Creating Defensible Space
When Washington Park was originally developed following World War I, Immigrants from many parts of the world arrived with the American Dream in mind. These people were hoping to achieve their goals of homeownership in Milwaukee and fulfill a prosperous life in America; however, as the Great Depression arose in the 1920s, this dream of prosperity and new growth for Washington Park diminished. As a result of this economic crisis, many of the homes were split into multi-family residences, and the majority of the remaining vacant lots were never filled.
Throughout history, the diminishing sense of pride in Washington Park has become more and more evident. Walking through the area today, it is easily recognizable that this place was once filled with hopes and dreams of new lives. Today that feeling has been replaced by a lack of identity and a sense of irresponsibility. It can be seen in the large masses of trash on the street or in the broken windows and graffiti-covered buildings found on almost every block. The high crime rate recorded proves that burglaries, vandalism, and assaults are among the ordinary events occurring in the area. These physical characteristics give the outsider an overwhelming sense that there is a lack of trust and surveillance in the area.
Although the circumstances in the Washington Park neighborhood seem to be far less than ideal, many groups are reaching out to change the existing mentality of the residents. Organizations such as the Urban Ecology Center, Our Next Generation, Express Yourself Milwaukee, and Westside Academy II provide activities that reach out to the community, creating a crossroads for the Washington Park area. These organizations show that there are many people who have high hopes that improvements can be made in Washington Park.
Due to these conflicting sets of conditions, Washington Park is at a developmental crossroads. It is up to the community to brainstorm specific major and minor changes that can assist the residents in establishing a sense of pride and ownership within their neighborhood, allowing the area to rise to its full potential.
In Oscar Newman's text, Creating Defensible Space, he discusses the importance of how space is created in order for residents to have control over their communities. Newman explores what kinds of spaces promote crime, poverty, and loss of camaraderie between neighbors. Despite the complications that spaces like housing projects and violence-ridden neighborhoods create, Newman explores solutions and future possibilities to improve the neighborhoods as a whole.
The first chapter of Creating Defensible Space discusses the different reasons why certain apartment buildings or multi-family homes fail as safe and suitable environments for the people who live there. A few of the main points brought to attention in these places, such as the Pruitt-Igoe or the streets of St. Louis, are: the lack of security, the lack of private or semi-private space, open lawns, and a disassociation of any space belonging to individuals.
The lack of security allows multiple people to pass through a residence or building without the residents really knowing if they actually belong there or not. This allows for anonymous people to pass through, unchecked, and to wander through a building. This is a problem with high-rise structures that have multiple entrances and allow access to every floor from any entrance. This public access allows for a possible increase in crime rates. When the entire building structure is public, aside from the individual residences, residents do not associate any other space with being theirs. There is a lack of care for the building because it is not their own, therefore it is not their responsibility to care for the building. According to Newman, when residents take pride in their surroundings, they are less likely to be victims.
These themes are recurrent in many of Newman's studies and projects. In the neighborhood of Five Oaks in Dayton, Ohio, the neighborhood saw a drastic decline in property and neighborhood values and an increase in crime. Oscar Newman believed that one of the main problems in this neighborhood was that it was too large and readily accessible to anyone. All the streets connected with one another, giving those participating in illegal activity an easy way in and out. The crime was one reason the neighbors were disconnected from one another, and many lots were vacant.
In order to combat this chaos, Newman proposed the creation of mini-neighborhoods. Placing gates in the road would be done in order to create cul-de-sacs, streets that only had one way in and one way out. These mini-neighborhoods would be connected to the main streets but would function as their own units. This would give residents the ability to better monitor their surroundings and have pride and ownership in their space. With being able to monitor their surroundings, residents would more readily recognize strangers and those who did not belong in their little communities. The dead-end streets would also decrease the traffic occurring in the area and would eliminate an easy escape for criminals.
Newman also explored public housing in Clason Point, a dense, 400-unit project located in a high crime area. The housing project had a high vacancy rate, open, unkempt grounds, and a residential population that was mixed between age groups and race. The openness of the lots allowed for strangers to pass through with little resistance, and there was a lack of identity with the open grounds. Residents were fearful of being victimized and changed their daily routines to avoid certain areas. Newman's goals for Clason Point were to: increase a feeling of responsibility and pride in the area, reduce the number of pedestrian routes, improve the overall image of the project, and reduce the inter-generational and interracial conflict between the residents who lived there. In order to increase a sense of responsibility and pride in the housing project, Newman proposed creating individualize lots surrounded by tiny fences that allowed residents to decorate their own spaces. Fences and gates were placed in some areas to respond to the high pedestrian traffic and create small spaces and groupings for the residents. This allowed for residents to more readily and easily recognize strangers who were passing through the lots. The cement block buildings were resurfaced with different colors, chosen by the residents, to improve the appearance and bring about a sense of pride. The open spaces were also converted into areas that were specific to each generation and gave them a place to congregate and relax.
The last project mentioned in Creating Defensible Space was the creation of a public housing project in Yonkers, where one of the main issues was the segregated and dilapidated public housing. The spaces were unkempt and crime-ridden., similar to what was seen in places such as the Pruitt-Igoe projects. Yonkers wanted to created a public housing unit located in the city, among the middle-class homes. Although there was extreme conflict between the governing bodies wanting high-rise housing, Newman argued how high-rise housing created that conflict and would eventually fall. High-rise buildings all carried the characteristics, as Newman argued, that made for a poor design. Newman believed that walk-ups were the best design solution for public housing. He created a lower-density walk-up community in Yonkers; each home had its own front lawn and backyard. This created a semi-private and private space for residents to enjoy, bringing about a sense of pride in their surroundings. The homes blended in with the surrounding community, and the residents were carefully able to carefully monitor for crime.
Oscar Newman's ideas and practices actually did make a difference in multiple communities. All of the communities mentioned in Creating Defensible Space improved in neighborhood design, care, crime rates, traffic rates, housing prices, and more. To create a defensible space means to create a space of which people can be proud and want to maintain, to have an area where neighbors are familiar with one another and will keep a watchful eye on their neighborhood.
The lack of predictable surveyed traffic within the vacant lots of Washington Park creates and unsafe environment. While filling these problem areas, it must be kept in mind that there are different connotations perceived by unique, new construction and its juxtaposition with the urban fabric.