Asakura Robinson is a planning, urban design, and landscape architecture firm which strengthens environments and empowers communities through innovation, engagement, stewardship, and an integrated design and planning process.
Asakura Robinson believes that equity and justice are central to design and planning, and we know that design and planning have the power to both heal and harm communities. We have an immense responsibility to the communities that work with us.
The Asakura Robinson Equity Committee, founded in April of 2019, is an internal group of employees working to ensure equity and accountability throughout the firm and our practice. This summer the committee expanded and one its Working Groups, the Quarterly Equity in Planning Blog Series, was formed. The Equity in Planning Blog Series will highlight issues that we have faced as practitioners in our work and more generally, in the Planning and Design field.
We aim to be transparent in bringing light to these issues and we hope to achieve a more equitable and honest conversation about positive change and solutions for the communities we serve. In our first blog post, we highlight issues around: Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED); Code Enforcement in Gentrifying Neighborhoods; and Harassment in Streetscape and the Public Realm. We also highlight the re-launch of our Neighbors Program.
As a planning and design firm, Asakura Robinson has grappled with communities’ expressed desire for spaces that are safe for everyone. In many projects, residents and stakeholders called for the need to bring out real and perceived safety outcomes through the design and planning processes.
One of the strategies our profession has repeatedly utilized in the past has been crime prevention through environmental design, or CPTED (“cep-ted”). CPTED is based on the idea that an appropriate design can prevent crime and improve quality of life. The strategy has been used by the design and planning professions as a tool to address safety concerns raised in projects. However, recent debate over the efficacy of the strategy, as well as the potential for exclusion of people from spaces, enhanced vigilante behavior and surveillance, and over-policing have led to calls for an end to the use of CPTED.
Asakura Robinson came together as a firm to discuss CPTED as a strategy on our weekly Design Huddle, a firmwide discussion platform where staff can present on and facilitate discussions across the disciplines. During this Huddle, we discussed how CPTED relies on the efficacy of “eyes on the street,” or community surveillance to ensure safety. This assumes the reliability of community surveillance and relies on action taken by the surveillant upon detection of “unsafe” behavior, such as dialing 911 or confronting the person being watched. In communities where state and police violence and vigilante behavior are real concerns, such a strategy can run the risk of endangering people rather than providing greater security.
At the same time, while we must acknowledge the pitfalls of such a strategy, the Huddle also pointed to promising aspects of CPTED, including its potential to empower communities to have a greater sense of ownership over shared and public spaces to promote safety rather than relying on traditional forms of policing. CPTED and tactical urbanism that employs CPTED principles could be a promising starting point for alternative paradigms of safety and security that are community-led. Additionally, more recent iterations of CPTED, known as second and third generation CPTED, place the focus on root causes of violence and crime, such as quality of life, public health, and social cohesion.
As the Design Huddle drew to a close, the breakout groups submitted suggestions around alternative strategies to improve neighborhood security and safety.
The solutions presented broadly coalesced around three main points: 1. There is a greater need for community dialogue that is inclusive of those who are most impacted by violence to create a shared understanding of what is meant by “safety” and “security.” 2. We cannot rely solely on design to prevent crime and strategies must look at policies and programming as well. 3. Efforts to create safety must be community-led. Based on these discussions, Asakura Robinson will continue to refine these points to create a more cohesive framework to create a greater sense of safety and wellbeing in communities in which we work.
The gentrification of neighborhoods ushers in an uptick in quality of life calls to 311 and 911, which, as seen across the United States, has negative and even deadly impacts for brown and black communities.
The development directed policing of marginalized and poor communities creates states of surveillance where long time residents become viewed as “suspicious”, by incoming populations. The issue is not brought about because different groups of people are simply mixing, but because spatial and social boundaries and norms have become contested (Legewie and Schaeffer, 2016).
These incoming populations can yield police presence in a way that marginalized communities don’t always feel safe opting into (Lerman and Weaver, 2013).
The history of the criminalization and over-policing of marginalized communities is not new, it is one that planning and design have helped create through practices like slum clearance and redlining. As market rate housing, middle class populations, and white populations increase in a previously marginalized community; the number of 311 calls and proactive street stops and arrests increase also (Beck, 2020).
Summons and arrests are three times more likely in marginalized communities when there is an influx of white residents (Stolpher, 2019). In gentrifying neighborhoods, the police become a tool to dictate new norms and relationships in public and private spaces.
Urban and public realm design are typically focused on physical space, but we understand that a variety of societal and invisible factors influence how people use public space, how they adjust their use patterns, and how safe they actually are in our public realm.
As issues such as policing, street harassment, domestic terrorism, protest space, and white supremacy in the public realm continue to come to light and gain more awareness, practitioners of public realm design must address these issues both from a physical space design level, and by supporting larger societal shifts that influence invisible forces shaping the use of public space.
At this time, solutions to the street harassment are varied and include design interventions such as lighting and visible restrooms, and raising awareness on the topic to both design professionals and the general public. Senior Planner Meghan Skornia runs an awareness group on this topic, @atxstreetharassment, and has written articles in addressing the issue.
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Asakura Robinson is thrilled to announce the re-launch of our Neighbors Program, where we are able to devote our attention to non-profits and community groups who would not otherwise have access to professional planning and design services.
We believe in being good neighbors in the communities where our offices are located, and we want to extend our work into neighboring cities as well. While we have been informally taking on pro-bono work in our landscape architecture, city planning, and urban design studios throughout the company’s existence, we’re hopeful and energized that creating a more formal system will make it easier for organizations with great ideas, but limited access to professional services to find us when they want to begin a project. We are thrilled to begin accepting new projects for each of our studios and to work together with community groups to serve their neighborhoods.