This week Toronto revealed its latest ranking of priority neighbourhoods -- those areas in the city that reach a threshold for investment based on health, economics, political participation and education. The initiative was launched eight years ago in response to the city's Summer of the Gun in which a record 52 people were shot and killed by year's end.
The thinking is this: invest in low income, immigrant communities to increase prosperity and encourage private sector investment such as housing, retail and other commerce. The goal is lower crime and greater community satisfaction.
However, a look at other city models tells us that to reach the holy grail of upward mobility, community happiness and to battle crime, city planners need to take a more holistic approach. Community centre retrofits, social assistance and access to employment opportunities are absolutely important to address common urban issues of crime and poverty. But is it enough?
In many urban areas a fear of crime is often built around walkability. The perceived broken window theory is that poorly maintained areas lead to vandalism and increasingly more serious crimes. Creating well-lit, walkable communities that encourage pedestrian traffic and neighbourly interaction, as well as cycle path safety are critical in building a civic pride culture that will reduce crime.
A unique experiment in Rotterdam was implemented in 2012 where residents were asked to list what they would change to improve their own community. Titled 'The Neighbourhood Takes Charge', the results were stunning. Rather than a focus on expected serious crime and drug issues, the community listed street cleaning, reduced traffic speed and more general street walkability improvements. Led by the local police force, changes were made that contributed to dramatic improvements among benchmark safe city criteria; drug crime dropped by 30 per cent, burglary by 22 per cent and vandalism by 31 per cent. Even traffic offences were reduced by 19 per cent.
Design also has an important role to play in creating safer cities. The Rhode Island School of Design launched an innovate program that looked at ways to encourage pedestrian traffic through improved parks, streets and commercial spaces. Focusing on the Olneyville neighbourhood of Providence, Rhode Island, areas were mapped with the help of community members who selected spaces they found simply more pleasant than others. Generally, this was because certain streets had less car traffic, offered well maintained sidewalks and included homes with front porches that encouraged neighbourly conversation.
For a city like Toronto that is growing vertically, understanding how to apply these learnings becomes very important in long-term city building. If we simply build without addressing liveability, the greater danger of diminished health and increased crime rates looms. What is so remarkable about the Rotterdam experiment is that it's a low cost approach, one that every budget-sensitive municipality could embrace.
For urban planners in North America, the room for improvement in this area is huge. In the US, just 62 per cent of the population report walking for more than 10 minutes at a time in an entire week. Not only could this be a significant contributor to obesity rates and increased healthcare costs, it certainly reflects on a population's limited engagement in the community where they live.
An assessment of community needs is to be applauded, in particular where it improves basic housing, health and education needs. But investing in so-called soft improvements such as street cleaning, sidewalk beautification and pedestrian accessibility should be seen as equal priorities in creating healthy, happy, productive and safe communities.
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The Boston Marathon bombing was not just the most lethal domestic terrorist attack in Massachusetts history. Not since Sept. 11 have Americans been subjected to such an intense act of destruction on U.S. soil. At approximately 2:49 p.m., on April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs were detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The twin bombings killed three people and injured more than 260 others. In the aftermath of the attack, authorities used video footage and witness statements to identify two brothers, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev and 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, as suspects in the twin bombings. Authorities zeroed in on the brothers during the early morning hours of April 19, 2013. A gunfight erupted, resulting in the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. His brother managed to escape during the ensuing chaos. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did not escape for long. Later that night, he was found hiding in a boat behind a Watertown home. He was arrested and transported to a local hospital where he was treated for the multiple gunshot wounds that he had sustained. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's case has not yet gone to trial. He faces 30 federal charges including using a weapon of mass destruction. Prosecutors have not yet decided whether they will seek the death penalty. While the outcome of the criminal case is yet to be seen, the horrific images of the aftermath of the terrorist attack have been seared forever into the nation's collective memory.
The Jodi Arias' trial was four long years in the making. Not since the trial of Casey Anthony, has the nation so transfixed by a murder trial. Arias, a 32-year-old waitress and photographer from California, was accused of stabbing Travis Alexander, her ex-boyfriend, nearly 30 times, shooting him in the head, and cutting his throat at Mesa, Ariz., home on June 4, 2008. Throughout the four-month trial, Arias' defense tried to convince the jury that Alexander was a sexual deviant and a womanizer who forced Arias to act in self-defense. On May 8, a jury found Arias guilty. However, those same jurors were ultimately unable to decide whether Arias should be put to death or serve life in prison. Another panel formation is now slated to decide Arias' fate.
Edward Snowden, a 30-year-old computer geek and a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, is responsible for one of the most significant leaks of classified information in U.S. history. In May of 2013, the North Carolina native disclosed to the media some 200,000 classified documents on a mass surveillance program attributed to the National Security Agency. The documents exposed a number of Internet surveillance programs, including: PRISM, an electronic surveillance data mining program; Tempora, a clandestine security electronic surveillance program; and XKeyscore, a program that searches and analyzes Internet data on foreign nationals. "My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them," Snowden said in a June, 2013 interview with The Guardian. United States federal prosecutors have since charged Snowden with a number of crimes, including theft of government property and the unauthorized communication of national defense information. Snowden, who has been called both a hero and a traitor, has managed to escape prosecution by hiding out in Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum for one year.
In May 2013, a 911 operator in Cleveland, Ohio took a call from a young woman that ultimately proved to be one of the most significant calls placed that entire year. "I'm Amanda Berry," the caller said. "I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for ten years ... I'm here [and] I'm free now." Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, Berry and two other missing women, Georgina "Gina" DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, had been held captive for years in a home owned by their kidnapper, Ariel Castro. The residence was later dubbed a "House of Horrors." The events directly leading up to Berry's fateful 911 call read like a script from a made-for-TV movie. On May 6, Castro made a single mistake that would lead to his undoing: He failed to properly secure the front door of his home and only secured the exterior screen door. Berry took the opportunity to open the door and scream for help. Neighbors Angel Cordero and Charles Ramsey responded to Berry's screams. The two men kicked a hole through the bottom of the storm door and Berry crawled through with her six-year-old daughter, who had been fathered by Castro. Officers responding to Berry's 911 call entered Castro's house and found Knight and DeJesus in two upstairs bedrooms. Knight had been missing since 2002, Berry disappeared the following year and DeJesus vanished in 2004. Each of the women told police they were kidnapped after accepting a ride from Castro. They said during their years in captivity, they were treated like animals and subjected to humiliation and horrific sexual violence. DNA testing confirmed that Castro was the biological father to Berry's child. Castro initially entered a not-guilty plea, but later Castro pled guilty to 937 of the 977 charges against him. He was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole, plus 1,000 years. On Sept. 3, 2013, he was found hanging by a bed sheet in his prison cell. His death was ruled a suicide.
The trial of George Zimmerman has prompted allegations of racism and police corruption. While public opinion remains mixed, there is no mistaking the fact that Trayvon Martin's killing and the circumstances involved captured headlines around the world. Zimmerman, a 28-year-old Hispanic American, shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old on the night of Feb. 26, 2012 after an apparent confrontation between the two. The teen had been walking back to the home of his father's fiancee from a Sanford, Fla. convenience store. During the trial, Zimmerman's defense attorneys argued he was attacked by Martin while serving as a neighborhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman's camp contended that he acted in self-defense when he shot the teen in the chest at point-blank range. The prosecution deemed the slaying an instance of second-degree murder. They pointed to remarks made by Zimmerman during a 911 call he placed before the shooting―"F--king punks, these a--holes always get away"―and also to a lack of evidence of bodily harm to Zimmerman or Martin. Zimmerman, the prosecution alleged, was a "wannabe cop" who profiled Martin as "someone about to commit a crime in his neighborhood." On July 13, 2013, 16 hours after deliberations began, a jury made up of six women returned a verdict of not guilty for both second-degree murder and the lesser charge of manslaughter.
James "Whitey" Bulger, a notorious mob boss who spent 16 years at large and 12 years on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, was finally brought to justice in 2013. The organized crime figure's downfall began roughly two years earlier when authorities, acting on a tip, arrested him on June 22, 2011, at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. Bulger was charged with 19 counts of murder, 32 counts of racketeering and other charges. Nearly two years passed before his case went to trial in Massachusetts in June of 2013. During Bulger's trial, the prosecution alleged that during the 1970s and '80s, he led the South Boston's Winter Hill Gang. Bulger, according to the prosecutor, participated in money laundering, extortion and racketeering. They said he committed some murders himself, shooting at least two men in the head, and assisted in the commission of others. Defense attorneys attacked the credibility of key government witnesses and argued that their testimony was bought and paid for by the prosecutors. On August 12 the jury found Bulger, 84, guilty of participating in 11 killings, as well as extortion, money laundering and weapons charges. Bulger was sentenced to two life terms plus five years.
It was a case that shocked a nation ― two 16-year-old high school football players in Ohio were accused in the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl who was incapacitated by alcohol. The assault, however, was not the only debasing act, according to prosecutors. The girl, they said, was photographed and the horrific crimes were documented and shared on social media websites. The crimes were detailed in court proceedings that took place in March of 2013. According to trial transcripts, the victim, a 16-year-old girl from West Virginia, went to a party with friends in Steubenville, Ohio, on the night of Aug. 11, 2012. During the party, the girl became intoxicated and left with a group of high school football players. While riding in the backseat of a car, the girl's shirt was removed and she was digitally penetrated while she was filmed and photographed. When the group of teens reached their destination, they stripped the unconscious girl naked and continued to molest her and photograph her. The victim later testified she has no memory of the events and woke up the next morning naked in a basement. In the days that followed, photos that were taken of the girl were posted to several social media websites. A video posted on YouTube showed a group of teens discussing the rape. One of them joked that the girl was raped "quicker than Mike Tyson raped that one girl," according to court documents. On March 17, two teens, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, were convicted of the teen's rape. The judge sentenced Richmond to one year in juvenile detention for penetrating the girl while she was unconscious. Mays received a two-year sentence in juvenile detention.
The kidnapping of Hannah Anderson left many unanswered questions. On Aug. 10. the 16-year-old California girl was rescued after James Lee DiMaggio, the man who abducted her and killed her mother and younger brother, was killed in an FBI shootout. Authorities called Anderson a "victim in every sense of the word," but she was dogged by critics who suggested she knew more about DiMaggio's crimes than she let on. On Aug. 22, 2013, Anderson addressed her critics, saying in a televised interview that she did not care about "other people's opinions." "You are who you are and you shouldn't let people change that. You have your own opinion on yourself and other people's opinions shouldn't matter," Anderson said on NBC's "Today" show. Anderson also addressed the release of search warrants that indicate that she and DiMaggio communicated via letters and had exchanged about 13 phone calls on the day her mother and brother were killed. "The phone calls weren’t phone calls, they were texts because he was picking me up from cheer camp ... The letters were from like a year ago when me and my mom were not getting along very well ... They weren't anything bad, they were just to help me get through tough times," Anderson told "Today". Authorities said DiMaggio killed Anderson's mother, 44-year-old Christina Anderson, and her brother, 8-year-old Ethan Anderson. Their bodies were found after DiMaggio set fire to his Boulevard home on Aug. 4. DiMaggio, who was reportedly like an uncle to the Anderson children, escaped with Hannah. The teen was rescued when FBI agents killed DiMaggio in the Idaho wilderness. After her rescue, Hannah Anderson took to the Internet to address the killings and lash out at DiMaggio. "I wish I could go back in time and risk my life to try and save theirs. I will never forgive myself for not trying harder to save them," she wrote in a social media post. "[DiMaggio] deserved what he got." While some people still question Hannah Anderson's relationship with DiMaggio, she made it clear during her interview with "Today" that she does not concern herself with naysayers. "They don't really know the story so they kind of have their own opinion on what they hear," she said. The teen added, "In the beginning I was a victim, but now ... I consider myself a survivor instead."
Two years ago, Italy's highest court overturned Amanda Knox's murder conviction, and the 26-year-old Seattle woman returned home. But now, prosecutors are retrying Knox in the 2007 death of Meredith Kercher. Knox, who served nearly four years in jail for Kercher's murder before her 2011 release, explained her decision not to appear in a September 2013 interview with ITV's "Daybreak". "There is the very real fact that I was imprisoned wrongfully and I cannot reconcile that experience with the choice of going back. It doesn't make sense," Knox said. The case against Knox is centered on the events that took place on Nov. 2, 2007—the day 21-year-old British exchange student Meredith Kercher was found dead in the bedroom of her Perugia apartment. From the start of the investigation, authorities focused their attention on Knox, then a 20-year-old exchange student from the United States who was living with Kercher, and Knox's boyfriend, Italian engineering student, Raffaele Sollecito. Authorities claimed to have found a knife with DNA from both Knox and Kercher at Sollecito's residence. Another suspect in the case was Rudy Hermann Guede, an acquaintance of Knox and Kercher. According to police, Guede's DNA was found on Kercher and his fingerprints were found in her bedroom. Knox, Sollecito and Guede each pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, sexual violence and robbery. In October of 2008, Guede was found guilty of assaulting and murdering Kercher. He was initially sentenced to 30 years in prison, but his sentence was later reduced to 16 years. Both Knox and Sollecito were found guilty on Dec. 4, 2009. Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison for murder, sexual assault and obstruction of justice. Sollecito received a 25-year sentence for murder and sexual assault. Sollecito and Knox remained jailed until October of 2011 when their verdicts were overturned by the Italian Supreme Court at a second-level trial. In an official statement about overturning the convictions, the judges wrote there was a "material non-existence" of evidence to support the guilty verdicts. Having the murder conviction overturned proved to be only a temporary reprieve. In Italy, a defendant who has been acquitted can be re-tried; and in March of 2013, the Italian Supreme Court set aside the judgment of the appellate court and granted prosecutors an appeal. The retrial began, with Knox in absentia, on Sept. 30. For the past few months prosecutors have been recapping the evidence against Knox and Sollecito. The trial is ongoing and the verdict could put her back behind bars.
Joseph Paul Franklin, a drifter who once felt it was his duty to "cleanse the world" of people he deemed inferior, finally met his maker in 2013. Franklin, 63, was executed at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Missouri, on November 20, 2013, for the 1977 killing a 42-year-old man outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue. The crime that cost Franklin his life was one of as many as 20 killings authorities say he committed between 1977 and 1980. Many of the killings are believed to have been fueled by a hatred of blacks and Jews. Two of the high profile shootings that Franklin claimed to have committed, but was never convicted of, were the 1980 shooting of civil rights activist Vernon Jordan and the 1980 shooting of adult magazine publisher Larry Flynt. Both men survived, but Flynt was left permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Franklin was on death row for 15 years awaiting his execution. In October 2013, Flynt made a surprise move by calling for clemency for Franklin. However, his plea was futile. Following Franklin's execution, prison officials said he had declined his last meal and had made no statement prior to his death.
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