Thursday, December 13, 2007

Final Thoughts

Although I got a late start on my blogging assignment, I found the experience of sharing my thoughts and findings with others intriguing. Blogging was a great way to record my ideas as I went, and proved to be a beneficial learning experience. The tools within Blogger made it easy to create an informative and creative blog. I have decided not to carry on this specific blog, but have definite plans to create others. Believe it or not, I actually enjoy writing- it just comes out a lot easier when I'm writing about my passions-like business and money.

Did I ever mention how cute your kids are?

Broken Window Theory

The broken window theory, developed by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in 1982, suggests that visible community deterioration affects crime rates and resident behavior. This theory uses the analogy of a broken window to argue its point. The analogy explains that if a broken window is left unfixed for an extended period of time, it will suggest to others that the community is vulnerable to attack and other acts of vandalism are likely to occur. Yet, if the window is fixed immediately, it will suggest to others that vandalism will not be tolerated and thereby deters other acts of vandalism.

By understanding deteriorated community environments inevitably promote criminal and anti-social behavior, urban planners can develop and promote initiatives to lessen the chances of this happening.

Eyes on Street Theory

Throughout the 1960’s, modernist urban planners implemented many policies, such as urban renewal, in attempt to reduce city blight and crime. During this time city planners rationalized the need to zone separate areas throughout the city for residential, commercial and industrial uses. Urban sociologist, Jane Jacobs, believed these initiatives not only increased criminal activity, but also ruined the social framework and vitality necessary for a prosperous community. Jacobs contended these policies created isolated communities with deserted streets that are, “ideally suited for rape, muggings, beatings, hold-ups and the like” (Jacobs 23).

In her 1961 book titled, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” Jacobs develops her “Eyes on the Street” theory. Her theory advocates the use of high-density mixed-use communities, which are areas with residential and commercial uses, to stimulate street traffic. Jacobs argues that increased street traffic, day and night, not only help communities flourish socially and economically, but also acts as self policing which deters criminal and anti-social behavior. Jacob’s theory holds that populated areas are less likely to have criminal activity if the criminal believes there is a greater likelihood of him being seen or caught by others.

By understanding how criminal activity is attracted to secluded spaces and that crime is more likely to occur when criminals believe they will not be caught, urban planners can better plan residential and commercial spaces that encourage street activity. Jacobs also maintains the increased street traffic will promote economic stability. It's win-win.

Defensible Space Case Study

I found a case study involving Newman's defensible space theory. The case study was of Clason Point, a 400-unit public housing project in New York. Modifications using defensible space theory tactics proved to increase a sense of community identity, and reduced crime. Interviews with residents held before the modifications showed occupants feared the presence of gangs and drug dealers day and night, but felt they had no right to question strangers as a means of anticipating and preventing crime (Newman 67). After the modifications, which consisted of small fences, landscaping, paint and the subdivision of public grounds to the control of individual families, overall crime rate dropped by 54 percent in the first year. Also, the project, which started with a 30 percent vacancy, achieved full occupancy and even a wait list. Additionally, the percentage of people who felt they had the right to question strangers on grounds increased from 27 percent to 50 percent (Newman 77). Through this case study, Newman is able to provide hard evidence of crime reduction through design.

Defensible Space Theory

The first sociological theory regarding crime and the built city environment was defensible space theory. Defensible space theory was developed in 1972, by Oscar Newman, a renowned architect and urban sociologist. In his book, titled “Creating Defensible Space,” Newman found direct correlation between high-crime areas and the physical layout of a community. The more complex and anonymous the housing environment, the more difficult it is for a code of behavior following societal norms is to establish among residents (Newman 26). Defensible space theory contends that residential and commercial environments with large public areas that are accessible from many different paths increase the risk of criminal activity. Furthermore, the large environmental layout breaks down the community’s sense of control and personal responsibility over their surroundings, making it less likely they will question intruders or intervene in criminal activity.

As a solution to this problem, Newman suggests the need to create, or reconstruct, residential and commercial environments with physical characteristics that promote a sense of ownership and responsibility for their community. Defensible space theory is based on what Newman calls territoriality. Territoriality is the promotion of a sense of ownership, community and territory created through buffer zones. Buffer zones can be achieved both physically and psychologically to create a common community design. By using universal paving, landscaping and signage, both community members and intruders can distinguish between public and private areas. Once community members sense ownership and responsibility over an area they are more likely to question intruders. If intruders sense a watchful community, they are less likely to commit a crime for fear of being questioned or caught. This theory creates a strong argument for the need of urban planners to understand how communities are affected through city design.

Urban Sociologists and Urbanism

After researching possible sociological studies related to crime and the built environment, I came across and actual disciple called- Urban Sociology, or Urbanism. Urbanism is the sociological study of a city’s social, cultural, economic and political environment. Urban sociologists seek to understand how and why the characteristics of cities with high population densities differ physically and sociologically from rural areas. Urban sociologists use statistical analysis, social and psychological theory, historical data and other methods to understand these characteristics in hopes of improving common problems, such as high rates of urban decay, housing and human health issues, within cities. Numerous sociological ideas and theories regarding crime and the built environment have been developed throughout the years arguing that common urban planning initiatives, such as urban renewal, dissolved the social fabrics of neighborhoods and promoted criminal activity. One can guess urban planners did not intend on dissolving the community social fabric, but it would be hard to argue that initiatives like urban renewal did not have severe sociological effects on the community. It will be interesting to research these theories and case studies.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Urban Planning

As I mentioned in my earlier post, we first need to understand who urban planners are and what they do. Furthermore, it is important to understand what factors and principles go into the decisions urban planners make. After researching this topic, I have formulated a synopsis of the urban planning field.

Urban Planning

Urban Planning can be described as the science of managing and directing the growth of cities to promote the health and welfare of its citizens. Urban Planners handle all aspects of city life, including land use, economic development, transportation and city aesthetics. The field of Urban Planning draws from many other disciplines, such as economics, sociology and architecture, to create the city’s organizational systems.

Modern Urban Planning methods in the United States have only been around since the early 20th century. The Urban Planning profession emerged mostly as a response to the horrible sanitary, social and economic conditions in large cities brought on by the rapid urbanization in America during the 19th century. In an age before treatment of water supplies, modern sewage systems and antibiotics, communicable disease exacted a huge cost in death and illness (Levy 10). To answer the needs of their citizens, early planners focused on the decongestion of their cities by promoting residential and commercial development outside of city limits.

Today, the need for qualified Urban Planners has never been greater. Population growth, urban sprawl, pollution and the overuse of valuable resources caused by harmful past city practices has caused inner city life to decay.

Environmental Factors of Crime

This blog seeks to research how city layout and the built environment affect human behavior, specifically crime. To fully understand this topic it is essential to first understand who urban planners are and what they do. We need to understand what factors and principles guide their planning decisions and how these decisions benefit the community. Next we need to understand what, if any, sociological studies have been done on the sociological affects the built environment has on crime. Do certain building layouts deter or promote criminal activity? Are empty streets safer than busy streets? Ultimately, after these types of questions are answered, urban planners can use these studies as tools to help build better communities.

As an urban planning major, I am interested in understanding the dynamics of city life in all aspects. It is my belief that by understanding the sociological effects a city’s physical environment has on criminal activity, urban planners can better implement planning strategies to reduce community crime rates.