Note: This guest blog was written by Rachel Bennett, Associate Program Manager of Prevention Institute. To follow their work, please visit www.preventioninstitute.org.
Every day, people working across a wide range of sectors make decisions that shape how land is used, by whom, and for what purposes—and these decisions help determine whether communities will be safe or unsafe. Factors as diverse as transit options, parks and open spaces, access to economic and educational opportunities, availability of affordable housing, strength of social networks, and the way neighborhoods look and feel all play a role in determining whether communities will be safe and resilient or at risk of violence. Decisions about how our communities are designed—like ‘greening’ formerly vacant lots, creating welcoming spaces for public gatherings, and expanding affordable public transit to bridge divides between neighborhoods—can all enhance community safety.
This past fall, the Healthy, Equitable, Active Land Use (HEALU) Network convened a summit in Los Angeles to explore the nexus of land use and community safety, drawing nearly 100 community members, policymakers, and representatives of community-based organizations. Our new report shares key learnings from this summit and invites people working in land use, transportation, food policy, education, housing, and other areas to consider the ways their own work can support safe communities.
Here are 3 key points from our new report:
- Violence is preventable. You can help prevent violence through the work you’re already doing and make strategic partnerships to further your impact.
- Land use decisions and investments can make communities safer—or more susceptible to violence. One way to build safety is to invest in violence prevention instead of crime punishment strategies.
- It’s important to acknowledge historical trauma and to engage the whole community in the design and implementation of initiatives, centering those most impacted by violence.
Violence is a complex issue and addressing its underlying causes requires that we think and work across sectors to strengthen the “resilience” factors that protect and support communities, and reduce the “risk” factors that make violence more likely to occur. A comprehensive approach to violence prevention places current residents at the center of efforts—honoring community voices and priorities, considering the context and history of each neighborhood, providing space for individuals and communities to heal from the trauma of violence, promoting local ownership, embracing local cultural and artistic traditions, and protecting residents from the threat of displacement as communities become safer and more desirable places to live.
As you consider how your own work can support safer, more resilient communities, think through some of the following questions:
- How do violence and the fear of violence act as barriers to your organization accomplishing its goals?
- What are some concrete ways you could integrate violence prevention strategies in your organization’s efforts? (For example, transportation agencies determine where to route bus or rail lines, how frequently services will be offered in each neighborhood, and how safe transit stops look and feel to riders.)
- How does your organization show that it values and recognizes the expertise of community members?
- What protections are in place to ensure that new land use investments benefit existing residents? Are existing residents informed about and in agreement with the protections?
- How can land use decisions better connect people to opportunities for learning, arts, and cultural and political expression?
Bringing together the disciplines of land use and violence prevention holds tremendous potential to improve community safety through smart investments, cross-sector collaboration, and democratic engagement. We strongly believe that, if we work together, we can work through the land use system to address deep-rooted inequities and sow the seeds of a better future for all communities, free from violence and fear.
We encourage you to download the report and share it with your colleagues. As we continue to work in Los Angeles and beyond, we’ll keep you updated on opportunities to participate in future conversations and decision-making processes that connect land use, community safety, and health equity.
Visit www.preventioninstitute.org or contact Rachel Bennett (RachelB@preventioninstitute.org) to get involved and learn more.