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Thread: Addressing the perception of crime

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Addressing the perception of crime

    I am working on a project in an urban neighborhood. There is some great potential here due to the proximity of several very large anchor institutions, ongoing redevelopment that is adding 5-10% new residents every five years, and a major arterial into the downtown. There are also some drawbacks. One is the perception of crime, which is also closely related to the racial composition of the area. Yes, it lower income than the rest of the city. Yes, there is more crime per capita than some other parts of the city, though still comparable to the national average. I suspect the issue has more to do with 1) the neighborhood appearance, and 2) the racial composition.

    I grew up in a multi-racial neighborhood. A Korean family lived across the street and a Hispanic family lived just a couple blocks away. But most people in this state are not used to seeing, or especially interacting with people having a darker skin color. Most have no experience hearing a language other than American, although older ones should remember when it was not uncommon to hear a German or a Scandinavian accent. Still, liberal though many may be, the mental connection between race and crime exists. For commercial development to occur here, that perception is something that needs to be overcome. Design is going to help to some extent through new buildings, and perhaps better streetscape design, but this is already not a place where you are going to see graffiti or boarded up windows. The buildings are simply older and uninteresting, ranging from the 1920's to 1970's. I also have the thought to make this corridor the city's ethnic shopping and dining destination, perhaps letting the multicultural character become an asset?

    Anybody have experience with a similar area or suggestions on how to approach it?
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  2. #2
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I also have the thought to make this corridor the city's ethnic shopping and dining destination, perhaps letting the multicultural character become an asset?

    Anybody have experience with a similar area or suggestions on how to approach it?
    That's my gut... you talk about the built environment being largely uninteresting & uninspiring. So focus on the people! The neighborhood's diversity & social capital is absolutely an asset in this situation and you already know there isn't a real crime problem (hooray! now you only have to deal with perception). The trick is figuring out how to get that message out. It is a bit cliche, but inviting outsiders in for festivals celebrating the cultures of the neighborhood is a great place to start. Are there artists in the community? Ethnic food is a great starting point... "a way to a man's heart is through his stomach..." It creates an opportunity to introduce wary outsiders to the positives of the culture and tear down negative stereotypes. People will come. They'll see the neighborhood culture put its best foot forward. They'll look around and recognize that it is not a scary place. They'll see potential. And people will invest. It might not happen immediately, but it will happen.

    Talk with the people in the neighborhood, the old timers. Is there history here that maybe isn't visible? Is the heritage of the neighborhood an engaging story? Can it be leveraged into developing renewed interest in the area? Are there any "characters" that could become ambassadors for the community?

    Are commercial spaces vacant or occupied? Maybe go with a "pop-up retail" approach within or after the festival with businesses temporarily set-up in vacant spaces, with interest driven through social media & the like. It can even serve as an entrepreneurial platform for locals to try their hand at business. That will make the storefronts active and maybe help those thinking about investing physically see the potential.

    I grew up in diverse environments, so I often struggle to understand how to help others overcome negative perceptions because I simply don't get it. When I travel I tend to seek out diverse neighborhoods & ethnic enclaves because they appeal to me and my desire to experience authentic places & people.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Some years ago I read a very interesting article about how developers of large, upscale multi-family projects scope out new locations that are ripe for gentrification.

    The process included driving and walking around the neighborhood to assess how much “street culture” there was. By this they meant how often one saw people of color hanging out in public areas in groups. The less this happened, the more likely it was that affluent white people would be comfortable moving there.

    In response (and I believe this story was focused on LA), a group of folks trying to resist gentrification and displacement of low income neighborhoods built a bunch of street furniture that they deployed to street corners, outside barber shops, etc. Anywhere people might traditionally hang out in the public sphere. I thought it was an interesting guerilla strategy to discourage the development of large, upscale developments.

    I offer this to maybe provide some insight into what it might be about the racial/ethnic mix that is creating the impression that this place has crime and public safety issues. It doesn’t help you solve the dilemma, but it’s a place to start. What exactly is driving these impressions if the stats don’t bear them out? Beyond the fact that there are people of non-white background living in the area, what is it about their presence, activities, use of public space, etc. that is troubling these other interests?

    Unfortunately, the response to such issues in redeveloping areas is often to design things in a manner that discourages socializing on the street (especially “hanging out” which seems to make some people extremely nervous). This is not an approach I would support.

    Sorry not a great answer, but this is a tough nut to crack. One question to ask might be what the objective in stimulating more redevelopment is. Is the goal to enhance the quality of life for existing residents? Or is it to bring the “right people” to the area? Obviously new people are going to move there if there is already demonstrated housing growth. But how do these newer residents interact with the older preexisting households? Is it congenial? Tense? There are some good models of locally driven development plans where the neighborhood itself is engaged in designing, conceiving, planning the kinds of spaces, amenities and commercial activity that would best support local needs. I am also a big proponent of Social Capital. Collective planning activities or any other social activities that bring many residents together can help change perceptions of crime and safety by putting real names and personalities to faces that otherwise look different (and maybe scary to some). When you know the kids (or the parents of the kids) hanging out on the street corner, it feels a lot less scary.
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    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    this is a tough nut to crack.
    Indeed. Cardinal didn't specifically name where he's talking about, but ya betcha, the context makes it fairly plain.

    How does one reduce racial/cultural prejudices? Because let's be blunt, that's essentially what we're dealing with here when we're talking about "perceptions". There's really only one successful way to alter perceptions about different groups of people and that is through exposure. The more time and exposure people have being next to each other the more quickly they learn how much everyone has in common and become more comfortable being in frequent contact with that other culture (and importantly learn The Others are not for the most part criminals). Communities with more historic experience integrating other cultures tend to do better at this than places without that experience.

    I like SR's suggestions as they are rooted in the idea of increasing exposure. Basically, anything you can do to increase exposure is going to help. Ethnic food sounds like a good place to start. What about assistance from the arts community? Any potential for interesting arts programs or events that might draw folks into proximity with each other?
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  5. #5
    Mod Gedunker's avatar
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    Check with the PD to see whether the muni submits monthly Uniform Crime Reports (UCRs) to the Department of Justice. Fighting perception with facts works wonders.
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker View post
    Check with the PD to see whether the muni submits monthly Uniform Crime Reports (UCRs) to the Department of Justice. Fighting perception with facts works wonders.
    The PD is very open about crime, and has a website that let's people view where crime is committed throughout the city. This is a safe community overall, so the higher numbers for this neighborhood compare with the national average.

    It is interesting that crime is a major concern in many of the small and rural communities in which I work. People always have the impression that crack is being cooked in every other house and 'kids are running wild in the streets'.
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    Anybody have experience with a similar area or suggestions on how to approach it?
    Data presented with a lot of infographics can be helpful. I worked once on a project that involved new development in a neighborhood district perceived as being high crime by its neighbors, but it was only (slightly) more prone to have criminal activity (if you can call it that.. mostly vehicle break-ins.. that type of thing) relative to the streets immediately to the west (the area expressing concern). There is an ethnic divide between the two neighboring areas that exacerbated perceptions; however, compared to virtually anywhere else in the city, neither area seemed to have much crime. Once we put up some maps of incidents, people could see clearly that neither area had much crime compared to much more prestigious and affluent areas further afield, in the same city, and the concerns dissipated pretty quickly. It was kind of hard to say that a largely African-American area is "dangerous" when it had 2 violent crimes (both domestic assaults) take place in it over the year before they study, vs 1 assault in the complaining white area next to it (and that was an actual mugging), when they can see other neighborhoods in the broader area with 10x or, in one case, 100x that rate. A bizarrely special concern was expressed about the risk of rape and sexual assault.. a crime for which neither neighborhood had a single complaint over 5 years.

    And, oh, another infographic showed that the neighborhood the complaining stakeholders were so concerned about is richer than they are.... that irritated some people to no end, but it made the necessary point. Call it, planner's revenge. I was actually asked at a public meeting (in the white neighborhood) whether I was a "communist" because "some planners are communists." This was in the mid 2000s. We're not supposed to hate our stakeholders, but I came pretty close on that project...I think they cloned Archie Bunker...

    Some cities have online tools that show where and what crimes are reported graphically.. NYC is a case in point, for instance.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 24 Apr 2015 at 12:04 PM.

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