Saturday, December 13, 2014

Are land use and zoning contributing to crime in our cities?

Posted By on Sat, Dec 13, 2014 at 8:00 AM

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In Jane Jacobs' best selling book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, she defined the well-known planning term, "Eyes on the Street," and forever changed how the United States looked at the planning profession.

The theory is simple; the presence of people keeps criminals in check as the chances of getting caught are much higher, therefore making a place safer. However, having a place planned in a way for eyes on the street is the true challenge.

Zoning codes and subdivision regulations make this nearly impossible. With land uses planned in isolation and segregation, we have created geographical areas with hours of vitality. For example, an office park may have vitality, or life, Monday through Friday between eight a.m. and five p.m. while a starter-home subdivision may be deserted for the same hours. The time in between leaves the place, and lonely souls who happen to be there, susceptible to crime.

Codes leave cities with very few 24-hour areas. And the most opportune locations for vibrant, 24-hour places are in the downtown or historic commercial districts planned prior to WWII, the time after being when suburban, segregated zoning swept the country.

Thankfully, modern day planning, including in Colorado Springs, has come back to embracing mixed-use places that encourage interaction between uses. The resulting development doesn't need to be large, new development; in fact, it's best if it is developed organically from several small companies that come together. The inclusion of coffee shops, cafés, libraries or simple shops make a big difference in providing this vitality, however they still will not create eyes on the street in isolation. It is the inclusion of residential and professional offices that sustain the life at all times, otherwise they may end up being simply an entertainment district— again, with hours of operation.

The "eyes on the street" concept is important in activating parks as well. There’s a profound contrast in Acacia Park when programming and enlivenment is in place. If you haven't visited Acacia Park during a time when it is programmed, consider a trip downtown during the holidays. When activated, the park is unrecognizable from its otherwise vagrant-filled state. Ice skating is underway, as well as concerts and holiday lighting.

The careful programming by the City Parks Department and Downtown Partnership has transformed the park to a place for families to enjoy. This attention paid by these two groups has helped provide a path for the future of our other parks that could return to vitality such as Bancroft Park in Old Colorado City and Antlers Park downtown.

Eyes on the street is not a new concept, either. When a place is programmed, and activated, it's no longer a place for homeless loitering, crime or vagrancy. We noticed the difference with Better Block Pikes Peak when we activated Pikes Peak Avenue (between Nevada and Tejon) for a 24-hour period in 2012. Loitering and solicitation was common at the intersection of Tejon and Pikes Peak, however, during the Colorado Springs Urban Intervention loitering wasn't present.

We didn't force people out, but perhaps it was no longer a comfortable location for the undesirable activities. Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the 24-hour place-making experiment, we had to take down the planters, plants, lights and overall awesomeness, and the prior issues of the street returned.

John Olson is a licensed landscape architect, residing in Colorado Springs. He serves as the Director of Planning and Landscape Architecture for EVstudio Planning & Civil Engineering. He is also a co-founder of Colorado Springs Urban Intervention, which implemented Better Block Pikes Peak in 2012, the recent Walkability Signage found in Downtown Colorado Springs, and perhaps most notably, Curbside Cuisine.

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