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Fighting Crime With Design

Before and after of the Vickery Better Block project using CPTED principles.

In the summer of 2019, the Department of Justice reached out to the Better Block Foundation after dealing with multiple murders on a neighborhood block that was designated as one of the highest crime areas in the city of Dallas. A year earlier, the area was put under the Project Safe Neighborhood umbrella, which brought more local police surveillance, community engagement, and federal support, but crime still persisted. The lead attorney for the DOJ began researching concepts on how to make an area feel safer, and discovered the work related to Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). He also came across our work at the Better Block Foundation in rapid transformation of blighted and disinvested areas around the country to promote safety, increased "eyes on the street," healthier public infrastructure, and robust community engagement. 

Our work on the Vickery Better Block project began in earnest after we received a grant for $114,000. After meeting and listening to area community groups, nonprofits, school staff and students, property owners, and existing businesses, a phasing concept plan was devised made up of multiple interventions that would be assembled by the community and remain in place for 12 months to study the effects on crime reduction.

Many principles of CPTED overlap with the placemaking initiatives we have successfully implemented in cities, such as Akron, Detroit, and Charlotte, including:

- Broken Window Theory concepts of immediately addressing vandalism and blight;

- Enhancing sightlines to discourage criminals from hiding;

- Removing bars and coverings from windows to enhance visibility, permeability, and the perception of safety;

- Developing and installing a lighting plan; 

- Creating a "community safe space" in the form of a public plaza that can be passively and actively programmed;

- Providing enhanced multi-modal access into the area to provide more "eyes on the street;"

- Installing community art and landscaping to have the area feel taken care of so that criminals feel there's a chance their activities are under close watch;

- Working with existing businesses to develop an enhanced front door for the community to feel safe and comfortable within the space. 

The city of Dallas partnered with the Better Block to identify unneeded traffic lanes that could be redeveloped as community spaces similar to efforts known as Pavement to Plaza initiatives. Also, property owners collaborated to take excess parking lots and convert them to POPS (privately owned public spaces) that could be activated by community groups and existing local businesses.

Bars being removed from building facades to enhance permeability and the perception of safety in the area.

Three building facades, along with their awnings, received fresh coats of paint, while multiple blank walls began being filled with murals to brighten up and enliven the space.

A bright color palette, chosen by children at Sam Tasby Middle School, was used to delineate the new pedestrian plazas, along with brightly painted crosswalks and murals.

Over 190 languages are spoken in the immediate area, so signs were put up in different languages, all saying "welcome." Love-seat sized swings were designed so a parent and child could sit comfortably and relax in the new community space.

Better Block introduced a new line of community-built planters and seating elements based on the success of our open-sourced Wikiblock public furniture designs. We also built out a 20-foot shipping container that would double as storage and a community pavilion. During the kickoff event, Half Price Books donated 25 boxes filled with books to create a pop-up, free bookstore.

A stage and pergola were installed for community events, along with string lighting, and an art board showcasing tiles that students from the local area schools had painted with their faces.

Phase 2 of the project has begun with a second grant for $65,000 from TBK Bank, which will allow for an onsite community manager for programming, along with additional infrastructure improvements that will begin tackling other areas that have been designated as crime spots adjacent to the newly installed plaza. 

Metric gathering is being done by Child Poverty Action Lab to research the effects of the changes that have been installed on the ground. The Better Block Foundation is honored to be invited into the Vickery Meadow community and looks forward to continued area enhancements alongside community engagement to make the place safe and inviting for all its local residents and community members. 

A big thank you to all our partners, including the City of Dallas, U.S. Attorney's Office, Vickery Midtown PID, Dallas ISD, Gensler, CPAL, 7-Eleven, Half Price Books, REI, Dallas Police Department, BrightView Landscape Development, and countless community volunteers.


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