Improving neighborhood safety is a team effort. The Lerner Center and its community partners recognized a need for improvements to safety and upkeep in certain areas of the Near Westside. In November 2017, an expert in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED: pronounced “cep-ted”) came to the neighborhood to speak about ways that the built environment can influence perceptions of safety, enhance community, and even deter crime. This event, part of the Visioning Voices Series hosted by SUNY ESF, provided the template and tools for the Lerner Center’s audit of the Wyoming Street corridor in the Near Westside.
The Wyoming Street corridor was specifically chosen because of the need for innovative solutions in the area to combat increased drug activity. Some areas along the five-block stretch have fallen into disrepair or appear to be abandoned, making them vulnerable to crime and havens for drug activity.
Planning for the neighborhood audit began in December, with a formal planning meeting hosted by the Peacemaking Center in mid-January. That planning meeting brought together members of the community and representatives of local agencies, as well as Sgt. Michael Yarema, who oversees CPTED for the Syracuse City Police Department. During the planning meeting, attendees studied a map of the Near Westside that highlighted parcels of land with code violations, buildings that are occupied versus vacant, occupied by owner versus occupied by renter, or owned by the Land Bank. City representatives at the planning meeting provided input about which specific corners along the Wyoming St. corridor would benefit the most from the audit.
The day of the Neighborhood Audit finally arrived on a sunny Tuesday in February 2018. Over 30 participants from a variety of neighborhood agencies teamed up for the event, including agencies such as Prevention Network, Peacemaking Project/Take Back the Streets, Community Impact Team, Missio Church, the City of Syracuse, Syracuse Police Department, ACR Health, Hillside Children’s Center, Northside UP, and the Lerner Center. The participants were divided into four teams, each of which had representation from the Syracuse City Police Department, City of Syracuse, local agencies, and community residents. The teams also had different genders and ages represented, as people of different identities interpret the physical space differently.
The audit tool used consisted of a series of questions about the physical space that one can see from a particular street corner or vantage point. Teams used a long form version of the same audit tool introduced at the Visioning Voices event. The tool is designed to be filled out by a team of four to six people. Each team is assigned a spot on the map to evaluate using the tool, which includes questions about lighting, sight lines, general impressions of the space, type of land use, signage, auditory and visual isolation, entrapment sites, maintenance, and site cohesion. The tool also allows participants to write comments, notes, and offer suggestions for improvement, and encourages team members to take pictures to supplement their notes.
Once the teams were introduced to the audit tool and the goals of the event, they dispersed to their assigned locations. Teams spent about 45 minutes going through the audit tool, taking notes and pictures as they noticed things about the space. After completing the audit forms on site, participants reconvened at Hillside Children’s Center to report findings and impressions.
The information gathered through the audit tool and debriefing session has been compiled into a report. This report will be used to share conclusions of the audit with the City of Syracuse, neighborhood agencies, residents, police officers, and other key stakeholders. The Lerner Center will work with its partners in the community to ensure that the problems identified by this audit are heard and addressed. This event serves as a pilot for the audit tool and a starting point for CPTED improvements in the Near Westside.