Caring Communities, Crime, and Jane Jacobs

Yesterday, I discussed the new twist on Halloween manufactured by schools who view the holiday as sending the wrong message to impressionable children. Two schools in Calgary, in an effort to promote diversity and caring, prohibited violent or scary costumes and held "caring" assemblies. Parent council members applauded the emphasis on caring communities but were not as impressed by the promotion of Halloween as a symbol of that notion. I agree. The connection to Halloween seems forced and proffers an inconsistent message as opposed to a positive one.

However, the concept of teaching children the importance of a caring community should be embraced by the educational systems. For example, there is clear evidence that community based policing works to reduce crime, particularly in case of young offenders. But community caring can have even greater impact on crime reduction; just ask Jane Jacobs.

Jane Jacobs, in the early 60's wrote a book called The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In this book she outlined her theories on why so many American cities seemed to be faltering, both socially and structurally. Jacobs was not a city planner nor was she academically trained in the area. She did however have a keen eye for observation and an heightened awareness of urban issues. Her book was devastating. Full of common sense and anecdotal evidence, her views brought to light the serious misstep city planners were prone to make; permitting empty grey areas between public and private areas, which encouraged crime and discouraged community ownership.

Indeed, community caring is at the core of Jacobs's theories. In order to have a safe community we must all be community watchers, effectively the "eyes on the street." However, this will only naturally happen if, according to Jacobs, we have a vibrant and busy sidewalk life. This means people. This means strangers. But this also means watchful eyes directed at the community. In short, busy City life, as exemplified by busy sidewalks, creates a caring community, which has our "backs" so to speak. Thus, we can freely move about the City, without fear, without the use of the artificial eyes of security cameras, in a caring vibrant, diverse community. 

Recently, some fifty years after Jacobs's ground-breaking theories, there was an article in the Calgary Herald on the importance of reducing crime through proper city planning. Isn't it about time we listened?