Saturday, June 27, 2015

Safe School Design

Tod Schneider
The June meeting of the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute featured an important and informative presentation by Tod Schneider, one of the nation’s most knowledgeable authorities in the field of crime prevention through environmental design for schools. Tod has worked for nearly three decades as a crime prevention specialist for the Eugene Police Department, and presently is serving as the City of Eugene’s Veterans Homelessness Analyst. We are very pleased Tod was able share his considerable knowledge and insight with us. 
The seemingly endless succession of senseless school shootings across the nation has profoundly influenced how communities protect their children in the school setting. Our small corner of the world hasn’t been immune: Many of us vividly remember May 21, 1998, the terrible day when Kip Kinkel shot two students dead and wounded 25 others at Thurston High School in Springfield.(1) The worst imaginable event for a parent of a child in a school has happened here in our own backyard. The questions that arise in the aftermath of such an event most often start with “why?” but also quickly move toward “what must we do to prevent another Thurston, Columbine, or Sandy Hook ever happening again?” 
We certainly cannot allow ourselves to become paralyzed by such tragedies. Experts like Tod have learned from them and have for decades now been disseminating best principles for preventing their future occurrence. As a nationally recognized authority on the subject of safe school design, Tod consults regularly to school districts around the country, focusing on safe, healthy, and positive school design, as well as the application of security technologies. 
Terror and mayhem: the Columbine High School shooters caught on the school's security camera video. 
I have a general familiarity with Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), which emphasizes the importance of natural surveillance, access control, and territorial enforcement to deter criminal behavior. Natural surveillance and access control strategies limit the opportunity for crime. Territorial reinforcement promotes social control through a variety of measures. Many of the CPTED strategies have become ingrained in how my colleagues and I approach the designs of our projects, particularly the schools we work on. We often consider CPTED at the very outset of the design process as a matter of course. 
There is a risk associated with focusing too much upon the goal of “hardening” our schools. We don’t want them to appear like fortresses—cheerless, foreboding, and lacking the ideal attributes of places for learning and socialization. We don’t want to design our schools with a disproportionate emphasis upon our fear of possible threats. This is why Tod emphasizes a balanced approach to keeping students safe, one that places equal emphasis upon providing healthy and positive school environments. Tod refers to this as the S.H.A.P.E.D. or 2nd generation CPTED philosophy.
S.H.A.P.E.D. Overview
Safe schools do incorporate three fundamental CPTED concepts:  
  1. Natural surveillance (the ability to see what’s going on) 
  2. Natural access control (the ability to control who gets in or out of a facility) 
  3. Territoriality/maintenance (the ability to establish and send a message of turf ownership)
Natural surveillance increases the perception that people can be seen. Thoughtful placement of physical features, activities, and people helps to maximize passive surveillance and foster positive social interaction among legitimate users of a facility. 
Natural access control limits the opportunity for crime by taking steps to clearly differentiate between public space and private space. This is achieved by configuring entrances and exits, fencing, lighting, and landscaping in ways that limit access or control flow. 
Territorial reinforcement controls behavior by fostering a sense of ownership. This creates an environment where "strangers" or "intruders" stand out and are more easily identified. By using buildings, fences, pavement, signs, lighting and landscape to express ownership and define public, semi-public, and private space, natural territorial reinforcement occurs. 
A school’s main entrance is a location that lends itself well to the application of effective CPTED strategies. Properly designed, the main entrance clearly differentiates the public and private realms. It allows the front desk staff to see anyone approaching the building. The staff maintains sight of the person once he or she has entered the building, while electronic controls make it easy to manage access. The resulting vigilance goes a long way toward establishing territoriality. Architects can apply similar CPTED tactics unobtrusively throughout the designs of safer schools. 
Healthy schools provide clean water, air and food, and exposure to natural light; are free of mold, toxins, vermin, disruptive noise or unpleasant odors; use non-toxic building materials; are well maintained and use equipment and designs that avoid creating trip, fall, cut or other health hazards; encourage environmental awareness and responsibility; and promote healthy student behavior. Initiatives like LEED, the Well-Building Standard, and biophillic design support and provide touchstones for the design of healthy schools. 
Positive schools provide extensive reinforcement for a pro-social, affective environment. They promote a positive school climate in which mutual respect, support, cooperation, and connectivity between students, staff, the school, and the community is the norm. These qualities are reinforced with positive messages displayed throughout the school, in addition to functional facilities (meaning space, furnishings and equipment are a good match for the intended use). 
Classrooms attuned to the affective environment minimize alienation, reinforce positive attitudes and behavior, and increase academic achievement and motivation. A positive school engages its students, celebrates their individuality, and values all types of ability and achievement. 
A safer school doesn’t have to look foreboding. In this illustration, an uncontrolled access point has been remodeled to protect kids on the playground without making it look like a prison yard. (illustration from Tod Schneider's website Safe School Design)
The appeal of the holistic S.H.A.P.E.D. approach to achieving safer schools is that it is mindful of what we’ve always wanted our schools to be: stimulating, healthy, and safe learning environments. It does not necessitate sacrificing this goal in favor school safety alone. The S.H.A.P.E.D. principles are also more generally applicable—to the design of workplaces, for example—so architects of all stripes would be well-served by embracing them. 
Big thanks to Tod for sharing his expertise at our chapter meeting!  

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The June meeting also marked the end of the annual WVC/CSI calendar by recognizing those who contributed to the chapter’s success in the preceding year. Outgoing chapter president Steven Leuck, CSI, CDT, bestowed a number of honors to deserving chapter members. The common thread tying all the awards together was the recipients’ unstinting efforts to champion the benefits CSI has to offer everyone in the construction industry. Steven has now passed the reins of the presidency to Marina Wrensch, CSI. Like her predecessors, I have no doubt Marina will effectively lead the Willamette Valley Chapter in the coming year and help it maintain its stature as one of CSI's best.

(1) Springfield Public Schools had engaged my firm, Robertson/Sherwood/Architects, to work on several projects at Thurston High School at the time of the shooting. I was actually on my way to the school for a meeting when I received a call on my cell phone to turn back because of an emergency on the campus. I soon found out what happened and was deeply affected by the tragic news.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Glenwood Refinement Plan Wins 2015 APA Award

Concept image for park block excerpted from the Glenwood Refinement Plan
I sometimes feel like I’ve just crawled out from under a rock: I only recently discovered that the City of Springfield was the recipient of one the American Planning Association’s 2015 National Planning Excellence & Achievement Awards for its Phase 1 Glenwood Refinement Plan (GRP). The APA bestowed the award this past April and my surprise at the news isn’t for lack of publicity. Outlets as diverse as The Register-Guard, KLCC, and APA’s Oregon Chapter all noted the prestigious national honor. Let me add my (belated) kudos to the City of Springfield and everyone involved in the development of the award-winning plan! 
The GRP establishes a vision for the future of Glenwood, providing guidance for how land use, natural resources, public facilities, and commercial opportunities should be developed, designed and enhanced. The goal of the project is to provide clear objectives, policies, and implementation actions that support and facilitate the redevelopment of Glenwood into an attractive place to live, work and visit. 
Phase1 of the GRP successfully builds upon previous planning efforts with a more comprehensive look at desired types and forms of new development and redevelopment in Glenwood. It calls for a forward-thinking community vision, a commitment to high-quality development, investments in new infrastructure, and responsible stewardship of the Willamette River corridor and Springfield’s natural resources. 
“The GRP is an outstanding example of a comprehensive planning process that establishes an achievable vision for the future,” said W. Shedrick Coleman, 2015 APA Awards Jury chair. “By providing clear objectives, policies and implementation actions, the GRP supports and facilitates the redevelopment of Glenwood into an attractive place to live, work and visit.” 
According to City Manager Gino Grimaldi “The vision of the GRP matches the community’s desire that Glenwood continue to have a distinct identity, taking advantage of its existing strengths and seizing opportunities for an evocative urban center with a lasting legacy.” 
Springfield mayor Christine Lundberg adds “The Glenwood Refinement Plan puts into a picture exactly what the vision is for this industrial area and we appreciate the recognition.” 
The APA featured the GRP and its other award winners in the April 2015 issue of Planning magazine.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

MUPTE: Investing in a Better Downtown Eugene

The 13th & Olive project by Capstone Collegiate Communities, a beneficiary of Eugene's Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption (my photo)

I attended the June 8 MUPTE Matters public forum hoping to learn from all sides of the debate regarding whether the City of Eugene should reinstate the controversial property tax exemption program it suspended in 2013. I left the meeting further convinced of the need to revive MUPTE but also disappointed the discussion did not feature more of its most vocal opponents. 
The intent of the Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE) program has been to stimulate the construction of multi-unit housing in the core area and to ensure its use as a place where citizens have the opportunity to live as well as work. The City did this by offering developers who otherwise might choose to build anywhere but within downtown Eugene up to a 10-year exemption on property taxes based on the value of the improvements. The program has delivered mixed results since it was first enacted in 1977. 
Emceed and moderated by Rick Dancer, the MUPTE Matters forum did feature varied points of view regarding MUPTE from five panelists; however, each emanated from the same general perspective. All of the speakers are strong proponents for using a focused property tax exemption like MUPTE to achieve long-term, comprehensive city planning goals. 
The panel included:

In particular, Mia Nelson (who, along with Joshua Skov, would subsequently author a highly persuasive opinion piece for the June15 edition of The Register-Guard) convincingly recited reasons why MUPTE is desirable and necessary to encourage the development of housing in the downtown core. These included:
  • Land use: The City of Eugene expects to see as many as 40,000 new residents arrive over the next couple of decades. Upholding the seven “pillars” of Envision Eugene, the city’s plan to accommodate this population growth, would be difficult at best without making the best use of the land we have available within the urban growth boundary. Without MUPTE, developers might choose to locate projects on the periphery of the urban area at odds with the city’s goals and the best interests of our community and neighborhoods. 
  • The need for downtown housing: Notably, Eugene currently lacks an adequate pool of market-rate housing options located in its central core relative to cities of similar size elsewhere in the country. Ultimately, it will be a critical mass of residents that dictates the continued economic vitality and vibrancy of downtown. 
  • The economics of development: Building downtown is more costly than building elsewhere and presents unique challenges (i.e. construction staging). Many desirable projects simply do not “pencil out” without the benefit of the property tax exemption.(1) Revenue from multi-unit housing in Eugene is currently not high enough to encourage the construction of market-rate apartments and condominiums in our downtown core without the benefit of incentives.

I’m convinced the best return on investment for public coffers comes when smart and sustainable development occurs downtown. Experience has taught us we can’t rely on the marketplace alone to ensure this happens. Density provides the biggest bang for our buck even if that bang must be deferred to make it happen at all. Typically, the tax yield from a single acre of dense, multi-use, downtown development far exceeds that of many acres of sprawling suburban housing, strip-malls, or big-box stores. Which would you rather have? Hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional tax revenue per year after expiration of a temporary tax waiver? Or do you prefer a much lesser amount in perpetuity because developers are reluctant to construct desirable projects on the same site without the waiver? 
Although conspicuously absent at the forum, the arguments in opposition to MUPTE are familiar enough: 
  • “MUPTE only lines the pockets of greedy developers.”
  • “Look at all the student housing that’s been built. We don’t need anymore.”
  • “MUPTE favors larger projects and developers.”
  • “It’s unfair! I built something (outside of the MUPTE boundaries) and I didn’t get anything.”
  • “Development downtown will happen anyway.”
  • “MUPTE doesn't guarantee construction of affordable housing.”
  • “MUPTE diverts millions of dollars of tax revenues from the city, county, and schools.”
  • “Capstone!”
Ah, Capstone. For all the wrong reasons, many Eugeneans now associate the huge 1,300+ bed student housing project with MUPTE. I blogged about it in 2012 before any shovels had broken ground. From the beginning, I believed it was way too large and for better or worse would impact the character of our downtown for a long time. I must have been prescient. As built, the project is a disappointment. The troubled development could be one reason why the City Council may choose to saddle MUPTE with crippling changes or scuttle the program altogether. 

As Rick Dancer said, Eugene seems to spend a lot of time planning out of fear of change or making a mistake. He’s seen what bad decisions in the past have led to. Too often they paralyze us. He’d rather see us learn from mistakes like Capstone and move forward. That’s why he has great hope for the new generation of young professionals and leaders who will shape the future of Eugene’s downtown. In his opinion, they’re the ones who are optimistic and willing to build upon the successes, rather than the failures, of a program like MUPTE. I share Rick’s hope and do find the surge of youthful confidence in our city very encouraging. 

I wish the opponents to MUPTE turned out to provide a more balanced forum. If they did, I might have witnessed the substantive reasoning necessary to convince me the underlying premise for using property tax exemptions as a development tool is flawed. I might have heard ideas about how the city can practically realize an effective MUPTE that also addresses such concerns as the need to provide more workforce housing. To date, I’ve yet to be swayed in a compelling fashion by MUPTE opponents.

I do remain wary of relying too heavily upon imperfect planning tools shaped by imperfect, albeit well-intentioned, human beings. The dynamics of development and the factors that contribute to achieving a livable community will always be far too complex to effectively and flawlessly codify and regulate. Regardless, I do believe incentivizing the type of development we want for our downtown—as opposed to doing nothing at all—is necessary if we want the best possible outcome for Eugene. 

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This past Monday, June 15, the Eugene City Council conducted a public hearing on the subject of possible MUPTE revisions. Under the council’s proposed new rules, student apartment complexes would not be eligible for the waivers, local contractors would have to be hired to work on projects, and developments would have to meet energy efficiency and environmental building standards. My understanding is the council will meet again on July 8 and eventually vote (later this fall?) to either reinstate the incentive or sunset it permanently.

(1) A case in point is former Eugene mayor Brian Obie’s proposed $67 million mixed-use Market District development to be located next to the 5th Street Market. Without MUPTE, Obie says the project will not be as large or dense, and likely result in fewer market-rate apartments than originally intended.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Principles of Complexity (System) Sciences

Back in 2008, I wrote about the work of Alder Stone Fuller, an independent, freelance educator who teaches a theory of sciences and mathematics collectively referred to as the system sciences and how it contributes to our understanding of abrupt climate change. I consider Alder’s work profound, important, and—for the majority of us who were indoctrinated in our schools to regard nature as a machine to be studied by dissecting its parts—paradigm-shifting. 
One of the most vital applications of complexity sciences is in understanding our self-regulating planet, arguably the most important scientific concept of the 21st century. If we as a species do not quickly get to know it conceptually and start treating it like it’s our home instead of some nebulous thing called “the environment,” our probability of survival as a species will decrease significantly. The magnitude of the global heating problem and the rapidity with which it is imposing itself upon our environment is overwhelming. 
Alder left Eugene in 2010, moving to Maine where he established Ermah Ge, a new education collective dedicated to teaching how nature works using principles from system sciences, biosciences, geophysiology (aka Earth system science), evolution, and climatology, and to accelerate mitigation and community resilience via adaptability to abrupt climate change. The name Ermah Ge is a portmanteau, consisting of the acronym Ermah (Earth’s metabolism and homeostasis, which is the best short description of Gaia, our self-regulating planet, explained by Gaia theory) and Ge, which is the root of geometry, geography, geology, geophysiology, and an ancient spelling of Gaia. 
I’m pleased to announce Alder is producing a new online course entitled Complexity (System) 101, which will be Ermah Ge's flagship introduction to system sciences. He’s posted a free overview (comprised of three parts totaling approximately 2.5 hours). Eventually, the complete course will include 12-14 total hours of lectures/slide shows. Alder is offering Complexity 101 with a tiered pricing structure, either at one-third (video only) or one-half (with unlimited online Q&A discussion) the cost of his live instruction. The online version of Complexity 101 will be available on demand anywhere, anytime. 
Complexity (System) 101 is the culmination of over 15 years of Alder’s work since he first embarked on his freelance teaching mission here in Eugene. He designed the course to be accessible to any adult from any background. In his words, it contains “leading edge principles from complexity (system) sciences that lead to profound, awe-inspiring new views of nature, Earth, life and human societies, as well as laying the foundation to understand abrupt climate change (from a systems perspective, which matters GREATLY).” The course is the portal to the entire suite of his advanced Earth Studies courses. 
Alder is seeking as many enrollees in Complexity (System) 101 as possible, and requesting early enrollment to help him financially as he further develops the course. Many have found his free introductory lectures to be mini-courses in themselves, and worth watching—even if they choose to not enroll in the course itself. I’m doing my part to spread the word about Alder’s free overview with the hope that many who take the time to view it will in turn invest in the cost of Complexity (System) 101. 
The importance of complexity theory and systems thinking is that students and scientists from radically different disciplines can communicate and share knowledge about their respective systems in an understandable way. Understanding the fundamental principles allows anyone to use examples from any discipline—physics, chemistry, biology, physiology, ecology, economics, sociology, geology, geography, geometry, astronomy, cosmology, cognitive sciences, climatology, meteorology, astronomy—and apply them to virtually any particular system. Students of one discipline can intuitively understand the behavior of systems studied in other disciplines without detailed knowledge of those disciplines. 
Architects must envision a future world in which our lives have been dramatically and irrevocably transformed by the effects of global warming; however, we are blind without an appreciation for complexity theory and systems science. If we understand what is coming, we can prepare for it and make the transition far more effectively. Alder’s program can help people and communities understand the coming changes and how to shock-proof our systems to meet basic needs like water, food, shelter, energy, and health care. Such an understanding is fundamental to building new relationships with our planet, crucial to our survival as a species. 
Architects are expected to comprehend and synthesize an immense amount of information; however, if that knowledge fails to consider the full complexity and interconnectedness of the big picture, we’re handicapped and cannot truly function with the best interests of those we work for in mind. I highly recommend all architects acquire a basic understanding of complexity theory and systems science. Check out Alder’s free overview at and judge for yourself how essential they are to your work and outlook toward life and our planet.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

MUPTE Matters Public Forum

An important public forum focused on the topic of Eugene’s Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE) will take place this coming Monday, June 8 beginning at 5:30 PM at The Barn Light.
A resurgence of retail stores, restaurants, and residences has contributed mightily to the renaissance of Eugene’s downtown core. A combination of public investments and incentives in the area, including MUPTE, has undoubtedly spurred some of this development. 
The City of Eugene suspended MUPTE in 2013 but the Eugene City Council is now considering its renewal. Under the council’s proposed revisions to MUPTE student apartment complexes would not be eligible for waivers, local contractors would be mandated to work on projects, developments would have to meet energy efficiency and environmental building standards, and there would be a requirement for more affordable housing. 
Questions to be addressed include: 
  • What impact has MUPTE had in concentrating development in the urban core?
  • What has been the relationship between the development goals of Envision Eugene and the use of the MUPTE program?
  • What role will MUPTE play in continued downtown revitalization?
  • Should MUPTE be renewed and if so, in what form?
Readers of SW Oregon Architect who have an interest in MUPTE should attend to hear from all sides surrounding this important issue. The discussion is certain to be enlightening and spirited. 
PTE play in continued downtown revitalization?

Join us June 8th from 5:30 - 7 pm at The Barn Light for answers to these questions and more.

What: MUPTE Matters Public Form
When: Monday, June 8, 2015 – 5:30 - 7:00pm
Where: The Barn Light
Who: The following speakers are scheduled to present:

  • Brittney Quick-Warner - Chamber of Commerce
  • Thomas Pettus-Czar - The Barn Light
  • Greg Brokaw - Rowell Brokaw Architects
  • Nan Lawrence - City of Eugene
  • Mia Nelson - 1000 Friends of Oregon
The Barn Light and Red Wagon Creamery will provide complimentary coffee and ice cream.

Visit MUPTE MATTERS on Facebook.