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Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop (2023)

Chapter: 6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety

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Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
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6

Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety

Digital, physical, and social infrastructure can have a significant impact on crime, violence, and public safety. Following a keynote and conversations on active research on public safety and infrastructure and public services, researchers and practitioners discussed opportunities for improved community safety.

6.1 SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE FOR REDUCING VIOLENCE

Chris Blattman, University of Chicago, described the importance of social infrastructure to reduce violence, which is one of the most pressing problems faced by cities. He defined social infrastructure as a well-organized, institutionalized set of capabilities called “outreach”—for example, an informal group of social workers dedicated to identifying and engaging those at highest risk of violence. He conducts social experiments to understand why urban street violence and shootings, ethnic violence, riots, and civil war violence exist and to determine which interventions successfully reduce this violence.

During his time in Africa, Blattman identified both ineffective and effective programs to mitigate violence. One effective approach was the use of cognitive behavioral therapy among urban street youth. As a result of other successful interventions, Medellin, Colombia—which was one of the most dangerous places in the world—now has only two-thirds the violence of many large U.S. cities, such as Chicago. Therefore, he applied some of the successful approaches he examined abroad to inform new

Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×

programs in Chicago (e.g., READI Chicago, an employment and cognitive behavioral therapy program).

Blattman explained that, generally, 0.01 percent of men in a city are at risk of committing serious violence. Thus, as his research revealed, any intervention to address violence should target the individuals at highest risk of violence, and effective treatment begins with an appropriate diagnosis. For example, people in cities commonly fire a weapon for one of the following reasons: reactive aggression, vengeance and blood feuds amid a lack of justice options, strategic creation of a powerful reputation to prevent attack, optimal response to opponents of uncertain strength, and as a byproduct of illicit transactions and competitions for territory.1

Blattman noted that many interventions are well supported by evidence, and each addresses a different underlying cause. Cognitive behavioral therapy is useful to manage reactive aggression but not to address economically generated violence. Violence interruption helps to manage reactive aggression, mediate individual-level disputes, and seek nonviolent forms of justice. Intergroup mediation helps to reduce uncertainty between groups and establish norms of peaceful competition. Focused deterrence targets sanctions at leaders and groups who use violence as a strategic tool or who ignore the costs of their violent actions. He underscored that behind every successful program is a successful outreach organization. “Street outreach” workers are often from similar backgrounds as the highest risk men; independent from security forces; intimately familiar with the neighborhood; trusted by the community to provide information about high-risk people and events; responsible for engaging, recruiting, and supporting high-risk men in programs; equipped and protected to mediate preventatively; and prepared to intervene in crises. Digital tools (e.g., violence prediction algorithms) can be complementary to these programs. However, he further noted that what is most effective is identifying the right people, fostering skills of professionalism, and having stable funding and organizational support.

6.2 CHANGING THE PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE OF HOT SPOTS OF VIOLENCE: EXPERIMENTS IN COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS

John MacDonald, University of Pennsylvania, explained that decisions and successes are shaped by the context in which people live, work, and play. The design of places is fundamental to well-being, and good science could help create safer and healthier cities—a return to the 19th century concept of planning communities for health and well-being.

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1 C. Blattman, 2022, Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Path to Peace, New York: Viking.

Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×

He proposed uniting ideas from urban planning with criminology and public health into a science of place-based experiments to inform policy decisions.2

MacDonald pointed out that when places are neglected, a cycle of disorder and decay begins. Blighted and vacant spaces in cities are visually unpleasant, and incivilities increase. Residents then feel disconnected, and criminals are emboldened, leading to a decrease in health and an increase in crime in the community. Residents then leave and businesses close, and this cycle of decay repeats. He indicated that this cycle helps explain why crime is highly concentrated by place, noting that between 3 and 6 percent of street segments typically account for 50 percent of reported gun violence and serious crime. This concentration of gun violence and serious crime by place also appears to be relatively stable over time, suggesting endemic features of violent crime hot spots.

Features of the built environment could be changed to reduce gun violence and serious crime and to improve the health and safety of the community. MacDonald suggested making a structural change to a place (new buildings, sidewalks, plantings, cleanup), choosing changes that can be scaled to entire populations, and selecting interventions that can be sustained over time. He also encouraged testing the efficacy of redesign programs and trying to replicate those that are successful in other cities.

MacDonald offered two examples of how changes to the built environment could reduce violence as well as improve neighborhood well-being. First, he described a case study on door and window repairs. In 2010, Philadelphia had approximately 3,000 vacant structures and 40,000 vacant properties. The Doors and Windows Ordinance was passed in 2011, requiring every building to have least one working window and door. A quasi-experimental study revealed 20 percent fewer assaults, 39 percent fewer gun assaults, and 16 percent fewer nuisance crimes around ordinance-compliant houses and revealed no evidence of displacement of crime to nearby areas.3 These findings were replicated in a subsequent randomized trial.

Second, he said that, starting in 1996, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society LandCare Program4 began to clean up trash from, plant trees and grass in, and add fences around abandoned vacant lots that were often

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2 J. MacDonald, C. Branas, and R. Stokes, 2019, Changing Places: The Science and Art of New Urban Planning, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

3 M. Kondo, D. Keene, B. Hohl, J. MacDonald, and C. Branas, 2015, “A Difference-in-Differences Study of the Effects of a New Abandoned Building Remediation Strategy on Safety,” PLoS One 10(7):e0129582, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0129582.

4 For more information about the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society LandCare Program, see https://phsonline.org/programs/transforming-vacant-land/program-model-and-impact, accessed August 28, 2022.

Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×

hot spots of crime and gun violence. A citywide cluster randomized trial revealed substantial reductions in nuisance crimes, gun assaults, and all crime in the remediated lots.5

Exploring the implications of such initiatives, MacDonald explained that $1 in vacant lot remediation returns $26 in net benefits to taxpayers and $333 to society at large, which suggests that significant reductions in gun violence could be achieved through citywide efforts. If a $15,000 investment prevents one shooting, $34 million–$45 million could scale efforts for Philadelphia (34,000 lots), and $5.1 million/year could maintain it. Similar evidence of crime reduction benefits from vacant lot greening was found in Flint, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Youngstown, Ohio; and Chicago, Illinois.

In closing, MacDonald remarked that because place-based interventions improve safety and health in communities, experiments should be embedded in planning designs to understand what works, under what contexts. He stressed that, to move forward, partnerships among scientists, public safety officials, and urban planners could connect communities as part of policy laboratories that would be tailored by context. Long-lasting and scalable structural changes to places could help rebuild communities with designs that encourage healthy and active living.

6.3 USING OPERATIONS RESEARCH TO INCREASE ACCESS TO HOUSING FOR HOMELESS YOUTH

Renata Konrad, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, explained that traffickers prey on and exploit vulnerable populations such as runaway and homeless youth (RHY): 20 percent of all homeless youth are trafficked for sex or labor. Cities have shelters and social services that try to mitigate trafficking and exploitation, but she emphasized that improved access to these shelters and social services is needed to disrupt and prevent trafficking.

Konrad indicated that applied mathematics can be leveraged to locate shelters for survivors of human trafficking in the United States. These shelters are expensive investments because individuals might require an array of services for 1–2 years, and limited funding is available to invest in opening new shelters dedicated to survivors of trafficking. Statistics vary about how many shelters exist and how many are needed, but across the board the demand for shelters exceeds the supply (with approximately

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5 E. South, J. MacDonald, V. Tam, G. Ridgeway, and C. Branas, 2023, “Effect of Abandoned Housing Interventions on Gun Violence, Perceptions of Safety, and Substance Use in Black Neighborhoods: A Citywide Cluster Randomized Trial,” JAMA Internal Medicine 183(1):31–39, https://doi/10.1001/jamainternmed.2022.5460.

Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×

34,000 calls into the national trafficking hotline in 2015). For instance, Nevada has the highest demand in the nation, but a 2013 study revealed that Nevada had no shelters. Konrad underscored that a more comprehensive legislative environment would better support survivors, as different states currently have different levels of support.

Konrad further noted that because the demand for shelters will likely never be met, decisions about where to open new shelters given the limited budget can be informed by the use of a mathematical model to maximize societal benefit (e.g., productivity gained, healthcare costs avoided) while taking costs into account (restrictions and considerations include budget, demand, and existing shelters). The model considered 3.5 million different combinations; she presented four scenarios that emerged that decision makers could evaluate. For example, if $1 million were available, a large shelter should be placed in Louisiana. With more money available, more shelters could be opened. If a decision maker is concerned about finding the most inexpensive locations, six smaller shelters could be opened in different states. If the objective is to build shelters in a supportive legislative environment, the solution space changes again. If the objective is based on highest demand, and the budget is $2 million, one shelter could be opened in California. She highlighted the value of mathematical modeling for decision making that involves many complex factors.

Konrad offered another example of the benefit of mathematical modeling, in which her team worked with New York City to project the shelter capacity that could meet the needs of the RHY population. They assessed current capacity and compared it with the projected capacity, and provided information for the city about how much demand would not be met within the existing system. Now, Konrad and her team are advising the city how to deploy its resources.

Serving as session moderator, John Birge, University of Chicago, inquired about the challenges of collecting data on RHY. Konrad acknowledged that gathering data is difficult, and controversy exists around how annual counts are obtained. Therefore, in the work she described in New York City, surveys are conducted on the ground to collect data. In response to a question about the linearity of the mathematical model, Konrad noted that because not every service will be 100 percent effective, the benefits are not linear, but the model takes that into account.

6.4 DISCUSSION

Birge asked the presenters to share examples of organizations that are doing effective social outreach. Blattman referenced the Sustainable

Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×

Transformation of Youth in Liberia (STYL) program6 as well as Institute for Nonviolence Chicago,7 Cure Violence,8 Heartland Alliance,9 and Lawndale Christian Legal Center10 as models for social outreach. MacDonald added that the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society has a network of contractors for vacant lot work in and beyond Philadelphia, and a similar organization exists in Youngstown, Ohio. Building an infrastructure of contractors and setting up a mechanism to pay them is challenging; however, he stressed that this could be accomplished in many cities without creating an entirely new organization. Konrad noted that although most cities have exceptional homeless shelters, many of which specifically serve trafficking survivors, too few exist. Birge wondered whether interventions are more effective in certain locations than others. MacDonald emphasized that context differs by place—for instance, vacant lots and abandoned houses do not exist in Sweden. He further noted that what type of infrastructure should be addressed varies by this context, and reduced crime might not be the primary outcome in all cases.

Birge posed a question about whether motivations for and patterns of violence interact. Blattman replied that they could interact, although that is often not the case. For example, reputational violence and blood feuds still occur in wealthy and prosperous areas; however, these areas often have well-functioning justice systems, which are key to addressing the problem. MacDonald responded that culture and economics cannot be separated into single causal variables; the social context where people spend time matters. For example, violence arising from alcohol use in uncontrolled, vacant lots is more likely to occur in an extremely low-income neighborhood where social infrastructure does not exist. If the built environment is run-down, it sends a signal that violence can flourish. If the problem were only about economics or culture, he asserted that violence would not be as highly concentrated in particular areas as it is. Konrad added that human trafficking does not always involve movement (e.g., a boyfriend could traffic his girlfriend in their apartment building). Furthermore, trafficking not only disproportionately affects certain races and genders but also crosses the socioeconomic spread. Although people

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6 For more information about the STYL program, see http://mail.nepiliberia.org/, accessed August 28, 2022.

7 For more information about Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, see https://www.nonviolencechicago.org/, accessed August 28, 2022.

8 For more information about Cure Violence, see https://cvg.org/, accessed August 28, 2022.

9 For more information about Heartland Alliance, see https://www.heartlandalliance.org/, August 28, 2022.

10 For more information about the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, see https://lclc.net/, accessed August 28, 2022.

Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×

assume that U.S. citizens are not trafficked, the vast majority of child sex trafficking victims are U.S. citizens.

Birge wondered whether studies exist on the impacts of cultural infrastructure such as churches and athletic and community centers. MacDonald explained that simply building community centers has not proven to be an effective approach because the presence of such infrastructure will not address the highest risk people; such institutions would also have to attract and engage these individuals. Blattman added that because treatment follows diagnosis, to be successful, the physical infrastructure should connect to the root of the problem.

Birge asked the panelists to share key messages for decision makers investing in public safety at both the community and federal levels. Konrad said that with agencies at the federal, state, and city levels and multiple sources of funding, information-sharing and coordination are essential. MacDonald championed strategic investment to change places in historically disadvantaged areas with failing infrastructure. Although federal funding is needed, he suggested that programs be run at the municipal level and tailored so as to have greatest benefits for a particular community, including by providing meaningful employment. Blattman noted that although in other parts of the world work will begin from the ground up, in Chicago social infrastructure already exists; the current goal is for the public to embrace it. He advocated for more predictable, continuous state and federal funding streams as well as increased professionalization of informal social workers who have come from high-risk backgrounds.

Birge posed a question about whether government leaders have recognized the evidence presented as well as about how to overcome impediments to making the proposed changes. MacDonald pointed out that it is difficult for stovepiped agencies to coordinate to fund a multilayered infrastructure program. Blattman said that low- and middle-income countries had almost no data and no interest in data 20 years ago, but that has changed—an evidence-based program in Liberia is now influencing Chicago’s approaches. Konrad remarked that finding data for this type of decision making is challenging, but a lot of data exist. She suggested collecting data in the right way, making them interoperable, and applying data for different purposes.

Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×
Page 64
Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×
Page 65
Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×
Page 66
Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×
Page 67
Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×
Page 68
Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×
Page 69
Suggested Citation:"6 Social, Physical, and Digital Infrastructure for Public Safety." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Enhancing Urban Sustainability Infrastructure: Mathematical Approaches for Optimizing Investments: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26905.
×
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The National Academies Board on Mathematical Sciences and Analytics and Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment convened a 3-day public workshop on July 13, 20, and 27, 2022, to explore state-of-the-art analytical tools that could advance urban sustainability through improved prioritization of public works projects. Invited speakers included people working in urban sustainability, city planning, local public and private infrastructure, asset management, and infrastructure investment; city officials and utility officials; and statisticians, data scientists, mathematicians, economists, computer scientists, and artificial intelligence/machine learning experts. Presentations and workshop discussions provided insights into new research areas that have the potential to advance urban sustainability in public works planning, as well as the barriers to their adoption. This publication summarizes the presentation and discussion of the workshop.

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