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A New and Very Unlikely Design Partner: The Police

For most of us, if we think of calling the police, it's after something's gone wrong. But—along with other crime prevention work, like helping fix up urban decay, or getting to know neighbors—cops are now starting to get more into design, thinking about how to make developments safer before they're ever built.

In some cities, that involvement is as simple as a list of suggestions for architects and planners, like which types of bushes are most likely to repel (or attract) burglers, or where to place lighting. But other police departments are taking it even further. In Washington, D.C., where plans are underway for a 27-acre development called The Wharf, with restaurants, hotels, and entertainment along the waterfront, police have been closely involved since before the first blueprints were drawn.

Not every suggestion from the police has been embraced, says The Washington Post; the designers wanted "romantic" street lighting, and decided to pass on the police's preference for much brighter lights. But they've made other changes, like eliminating dark nooks and corners where crime might be more likely.

Policing through design makes sense, just like other methods of involving police long before any crime occurs. It makes me wonder who else might add an interesting voice during the creative process: former criminals might have another perspective on safety, for example. Beyond safety, street musicians and artists might advise on how to make an area more creativity-inducing, and kids might advise on how to make a new development more fun. Is there a way that urban planners might regularly draw in new voices and expertise, beyond just the zealous neighbors who show up at city planning meetings? What other unlikely design partners can help make urban planning stronger?

This post is part of the GOOD community's 50 Building Blocks of Citizenship—weekly steps to being an active, engaged global citizen. This week: Get to Know Your Local Police. Follow along and join the conversation at and on Twitter at #goodcitizen.\n

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