December 16, 2004

The goal of Safe Growth is to build environments that are safe for current and future generations and to protect buildings, transportation, utilities, and the natural environment from damage. Safe Growth is the current APA super-topic, and a variety of Safe Growth events and products will be developed over the next several months.

At the 2004 AICP Symposium, speakers explored aspects of Safe Growth all the way from routine hazards, such as pedestrian-vehicle conflicts and unhealthy buildings, to sudden disasters.

Safe Growth America Checklist Introduced

Also at the symposium, APA introduced the Safe Growth America Checklist, which enables citizens to evaluate the safety level of their neighborhoods from various risks and hazards. The checklist was developed by AICP to provide a comprehensive approach to neighborhood safety. It asks a series of questions to help identify unsafe features or aspects of a neighborhood — from poor street lighting and damaged sidewalks to rundown or vacant buildings and the lack of recreational facilities. It examines neighborhood safety for all users — pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, transit riders and persons with disabilities, as well as ways communities can encourage healthy living and mitigate natural disasters.

Safe Growth America Checklist


Here is a summary of the what each panelist had to say about Safe Growth:

Eric Klinenberg
Professor, University of New York, and author of Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago

Eric Klinenberg addressed why the devastating heat waves of Chicago (1995), with more than 700 victims, and Europe (2003), with more than 23,000 victims, are easy to ignore.

"Heat waves are a disaster that we as a public do not hear much about, but need to be increasingly concerned about," said Klinenberg. He continued to say that heat waves produce a greater mortality rate than all of the other so-called natural disasters combined. He stated that the lack of heat wave awareness can be contributed to the fact that no image of a heat wave comes to mind like that of a tornado, avalanche or hurricane. "The lack of a visual image makes heat waves easier to forget."

Contributing to the lack of awareness is the victims of heat waves are the individuals themselves, who die alone. "The victims perish out of sight. The deaths from the Chicago heat wave were questioned if they really happened," Klinenberg said.

The victims in heat waves often die alone since they live alone, often in impoverished neighborhoods. "The loss of neighborhood infrastructure and amenities fails to draw people out of their homes. Failing to draw people out of their homes creates social withdrawal."

Additionally, Klinenberg said that men are two and a half times more likely to die alone than women. Women are better at establishing relationships throughout their lifetime and are more socially connected than men.

"Heat waves are often forgotten about soon after they happen, more so than any other disaster. We need to convince people to take these seriously," Klinenberg concluded.

Karen Helbrecht
FEMA Mitigation Planning Branch. Primary author of the Hazard Mitigation Planning Interim Final Rule and works with communities to encourage development of multi-hazard mitigation plans.

Helbrecht addressed the need for effective mitigation planning in communities to prevent damage and destruction.

FEMA requires that states and local governments develop multi-hazard mitigation plans. "These plans help reduce our nation's loses from natural disasters," Helbrecht said.

"The typical response to a disaster has been to put the community back together the way it was before. We need to change the cycle of loss-rebuild, loss-rebuild, by preventing the damage from occurring," said Helbrecht. "We need to look at what causes the damage and how planning is an essential component to reduce hazards and build safer communities."

Hazard mitigation involves any action that reduces or eliminates risk to people and their property from hazards. Mitigation provides long-term or permanent risk reduction. "Start by conducting a risk assessment. Identify your community's hazards, assess vulnerabilities and analyze exposure to risk," said Helbrecht. The next step is to develop a strategy. Identify potential solutions, coordinate among agencies and concerned groups, evaluate and prioritize actions. "It's very important to obtain community 'buy-in.' This type of planning should never be done in isolation — the business community and civic associations need to be involved in the planning process."

After assessing risk, communities should create their mitigation strategy, schedule plan maintenance and formally adopt the plan. Helbrecht cautions that the plan should be updated at least every five years. "Effective strategies form the basis for safer communities," Helbrecht said. "Currently, every state and territory and many Indian Tribal Governments are covered by an approved plan, or approved extensions." She stressed that good planning provides a solid foundation for effective mitigation plans.

Patti Gallagher, AICP
Executive Director of the National Capital Planning Commission

Gallagher spoke about the effort to protect the capital city's monuments and facilities from the threat of bomb-laden vehicles.

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) provides overall planning guidance for federal land and buildings in the national capital region. "Ad-hoc security measures surfaced after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and increased dramatically after September 11, 2001, said Gallagher. "Temporary structures like jersey barriers were jeopardizing the urban vitality and leading to street closures, loss of parking, decline in street life and commerce, restricted mobility and access, loss of openness and degradation of beauty."

"The NCPC took a comprehensive approach to designing security by integrating it into the streetscapes and landscapes," Gallagher said. "The goal was to replace the repetitious, poorly designed objects with a flow of varied, well-designed elements, custom-designed security measures and well-designed elements that enhance the environment and provide security. Our goal is to remain an inviting and accessible city, while protecting the beauty and historic design of the city, which is a challenge."

Gallagher stressed that good landscape design enhances security and remains invisible. "People shouldn't think of 'security measures' when they see planters and park benches."

Security is now factored into all new facility construction and redevelopment within Washington, D.C. Federal agencies must seek NCPC approval for security measures installed for more than 60 days. No temporary measure should be in place longer than two years.

"Security is an evolving process. Our initial goal was to secure facilities and monuments from vehicles. Now we are examining the risk of pedestrian or chemical damage and protecting buildings from possible collapse," said Gallagher. She encourages others to look at the security approaches used around the world. "Look at common world examples, what London and Jerusalem have done for security. Take a comprehensive approach."

The National Capital Planning Commission was selected as the recipient of a 2005 National Planning Award in the Current Topic category.

Marya Morris, AICP
Senior Research Associate for the American Planning Association and project director for "Planning and Designing the Physically Active Community" sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Morris discussed the role planning has in helping solve obesity and other health epidemics.

"We are seeing a convergence of priorities with public health, physically active communities and community planning and design," said Morris. "Land use and transportation, automobile dependency and social processes all effect people's health. These all can contribute to obesity, air pollution, asthma, pedestrian injuries, social isolation, and crime, as well as impact physical activity, climate changes, and mental health."

Morris cautioned that transportation is not the sole contributor to the health crisis. "We need to examine the built environment as a contributing factor. Surveys shows that citizens are more likely to walk if walking trails, parks or gyms are accessible, sidewalks are present and scenery is enjoyable, friends available to exercise with and if many people are exercising. People are less likely to exercise if they have too little time, too tired, unmotivated, or the perception of traffic, crime or other dangers exist."

"The solution is not to just build more sidewalks," said Morris. "Sidewalks need to be accessible to destinations citizens want. Post offices, museums, and other public spaces that serve as a destination for people should be kept within the downtown area. Street connectivity and mix land-uses have shown the most promise for developing walkable communities."

Planners have the ability to affect change. Successful communities that have reduced sprawl and addressed health impacts utilize good land-use controls, reduce the dependence on automobiles and improve the social process. "Zoning and subdivision regulation, transit-oriented development and streetscape improvements can be used to enhance the quality of neighborhoods," said Morris. She encouraged planners to think about state and local planning. "Functional plans should address multiple uses including bicycle, pedestrian, transit, trails and parks."