Can we design out crime and reduce the potential for violence, property crime and social disorder in the communities where we live? Can something as simple and ‘soft’ as street art be part of the solution? Absolutely.
One approach is called Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) and it’s been constantly evolving. The origins of CPTED date back to the 1960s but many practitioners are shifting their attention to what is referred to as Second Generation CPTED. In many cases community planners, security professionals, police agencies and architects are still using traditional methods. It’s time to take a second look and embrace an improved approach that better suits the needs and concerns of all community stakeholders.
The International CPTED Association (ICA) defines it as a multi-disciplinary approach to deterring criminal behavior through environmental design. CPTED strategies rely on the ability to influence offender decisions that precede criminal acts by affecting the built, social and administrative environment.
As a practitioner of both traditional and second-generation methodologies, I have to say the proof as they say is in the pudding. How can we interact with and feel safe in our environment without considering the social cohesion that must exist in order for a community to be healthy and thrive?
This summer a initiative called Art Alley was launched in Red Deer, Alberta. Art Alley embraced both traditional and second generation CPTED. The Red Deer Downtown Business Association and the City of Red Deer Social Planning department funded the project.
Leading the summer project was an eye opener for me and only strengthened my belief that all communities can benefit from using these strategies. The initiative focused on one back alley known to many of the downtown businesses, residents and police.
After several planning meetings, a project team was chosen consisting of five local artists including Danielle Stewart, a photographer/videographer who visually documented the work. The other artists were Stephen Birch, Jesse Gouchey, Emily Thomson and Mike Villasana. All the artists brought their own styles to the various walls of the area, including a series of small murals on back of the John Howard Society building.
The game plan was to not only create great art and revitalize the area but invite several high-risk youth to work closely with the artists. One particular young fellow with a zest for art enjoyed the experience immensely. For the most part, all of the murals were painted using spray paint, Gouchey and Birch’s preferred medium. However, Thomson and Villasana added their own unique brush strokes, creating two very artistic pieces of their own.
So, the bottom-line always comes down to results, especially for those funding a project such as Art Alley. Did it change the environment and improve safety? Has there been an impact on crime? Was there success and will Art Alley be funded again in 2015? The response is an overwhelming Yes!
The local businesses and social agencies in the area note that it has brought new vitality and some much needed colour to the downtown. Many folks are no longer afraid to walk down the alley because it seems that there are suddenly lots of people wanting to take in the sights. The art also appears to have slowed down vehicle traffic, improving safety. Last but not least, some great mentoring occurred with other social agencies hoping to jump on board next summer and help paint the town red (appropriate for Red Deer).
How does environmental design or CPTED factor into this project? The three primary and two supporting principles typically used are:
- Natural Surveillance
- Territorial Reinforcement
- Natural Access Control
- Activity Support
The Art Alley project has created more eyes on the street (alley), improving natural surveillance. More street art has helped develop a new sense of territorial influence by building and business owners while discouraging access to some crime targets. The increased activity support and improved maintenance around the mural sites is a welcomed improvement – a win, win situation for everyone but the criminals.
Visit the Art Alley Facebook Page here.
The answers are all around us, each and every day. As community members and crime prevention practitioners we should be helping to foster a culture of caring and encouraging strong partnerships that will remain sustainable for years to come. It’s projects such as Alberta based Art Alley project that can help all of us to care more, connect with others and communicate through various mediums, including street art.