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Public safety means more than just cops

Brian Delas Armas,
Amidst a $212 million dollar budget deficit, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has proposed to lay off a total of 4,000 City employees.

Not one of them was from the police department.

Villaraigosa made a firm promise in November to keep at least 9,963 cops if not grow them. His administration has cited a 9% drop in crime and a dwindling murder rate as evidence of success.

“Public safety is the first obligation of government,” he told a group of business leaders at an L.A. Chamber of Commerce town hall meeting.

“When you don’t have safe streets, everything falls apart. People become isolated. Kids turn into prisoners. Jobs evaporate. Families struggle just to survive. Public safety is the foundation of everything we are trying to build here in the City of Angels.”

The Los Angeles Police Department and Fire Department account for 70% of the City’s expenses and for over 40% of the City government workforce. Earlier this month, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said that a freeze on LAPD hiring would save the city over $69.3 million dollars.

…The Community Living Room: a more comprehensive “public safety”
Cops can mean well. They are some of the first people I would go to if my bike was stolen, even if they prove to ultimately be unhelpful.

However, by definition, they are a reactionary institution, not so much an institution that proactively seeks to prevent crime.

Depending on police to solve all crime problems is equivalent to depending on emergency room doctors to be primary care doctors — it’s expensive, it’s not their job, creates a culture reliant on catastrophe to get any attention, and much better if we prevent the catastrophic stuff from happening in the first place.

Crime prevention and public safety happens in many ways. “Safe streets” don’t just happen because people with guns, nightsticks, menacing stares, and power trips are always threatening to beat some teenagers into submission.

If Villaraigosa’s goal is really “public safety” in the form of “safer streets”, the city of LA can do a lot more towards reaching that goal.

I said that “public safety” as currently configured is a “male-centric” solution for a reason…
(24 February 2010)

Dominican Authorities Approve Container Cities For Haiti Housing Relief

Bridgette Meinhold, inhabitant
Numerous disaster relief housing projects have been proposed to help in the aftermath of the Haiti Earthquake last month, and while many of them seem workable, none (as of yet) will actually be implemented. But a new shipping container project designed by Richard Moreta and his team may change all that. Dominican Authorities just recently gave approval for Moreta’s “Container Cities” project, which utilizes a modular construction system along with recycled shipping containers, to be built in the Dominican Republic to supply housing for victims of the earthquake…
(26 February 2010)

Detroit homes sell for $1 amid mortgage and car industry crisis

Chris McGreal, The Guardian
Some might say Jon Brumit overpaid when he stumped up $100 (£65) for a whole house. Drive through Detroit neighbourhoods once clogged with the cars that made the city the envy of America and there are homes to be had for a single dollar.

You find these houses among boarded-up, burnt-out and rotting buildings lining deserted streets, places where the population is shrinking so fast entire blocks are being demolished to make way for urban farms.

“I was living in Chicago and a friend told me that houses in Detroit could be had for $500,” said Brumit, a financially strapped artist who thought he had little prospect of owning his own property. “I said if you hear of anything just a little cheaper let me know. Within a week he emails me a photo of a house for $100. I thought that’s just crazy. Why not? It’s a way to cut our expenses way down and kind of open up a lot of time for creative projects because we’re not working to pay the rent.”

Houses on sale for a few dollars are something of an urban legend in the US on the back of the mortgage crisis that drove millions of people from their homes. But in Detroit it is no myth.

One in five houses now stand empty in the city that launched the automobile age, forged America’s middle-class and blessed the world with Motown.

…But what is blight to some is proving an opportunity to remake parts of the city for others living there. The Old Redford part of Detroit has suffered its share of desolation. The police station, high school and community centre are closed. Yet the area is being revitalised, led by John George, a resident who began by boarding up an abandoned house used by drug dealers 21 years ago and who now heads the community group Blight Busters. They are pulling down housing that cannot be saved and creating community gardens with fresh vegetables free for anyone to pick.

“There’s longstanding nuisance houses, been around seven, eight, nine years. We will go in without a permit and demolish them without permission,” said George. “If you, as an owner, are going to leave something like that to fester in my neighbourhood, obviously you either don’t care or aren’t in a position to take responsibility for your property, so we’re going to take care of it for you.” Blight Busters has torn down more than 200 houses, including recently an entire block of abandoned housing in Old Redford. “We need to right-size this community, which means removing whole blocks, and building farms, larger gardens, putting in windmills. We want to downsize – right-size – Detroit,” George said.

Houses that can be rescued are done up with grants from foundations.

“Detroit has some of the nicest housing stock in the country. Brick, marble, hardwood floors, leaded glass. These houses were built for kings,” George added. “We gave a $90,000 house to a lady who was living in a car. She had four children. It didn’t cost her a dime. We had over a thousand people apply for it. It’s probably worth $35,000 now.”

Old Redford is seeing piecemeal renewal. One abandoned block of shops has been converted to an arts centre and music venue with cafes. One of the few remaining cinemas in Detroit – and one that’s among the last in the US with an original pipe organ – has been revived and is showing Breakfast at Tiffany’s…
(2 Mar 2010)

Digital designer shows what future towns could look like

Jonathan Hiskes, Grist
Imagine some ugly, underused street in your town, marked by drab buildings, wide streets, and forbidding expanses of parking lot. If you have to go here at all, chances are you’d prefer to drive. Now imagine it remade into a place where you’d actually want to walk or bike. There would be broad sidewalks, trees, and streetfront buildings with ground-level windows. There would be other people walking around too.

Picture this in your mind, if you can. If you can’t, digital artist Steve Price might be able to help. Price builds Flash animations that show what blighted urban landscapes would look like if they became healthier, safer, and more sustainable places.

…Price’s Berkeley firm, Urban Architecture, builds “photo-realistic visualizations” like the ones above for developers, design firms, and local governments seeking approval for their ideas. The Miami suburb of Kendall, for example, used Price’s work to pass a walker-friendly master plan.

The work, done mostly with Photoshop, rests on the premise that seeing a proposed development can be more useful to people than receiving lots of information about it. There are limits, says Price, to explaining a design proposal with things like dwelling-units per acre, setbacks, building heights, traffic volumes, and vehicle-miles traveled. They might be perfectly good arguments, he says. They’re just not how people come to understand and support civic changes.

“Everybody kind of nods and agrees and knits their brows as they listen to statistics and information about economic development,” Price said of the public meetings he’s attended. “Then they see the pictures, and that’s when the smiles occur. And the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs.’ There are two hemispheres of the brain, and it’s almost like two different people in everybody’s head, and they respond to the world in very different ways.”…
(5 March 2010)