A Reply or Two to O'Toole
By Laurence Aurbach
February 22, 2005
It's a little hard to keep track at this point, but here it is: Town
and O'Toole wrote
an article about new urbanism and crime in Reason magazine,
I rebutted the article, and O'Toole wrote
a letter in response. O'Toole's letter appears in its entirety
on a separate page. I won't reproduce the whole thing here, just reply
to several of the statements.
O'TOOLE (quoting Oscar Newman): I am not very impressed
with the work of the New Urbanists. It is nostalgia--a throwback to the
past, with little thought about what made those environments work then
(long term occupancy by an identical economic class and ethnic group),
and unworkable today (occupancy by itinerants, mixed incomes, and ethnic
REPLY: I am not very impressed with Newman's knowledge of new urbanism
or its excellent record in reducing crime and creating new, safe neighborhoods.
O'TOOLE (Quoting Newman): Assign that same area
to specific families and they will guard it as their own and control the
activity within it.
REPLY: That technique is part of the new urbanist toolkit. And, as my quotes demonstrate, Newman
was fully in favor of public space provided it was designed correctly.
O'TOOLE (Quoting Newman): [Jacobs'] theory was
disproven when we had a major incident in New York--the Kitty Genovese
murder--in which over a hundred people witnessed the beating to death
of a woman in the street by a stranger and not only did not intervene,
they didn't even call the police. The reason: they did not identify the
street as theirs.
REPLY: First, the circumstances
of one murder does not prove or disprove any theory. Second, there were
handful of eye witnesses at 3:20 in the morning, and the police were
called. (Thanks to Will Cox for the source.)
O'TOOLE: In short, the key is "territorial definition
of environments," not eyes on the street.
The key is both. Newman is clear about this in
his books, as my quotes demonstrate. O'Toole's
implication that natural surveillance is not important is extremely irresponsible.
O'TOOLE (quoting Newman): the residential environments
they (the New Urbanists) are creating are very vulnerable to criminal
behavior, unless, of course, these environments are exclusively occupied
by high income groups--which, by their own definition, they are not.
REPLY: That is pure speculation, not supported by the evidence.
O'TOOLE: For some reason, Aurbach diverges from
the main point of the article -- crime -- to address some other issues.
REPLY: I address the issues that
O'Toole raised in his article. "For some reason"? That's the only
O'TOOLE: This was on a page called "New Urban basics."
While CNU may have deleted it from its web site, it is on several other
sites with attribution to CNU, including http://www.ub.es/escult/docus2/NEW_URBANISM_%20BASICS.doc
REPLY: It's called verifying your
sources, and it's an important part of journalism. By the way, that
document doesn't attribute CNU, it only lists CNU as a source of additional
O'TOOLE: Aurbach makes the conventional New Urban
argument that New Urbanism reduces congestion. He confuses reducing per
capita driving with congestion, which is not the same thing.
REPLY: No. I address them separately.
O'TOOLE: the increases in density needed to reduce
per capita driving are huge -- 10 times the average density of most U.S.
An increase in population density will decrease per capita driving,
and the data approximately fit a smooth curve. Every doubling of
density decreases vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 25 to 30 percent. Higher density areas with 40% less VMT than low density suburbs are common
in the U.S. See for instance http://www.smartgrowth.org/library/cheers.html
O'TOOLE: I have read all the [health] research
that claims to find this result and it is anything but credible.
REPLY: The research was peer reviewed
and published in mainstream journals. It was credible enough to
satisfy the scientists who were in a position to make that judgement.
O'TOOLE: In short, Aurbach fails to contradict
the key points of our article: Research by police in England has shown
that New Urban design significantly increases crime.
REPLY: I have cited numerous sources that contradict that point. Examples of research and case studies. Check 'em out.
O'TOOLE: While there is no equivalent study of
New Urbanism in the U.S., research by Newman and other criminologists
on specific aspects of New Urbanism, such as mixed uses and alleys, shows
that they make residences more vulnerable to crime.
REPLY: New urbanism is a complete
design approach, and its "specific aspects" are implemented in concert
with a full range of design elements. Mixed use and alleys must
be designed correctly, as part of a larger neighborhood design, to be
safe, functional, attractive and highly valued. New urbanists have
in fact achieved this in hundreds of developments.
Isolating one element of new urban
design, and correlating it with poor examples of that one element elsewhere,
has little or no relevance. What's relevant is the empirical record
of existing new urban communities. We'll all be better off to stick
with actual evidence from true new urban communities.
If you have any question about which places are true new urban communities,
The Town Paper
or The New
Urban News will be happy to provide you with a list of them.
1. Correcting the Crimogenic Crowd
2. O'Toole's Response to Aurbach
3. A Reply or Two to O'Toole
4. Related Materials on Safety and Neighborhoods