Redefining Community Conference focuses on neighborhood design, crime prevention and public health

by Ramona Salisbury


he State League of Women Voters was one of many cosponsors, with the Pennsylvania State University and Local Government Commission, of a valuable two-day conference at the U.S. Grant Hotel. What made this conference so different from others I've attended in the Smart Growth/Livable Communities movement was the importance of DESIGN in addressing the public health and safety impacts of accommodating growth in older neighborhoods.

Attendees and speakers agreed that our current auto-oriented growth patterns have significantly increased our levels of stress. Stress damages our emotional and physical well being, but it also damages our communication skills, our capacity for learning, our sense of freedom and our ability to contribute to the public good.


The harmful effects of poor planning on kids

  While there were many excellent presenters, my favorite was Dr. Richard Jackson from the National Center on Disease Control who addressed the harmful affects to children from poor housing. Lead poisoning - in paint, gasoline and food is bad for your brain and now a major risk to children. Asthma has grown to epidemic levels. Without thought, we have removed trees, that protect water runoff and air quality. Our water is contaminated with antifreeze, oil and animal waste. All of these problems have greater affects on a child, as the exposure per pound of body weight is greater for children than adults.


Neighborhood involvement important to feeling safe

  John Calhoun, CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council, moderated the "Sense of Community Panel." Panelists reviewed case studies of successful infill developments. As we build downtown sports areas, hotels and convention centers, we provide enhanced security for tourists while cloaking social problems. Inner-city neighborhoods have been the soft underbelly of central cities. Before we force dense multifamily housing in these neighborhoods, we need to assure assistance to residents in improving their social skills and upgrading their community's infrastructure, schools and libraries. Good design can help overcome some fears about personal safety and being victimized by crime.


If you want people to be neighbors, build that way

"Safescape" is the term used for good design in reducing crime. The bad decisions of the past have served to multiply residents' fear for personal safety. A jolting statistic was that 47% of all violent crime on school days takes place between 2pm and 8pm. "Walk to School" and after-school programs, such as San Diego's "Six to Six," were lauded. Studies have also confirmed that the visibility of neighborhood activity by "at home" parents reduces crime and gives a sense of security.

City codes must be changed to accept differences in culture. If you want people to be neighbors, then you build to encourage it. Seeing and being seen means windows (not garage doors) facing the street, the return of the front porch, sidewalks, and orderly opportunities to congregate.

Jane Jacobs, author of Death & Life of American Cities, sums up the stumbling block in many cities: "The greatest single obstacle to change is the bureaucratic machinery in place." To summarize what I learned after this extraordinary conference experience: If we believe we must stop urban sprawl and advocate that new growth be concentrated in San Diego's older communities, we must listen to the concerns of the people who live there and make them part of the process.

Ramona Salisbury is the Natural Resources Director of the League of Women Voters of San Diego County email her at: For more info on LWVSD contact: Catherine Stoll - Office phone: (619) 275-1147. Website: