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Crime + Urban Development

Author: Date: Professor: Course: Ricardo Lopes November 30, 2009 Martha Kohen Sustainable Urbanism

This paper analyzes the impact that crime is having on urban development, particularly in countries like Brazil and Colombia where social disparities and increased violence caused mainly by the illegal drug trade are rapidly increasing the number of shanty towns or squatter settlements (known as favelas in Brazil) and the construction of heavily guarded enclosed communities. The problems caused by these misguided policies will be

evaluated as well as possible urban development strategies to minimize the impact of criminal activity without destroying the urban fabric of the city.

The rapid increase in crime and violence that is affecting most mayor cities in the world is causing greater social and urban fragmentation, drastically altering the scale and fabric of the city. In cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil where the population of people living below the poverty line continues to increase there has been an explosive growth of shanty towns (favelas). At the same time the middle and upper social classes in Colombia are building a staggering number of heavily guarded enclosed communities causing drastic changes of scale and fragmentation throughout most residential parts of the city. The increased fragmentation together with the change in urban scale is creating inhabitable territories within the city that farther isolate people and forces them to rely on mechanical methods of transportation. As we will see in our analysis, the misguided policies that force poor people to inhabit the least desirable areas of a city and at the same time isolate social classes with the creation of physical barriers is exacerbating the problem as well as threatening cultural, social and democratic values. Although a lasting solution can only be obtained by targeting the very roots of the problem, designers and planners can greatly improve the quality of life by implementing sensible urban strategies 1

that not only respect the human scale but also encourages greater integration of the elements that comprise the city. Additionally we will look at the concepts of the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)1 methodologies that have been embraced by government agencies around the world and are being implemented with varying degree of success.

The Root of the Problem

According to the World Bank the high levels of crime and violence that currently exists in the Latino American and the Caribbean regions can be attributed to a complex set of factors, including rapid urbanization, persistent poverty and inequality, social exclusion, political violence, organized crime, post-conflict cultures, the emergence of illegal drug use and drug trafficking, and authoritarian family structures, among others2. There are many excellent books and scholarly reports that discuss in greater detail the causes and effects of crime and violence in Latin America so the focus of this research will be primarily the impact on social and urban development plus an analysis on strategies that can minimize the negative effects.

Case Studies
To understanding in greater detail the impact that crime and violence is having on the social and urban fabric in Latin America we will analyze in detail the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil where the population of the shanty towns (favelas) is growing three times faster than the city it self, and the city of Medellin, Colombia where the construction of enclosed housing complexes is creating social and urban fragmentation as well as altering drastically the scale of the residential neighborhoods..

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) concepts as documented by criminologist Timothy D. Crowe in his book. 2 Urban Crime and Violence in LAC: Status Report on Activities. This report was written by the Sustainable Development Department of the World Bank. See page 1.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: A Cidade Maravilhosa3 The first shanty towns that later became known as favelas began to appear in the hills surrounding the city of Rio de Janeiro in the 1860s and was caused by a rapid increase in population due to migration from rural areas. Industrialization at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries was the main cause of this rapid migration. It is estimated that between 1870 and 1890 de population increased by 120%, but formal housing only increased 74%4. By the first decade of the 20th century the newspapers were reporting regularly on the deplorable conditions of the favelas and most people beginning already identified them with disease, crime and violence. For the next one hundred years, the different administrations tried various strategies to cope with the housing crisis. Some administrations made efforts to legitimize the informal settlements and provide basic services, while others opted for getting rid of them completely by forcing the people to relocate to more remote areas of the city. It may be an unfair criticism, but it would appear that the majority of the administrations were more concerned with getting rid of the undesirable elements of society rather than concentrating their efforts on improving the quality of life for all of their citizens.

In 1970 it was estimated that there were 565,129 people living in approximately 162 favelas in a city with a total population of 4,252,0005. With over one quarter of the population living in favelas it was clear the importance of these communities to the local politicians. The estate institutions never had much influence in these communities, mainly because they were not recognize as legitimate, so by the 1960s local governments had decided to encourage the democratic election of community leaders within the favelas to establish some type of control and assist to resolve any problems that may occur. These leaders quickly learned the importance of working with local

politicians in order to legitimize their use of the land, and to obtain access to basic services.
3 4

In 2007 the population of Rio de Janeiro was estimated at 6,093,4726 and

The city of Rio de Janeiro is also know as The Marvelous City (A Cidade Maravilhosa). Favela: alegria e dor na cidade. A book written by Jailson de Souza e Silva and Jorge Luiz Barbosa. See page 25. 5 Favela: alegria e dor na cidade. Page 43. 6 For more detail statistics see the government agency responsible of collecting and disseminating the data: Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estadistica

about one third of the residents were living in informal housing.

In other words, the

undesirable minority can no longer be ignored and their numbers are rapidly changing the political landscape of the entire city.

To complicate the situation even more, in the 1980s drug traffickers began to establish bases of operation in the favelas. The fact that the estate agencies have virtually no influence in these communities made it the perfect place to open business. By this time the complex relationships between community leaders and local politicians that had helped protect the interests of the residents were well established. The criminal

organizations quickly learned ways to take advantage of these relationships and build upon them using their economic strength7. The drug traffickers were able to establish a strong hold in the community not simply by forceful means, but even more important by providing needed services to the residents, using diplomacy to control community leaders and a system of bribes to control the police and the local politicians. These criminal organizations have demonstrated to be very adaptable to changing conditions and extremely effective at organizing the community to help elect the political candidates that they support or to prevent estate institutions from bringing any kind of influence that may threaten their interests. This is an instance where the government has basically lost complete control of the situation and trying to find effective solutions to solve the problem has become a herculean task to say the least.

There is little doubt that the problems that Rio de Janeiro is experiencing today was caused by misguided policies that the local government began implementing about a century earlier. Although, it was obviously unintended this leaders have created a home that not only invited criminals, but it provided them with the perfect environment to flourish. The lack of sensible urban planning has created a human calamity of staggering proportions and the fact that it could have been completely avoidable makes it more difficult to comprehend. To be fair we have to be conscientious that the crime and violence experienced around the world due to illegal drug trafficking is in many respects the culprit of the rapid deterioration experienced by these types of communities. It is also

Drugs & Democracy in Rio de Janeiro by Enrique Desmond Arias. Page 29.

important to note that we have only taken into account the effects of crime caused by relatively small organizations, and we have not factor into the equation the urban development changes caused by the large drug cartels that produce and distribute these substances.

The reality is that informal housing developments, at least in the case of the favelas in Brazil are here to stay. It is simply not economically feasible or humane to continue pushing poor people to more remote areas of the city. The challenge for designers and urban planners is to find ways that will convert a very difficult situation into opportunities that help solve or at least minimize the problems that caused it in the first place. In order to find these opportunities is important too keep into perspective that the criminal elements are a very small minority of the population, even in these informal housing communities. There are hundreds if not thousands of small businesses that

operate successfully inside the favelas offering services to its residents, and they can be very useful in helping change the quality of life of in the community. Some of the

strategies defined by the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) movement, such as natural surveillance and access controls can be effective at reducing crime without having to depend on

government institutions. Figure 1 shows an example of a street which incorporates CPTED methodology8.
Figure 1. CPTED Strategies.

The high density found in just about every informal housing development is also beneficial for the implementation of these strategies. Empowering the people to have more control of their own security will be a positive step towards improving their quality of life. Technological solutions such as video surveillance and internet connectivity could also be used to provide residents with greater control. In many cities in the world

Urban Crime and Violence in LAC: Status Report on Activities. See page 5.

the police has installed cameras in public places to control crime, but even more interesting is the cases where the residents are given access to monitor the cameras them selves. In the state of Arauca in a small remote town in Colombia the authorities decided to install several cameras and broadcast their signals on television to provide the residents with a way to monitor any illegal activity9. Although some men have complained that their wives now keep more control on their activities, the majority of the residents are very happy with this strategy and it has proven to be an effective tool against illegal activity.

Once we are able to see beyond the negative characteristics inherent to informal housing the opportunities become much clearer. The absolute brutality that criminal activity

brings into these communities can not be ignored, but as designers we have the responsibility to implement strategies that will create better places for human development and we must confront this challenge.

Medellin Colombia: The city of eternal spring There is no other country in the world that has been affected more by the illegal drug trade than Colombia. The political struggles between liberal and conservatives have taken place at least since the late 19th century. However, the drug trafficking business has provided the participants of the armed conflict with unprecedented destructive power. From 2000 to 2009 the United States invested approximately eight billion dollars arming and training the Colombian police and military to fight primarily the leftist guerrillas that control large part of the drug trafficking business10. Although, this new capabilities have allowed the government to take back control of many important areas in the country it has not proven to be very effective at getting rid of the drug trafficking business. The reality is that Colombia has today more armed criminal organizations funded by the illegal drug trade than at any other time in its history. This is mainly the result of the

In a remote area in the state of Arauca in Colombia people watch on TV what happens in the streets. See the full report on the Colombian newspaper - following link: 10 Driven by Drugs: US Policy Toward Colombia by Russell Crandall. Pages 28-38.

peaceful negotiations between the government and the paramilitary groups to lay down their arms in exchange of complete pardons for their atrocious crimes. It is virtually impossible to determine how people were brutally murdered by these paramilitary death squads, mainly because in many cases they incinerated the bodies or used other methods to completely disappear any incriminating evidence, but to get an idea of the magnitude of the problem during the ten years before the paramilitary groups demobilized there were an estimated 35,000 people killed in Colombia and the vast majority at the hands of these death squads in collusion with the Colombian military11. It is a fact today that most of the members of these paramilitary groups form now part of much smaller and extremely destructive criminal organizations that prefer to operate in large urban areas where they benefit from the local drug consumption. The most powerful criminal

organizations are still under the control of the main drug cartels. The members of these cartels usually come from relatively well educated families that view drug trafficking the same way as any other business. The reality is that these criminal enterprises bring billions of U.S. dollars every year into the Colombian economy and much of it ends up on construction projects that are rapidly changing the urban landscape. Due to money laundering practices it is almost impossible to determine exactly what percentage of urban development is being funded by the drug trade, but based on the data provided by the U.N. 2009 World Drug Report, during the last decade Colombia has had the capacity to produce approximately 600 metric tons of Pure Cocaine per year12. It is estimated that the Colombian Cartels sell each kilogram for approximately $25,000 US dollars to Mexican Cartels and other criminal organizations in Europe and the Americas that control the local distribution. This is equivalent to a staggering 15 billion U.S. dollars per year. Needless to say this money is not only funding the internal wars in Colombia, but it is also driving a large part of the economy.

The second largest city in Colombia is called Medellin and for decades has been the base of operation for the largest drug cartels the world has ever known. During the time that Pablo Escobar was in charge of the drug cartel it was considered the most dangerous city

11 12

War in Colombia: Made in U.S.A. Page 51. United Nations 2009 World Drug Report.

in the world. The image improved greatly during the last decade, but unfortunately this past year especially, violent crimes have more than doubled compared to the previous years. For this reason the large majority of middle and upper class residents live in heavily guarded closed neighborhoods or apartment buildings. The business of protecting private property has become so lucrative that many of the criminal organizations own and operate these companies. Even in older neighborhoods where single houses are still predominant it is nearly impossible to walk more than a couple of blocks without running into a least one security guard. Today there is virtually no new construction of private housing outside closed communities in the city of Medellin. This means that in just a

couple of decades the fabric of the city was drastically changed from a very inclusive and democratic model to an almost completely exclusive environment. Developers in

Colombia have become experts at building apartment complexes and small enclosed housing units while making large profits in return. In the past Colombian authorities have linked profits from illegal activities with local construction companies, but few convictions have been made. The heavily guarded enclosed communities being built have the tendency not only to segregate groups of people, but probably even more damaging; they tend to fracture the city fabric creating uninhabitable edges or territories where the developments become into contact with one another. The size of these

apartment or housing complexes varies considerably from just a couple small buildings to several city blocks. This dramatic increase in the scale of the city has even more damaging effects on its inhabitants. It has transformed a city where most of the necessary amenities were within walking distances into a place that is forcing inhabitants to rely more on motorized methods of transportation. Even if these amenities can be reached within walking distances trying to traverse these uninhabitable territories become not only very uncomfortable, but even dangerous. In the majority of cases these territories are poorly lit and passer byes are surrounded in one side by a wall/fence and in the other by the road or by another wall/fence. It becomes evident that as the city fabric fractures the social fabric follows.

The results from the construction of enclosed housing developments are not only destroying the urban and social fabric, but they are also damaging to the environment.

Instead of making progress towards the implementation of more sustainable strategies, such as better integration of the resources that people utilize the most, they are creating fragmentations that if not stopped would have profound effects on human development. It is our responsibility to help city leaders understand the damaging effects that this misguided urban strategies are having on society and encourage a change of direction that will provide a more inclusive environment at a human scale.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) The term Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) was originally coined and formulated by a criminologist from Florida State University named C. Ray Jeffery. This methodology for using design strategies to prevent crime is simply a compilation of strategies developed by many designers and planners before him. In many respects this methods are simply a way to provide the inhabitants of a community with the ability to easily monitor the activities around them. The principal strategies included in the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) book written by C. Ray Jeffery are as follows;

1. Natural Surveillance Strategies to increase the threat of apprehension by taking steps to increase the perception that people can be seen. Natural

surveillance occurs by designing the placement of physical features, activities and people in such a way as to maximize visibility and foster positive social interaction among legitimate users of private and public space. 2. Natural Access Control to limit the opportunity of crime to occur by taking steps to clearly differentiate between public and private space. 3. Natural Territorial Reinforcement promotes social control through increased definition of space and improved proprietary concern. 4. Maintenance promotes a sense of ownership and prevents deterioration that can lead to less control and may indicate greater tolerance for disorder. 5. Activity Support increases the use of the built environment for safe activities.

The combination of these crime preventive strategies with other technological solutions such as electronic video surveillance and internet applications that allow residents to monitor activities within their community can be used effectively in high crime areas of the city.

The profound effect that crime is having on the urban fabric is drastically altering our way of life. The open inclusive societies representative of democratic values have become more difficult to find in the 21st century. Our society is constantly under attack and the cities have become the battle fields. The cities that have been affected the most can be easily recognized by how fragmented they have become. The physical barriers that we have erected to protect our selves are beginning to look more like prisons. It is our responsibility as designers and planners to quickly learn from the mistakes made and work diligently to create more open and inclusive sustainable cities that protect all of its inhabitants.

Today we have tools at our disposal that have proven to be effective if implemented correctly. A combination of proven design and technological strategies for preventing crime together with sound urban planning policies can have lasting impact on millions of people around the world. It is time that we look at crime and poverty as an opportunity to create healthier stronger cities. This is without a doubt one of the greatest challenges that we face as designers in the 21st century so lets not waist one more second. Lets bring our cities back and make a lasting mark on crime.


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