A few days ago (yes that is decades in blogosphere time and this link has probably descended well-below the horizon by now) Crooked Timber had a post on Crime and the new urbanism which referred to a Police Report on The Cost of Policing New Urbanism. The title suggest that a game is afoot. So beware.
This Report purports to show that New Urbanism somehow promotes crime. I did a double-take, too. But yes that's precisely what the guy says. He doesn't say that New Urbanism falls short or that it misses a bunch of important security techniques or that it needs improvement. The author says that New Urbanism is "crimogenic". Yes, he actually says crimogenic. (Which I didn't know was a word until Thesauraus verified it here as "Producing or tending to produce crime or criminality.")
(So New Urbanism produces crime? I thought people produce crime, like "Guns don't create crime, criminals do.")
Anyway, the Report says:
This is [sic] creates a dilemma for proponents of New Urbanism and their solution is to reject certain key crime reduction principles in order to try and overcome the fact that much of the concept is inherently (and demonstrably) criminogenic. New Urbanism's position on community safety is entirely subjective and based on fundamentally false premises.
Such an astonishing statement should not go uninvestigated.
And I think I have the solution. Simply read what Michael Bates has to say:
...the author of the report has misunderstood New Urbanist principles, because the photos accompanying the report, described as of a high-crime, New Urbanist development in the northern Home Counties, show a development that violates many New Urbanist principles: pathways that take pedestrians out of sight of roads and houses, bollards blocking traffic, walls and underpasses that create hiding places and block passageways from public view. Jane Jacobs would not approve. Bricks, paving stones, and decorative lighting do not constitute a New Urbanist neighborhood.
The 100% solution is simple: the author has an odd idea of New Urbanism. Or more charitably, his understanding and the one seemingly shared by Bates and me are very far apart.
The author attempts to compare something called "Secured by Design" to the New Urbanism. (I take "Secured by Design" to be the standard suburban model as enlightened by Oscar Newman's surprsingly out-of-print Defensible Space; Crime Prevention Through Urban Design). Yes there are points of conflict between Old Suburbanism and New Urbanism but they are not irresolvable.
But the author gives the newcomer to the issue no basis of physical comparison. I'm somewhat familiar with the subject, and yet I am still not quite clear what he really has in mind as an ideal environment for policing short of a clear field of fire --- no vegetation for a 100 yards --- in front of every house. "New Urbanism" seems to be some sort of a bogey-man.
The Report doesn't have a good grip on formatting a persuasive report, either. Its tables "comparing" characteristics of the two approaches do not track them attribute-by-attribute; they are conclusory. For example, the good guys --- (you know who the good guys and bad guys are) --- "Organise the built environment so that anti-social behaviour is less likely to be ignored." The bad guys are wimps who "Emphasise the importance of sustainable approaches to environmental design."
But the Report has apparently hit some nerve. Some people view New Urbanism as part of some left-wing statist plot. The Report seems to be used as yet more evidence that Volvo-wielding pointy-heads are impractical dreamers and will sell us down the road into Clockwork Orange. But the Report simply seems to me to be is evidence that the author is confused about the nature of New Urbanism.
I wouldn't give this very shallow and poorly-done work so much space except that some bloggers seem to be impressed with it and believe that it proves something. But it doesn't prove anything when your basic definition is askew.
As with anything, NU can be improved and it would be helpful for security experts to give it a rational look. This Report isn't it.
UPDATE: Just to put things in the very broadest perspective, while my reading and the reading of others indicate a general unease with the quality of the study, let's also acknowldege the positive (yes --- my Pollyanish side!) and that is that environmental design as a means of crime prevention has become conventional wisdom among most (?) police forces. The issue now is not so much whether design can aid the police but how to do so while preserving & enhancing a whole host of other social values. My opinion is that there is great congruency in the means to effect seemingly disparate goals.
For example, Jane Jacobs' "eyes on the street" is an outgrowth of New Urbanism's root value of creating lively sidewalks but also aids good policing by offering the thin blue line a huge early-warning force of casual observers.
While I disagree with the conclusions of the Police study, I am heartened that environmental design is taken seriously by Police authorities.