I just met with Mike Teskey. He’s a program specialist with Tacoma’s Public Works department, and he’s a specialist on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design.
He showed me the improvements the city is doing on McCormick Park on the 900 block of Fawcett Avenue. It’s receiving about $40,000 of renovations in hopes that it’ll curb crime and encourage the neighborhood to take more ownership in the green space. It’s part of a $200,000 CPTED allocation for Public Works.
Other CPTED projects include fencing around homeless encampments, fencing under bridges, plans for parts of the Thea Foss Waterway and improvements to the park near the intersection of St. Helens Avenue, Market Street and South Seventh Street.
"Basically what we’re asking is what we can do with environmental design to help lessen crime," he said. "We’re trying to establish a CPTED culture in Tacoma, and we believe we can help that by starting with our own properties."
Public works is collaborating with the police department and other agencies on the project.
McCormick Park and Tacoma Park have recently had issues with drug dealers, intimidation and homeless sleeping inside on the benches. That’s why they’re the city pilot project for CPTED renovations.
"People feel safer if more people actively use the space," he said. "And the more legitimate users use the space, the less the bad guy wants to use it."
The plan is to incorporate the ideas into future park designs to post-development renovations aren’t needed.
Changes to McCormick Park began about a year ago. A senior-housing building sits across Fawcett from the park, and office buildings on the other sides offer views of the park. Police were often responding to complaints of drug and homeless activity in the area.
But there has been some initial resistance from the public. Part of the plan calls for cutting down some of low-lying limbs and other plants to increase visibility. Some were worried the park would look like a moonscape.
They’ve also installed fences around part of the park. It’s the CPTED principle of natural access control. Contractors have installed iron-bar fences measuring 3, 4 and 5 feet high to control the flow of people in and around the green areas. Gates will be installed on the fences that will remain open – unless police need to close it.
"The community didn’t want a sense of imprisonment," Teskey said. "But it still has that feel of being protected but having openness to it."
Seat dividers on benches and pricklier grass will discourage sleeping in the park. Lighting has been installed. Some plants have been trimmed down. Others have been uprooted and replaced. The city plans to install arches on both ends to give it a "celebration of entrance."
A handout Teskey provided me listed 27 improvements to the two parks.
"It’s a holistic approach," he said. "The thing about CPTED is that it’s not about one thing. It’s a combination. It’s not lighting alone or visibility alone or fencing alone. It’s all those things. And it’s about getting people to use the space in the proper way."
There are things the community can do to help improve the parks. The more people who live and work in the area use the park, the more negative elements will be discouraged from hanging around. Events like arts and crafts shows or outdoor concerts could raise its visibility. A hot-dog or other food vendor that operates during the day would provide a permanent presence in the park.
A neighborhood committee that could do regular litter pickup and communicate with the city about the public’s needs would encourage the community to take back the park.
"When a space has no ownership," Teskey said, "that’s when the bad guys move in."