

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This will be my last post to this thread. I just wanted to end with two notes.

First, I am certainly criticizing other architects. In the 1990s it became fashionable for architects to study, dissect, and dream about cities. Architects and other urbanists talked about transit, flooding, density, urban streetscapes, the environment.... But somehow crime never entered into the discussion.

Well, sorry to have offended you, but you wanted a conversation about crime and how urbanists can do something about it, and that's what you got. Just because we didn't all nod our heads in agreement with you doesn't mean you should end your participation in the discourse. If so, you just become the people you're criticizing.
Second, window dressing matters.
Sure, if you're decorating your house, but it serves little practical purpose. If you want to beautify your house, your neighborhood or your city, more power to you. In fact, I agree that it's a good goal. But, it's a good, worthwhile goal in and of itself, and it's something architects can actually affect.
If you think that the built form of cities has no impact on crime, you're missing the point.
I really don't think it does, and I've yet to see any compelling evidence to the contrary. I think you presuppose the importance of architects and "urbanists" on the community at large. The human psyche is far more complex than you're giving it credit for and the justifications for criminality are far more basic than you've grasped. I don't dispute a criminal can use his built environment as a tool to aid him in his criminal activities, I dispute that a built environment will alter that criminal mindset. People commit criminal acts for a number of reasons, but I doubt the way a building is designed has anything to do with those reasons.
Perceived crime has as big an impact on neighborhoods as crime itself. People need to BE safe in their neighborhoods, but they also need to FEEL safe in their neighborhoods.

Then put this around all those anxiety-filled neighborhoods:

Razor-Wire-3.jpg

Or, maybe you can petition the 6 o'clock news to change the focus of their coverage. No amount of warm and fuzzy measures will make people feel any safer. All efforts to that end will just further isolate the inhabitants of Anxietyville which will further increase their anxiety and fear of outsiders which will further increase their desires for more warm fuzzy measures which will further increase their anxiety and fear of outsiders....

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I wouldn't call anything outside 610 and even portions inside "urban." Just because a large city annexes something doesn't make it urban. It is still (decayed) suburb. There is really nothing that sets it apart from, say, the 1960 area to the north which is in unincorporated Harris County.

Wouldn't think the geographic size matters much, especially if we keep it on a per-capita basis. In raw numbers NYC will have more murders and robberies than Houston, though not per capita, and for its compact size you might be more likely to be close to one happening, but you're less likely to actually be the target. If that makes any sense. NYC still has upwards of three times Houston's population.

If urban form (using the term quite loosely in this instance) has any effect whatsoever on crime, I'd think low-density sprawl would be harder to keep a good police presence especially with manpower issues like HPD has dealt with as of late. That's a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of that ground is old suburban areas once perceived as "safe" but whose original residents have long left it for something newer.

Look, I'm just saying that if you're going to start using comparative stats to make your case, this probably isn't a good one because most of those are going to reflect annexed territory rather than "urbanity", however you or I desire to have it defined. Additionally, it is obvious that the crime rate is going to be a per capita measure (I'm not stupid)...but is it the daytime or nighttime population? Are Houston's and NYC's daytime and nighttime populations proportionate? And since each of these cities have so many very different neighborhoods of varying character, how would this comparison provide us with any meaningful knowledge? That is to say, what tips or tricks will it teach an urban planner?

If you want to draw conclusions about how crime relates to urban form, you MUST perform a neighborhood-by-neighborhood analysis. Comparing Houston and NYC is a vapid platitude.

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