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East Calgary community safety audits ID problem crime areas, possible fixes

Poor sightlines, neighbourhood disrepair, inadequate lighting and ‘hiding’ spots were common problems identified in three east Calgary communities that underwent a safety audit this summer.

The work, done from June through August, was spearheaded by the 12 Community Safety Initiative (12CSI) and done in partnership with University of Calgary environmental design and planning students and the SafeGrowth group.

SafeGrowth, which was first developed in 2007 by Gregory Saville, is based on crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) principles. SafeGrowth takes these principles directly to the neighbourhoods and their community groups to deliver specific impact.

The idea of tactical urbanism, where the community does small projects with big impact, is one of the key tenets of the SafeGrowth method.

“This is how we can do better development, safer development, more livable development in the neighborhoods,” Saville told a group during an online conference held by 12CSI on Aug. 17.

The Calgary neighbourhood field work

The UCalgary students worked in the areas of Vista Heights, Marlborough and Mayland Heights.

In Vista Heights, they focused on the lack of a community hub. They needed a place where people could come together to build more cohesion and fill gaps in social services.

 They identified a “no man’s land,” as masters student Jenn Herring described it.

No man’s land behind a Macs (Circle K) store in Vista Heights. SCREENSHOT / GOOGLE STREET VIEW

“So, in particular, this no man’s land is most important. There’s no function assigned. It’s isolated, poor sightlines from windows and lack of cameras. The views from the trees, of course, are blocked,” Herring said.

Herring’s group said by activating this space, which was noted already as a makeshift gathering area, there would be a spillover effect.

“We suggest that we put a community hub, a pop up art station or programs station behind Macs in the no man’s land,” said Herring.

“It’s a public tendency in the area already, we may as well turn it around for good.”

Herring suggested involving a social worker in the area who could help identify problems or further gaps in the area. Pop up art stations or even a pop up food market could address cohesion and food security issues in Vista Heights.

On the catwalks

Another group of UCalgary design students focused on the catwalks in Marlborough. Catwalks are those passages between houses that act as neighbourhood connectors. 

Their work isolated the area around Marlborough Mall and the LRT station as a place where people would frequent.

“We determined that movement to and from them would be key movement within the area,” said Darby Henshaw, one of the student presenters.

Henshaw said their field work identified several problems: Graffiti, overgrown grasses, poor sightlines into the catwalks, fence deterioration and low lighting.

“This makes the catwalks less approachable and reduces the level of welcome for the user,” she said.

One of the primary problems, Henshaw said, was the idea of responsibility over the catwalks.

“We also identified during our site visits and safety audits, that it isn’t obvious who has the responsibility to maintain these networks,” she said.

“There is a divide between residents and City of Calgary where the City of Calgary believes that the onus is on the homeowner to continue with maintenance and the residents, as Sustainable Calgary puts it, are unaware, unable or unwilling.”

Entrapment, irregular fence connections and differing entry barriers were also problems in most catwalk areas. Few of the corresponding crosswalks were marked between catwalks and wayfinding was an issue.

Solutions were better lighting, better signage directing people to important areas, placemaking and improved maintenance in these areas and traffic calming at the access points.

Improved lighting in some of the catwalk areas would go a long way to improving the feeling of safety in Marlborough catwalks, the UCalgary researchers said. SCREENSHOT FROM PRESENTATION

The Mayland Heights alley

The third group identified a unique alleyway in Mayland Heights that was surrounded predominantly by rental housing. Their research showed that less than half of people in the community rented.

It also showed that the alley area had a higher concentration of visible minorities, while the community itself only had a makeup of 25 per cent visible minorities.

General disrepair, lack of maintenance and its use as a cut-through route to area amenities posed problems. Vehicle thefts and break and enters have been a problem in the area, the group’s presentation stated.

In working with the community, they determined that it was important to use the wide open space in the alley area as a meeting place.

“Our supporting visions include increasing resident inclusion and involvement by 50 per cent,” the recorded presentation said.

The unmarked road in the middle is the alleyway connecting 8 Avenue NE and McGonigal Drive NW. GOOGLE MAPS

They had two primary rental complexes and the group felt they could bridge any gaps in the community by creating programming that brought people together.

They wanted a play area for kids. Better lighting in the area as it darkens quickly between the rental apartments. The group suggested minor improvements to improve pedestrian connectivity – including temporary pedestrian walkways.

They even suggested signage to direct people to contacts for appropriate maintenance issues.

All the UCalgary groups mentioned challenges in accessing specific crime data for their areas. One group even built their own app and went through five years of news articles to plot criminal activity.

View the communities in a different way

Larry Leach, executive director of 12CSI, said older Calgary communities suffer many design and maintenance issues.

They wanted to use cash from the City of Calgary Community Standards Fund for the safety audit and involve the students to help find simple solutions to ongoing problems of crime, safety and general disrepair.

“We wanted to really dig down into certain areas and why they are the way they are and how maybe some minor changes could impact the openness to crime,” Leach said.

In many conversations with community members, Leach said most told him they’d never thought of their neighbourhoods in this way.

“One of the things that that we really got out of it, and that I heard from every community member, was it gives me an opportunity as a community member to look at my community in a different way,” he said.

Leach said when they began the project he asked that there be specific actions that could be taken. Whether that was neighbourhood activations or advocacy routes with political leaders or community organizations.

“Now it’s a matter of giving those over to the community associations and helping those community associations to work on the implementation,” Leach said.