Friday Ombudsman—Rachel Hastings

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The Friday Ombudsman this week is Rachel Hastings. Rachel is a Northside resident who worked in community development in Covington for 22 years. She just started as the new Executive Director of Price Hill Will. Read on to see how Rachel used Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) to change crime in a neighborhood “virtually overnight.” 
 
Name: Rachel Hastings
Residential neighborhood: Northside
 
Tell us about a problem/issue you solved with a government agency. How did you do it? What was the key for breaking through the problem?: 
 
My entire career has focused on community development, and I love helping community residents gain leadership skills and connecting them with resources and partners to improve the quality of life in their neighborhood. I worked in Covington for 22 years, and just this month I've leapt over the HUGE Ohio River and I'm getting to know Price Hill. In both places, I've found that residents who act as stewards of their community and work with others who feel the same are healthier and happier. 
 
In some neighborhoods, though, crime and safety concerns (and the perception thereof) prohibit residents and business owners from working together. Safety has to be the first thing addressed to revitalize a neighborhood - if folks don't feel safe talking to their neighbors, they're missing opportunities to work on even small, seemingly easy projects together. But safety cannot only be the responsibility of the Police; it is up to the community to decide what they will or won't tolerate and create safety. In Covington, there are 110 officers and 40,000 residents; and in Cincinnati, we have about 1050 law enforcement officers and there are 300,000 of us. WE have to drive the solutions. The neighborhoods are ours. 
 
Over the years, I've found the following steps to be most successful over the years in improving safety. 
 
1) Seek out others who share your concerns. Build trust with a smaller group of neighbors first, then reach out to others. This group of folks is key – safety is a community issue. Find a community development organization that can help you if you're having trouble connecting with folks. 
 
2) With your new neighbor friends, talk about how the safety issues make you feel and what you’d like to do in your neighborhood if you felt safer. This kind of venting and commiserating (preferably over coffee or chocolate) is important so you can move on to solutions. 
 
3) Educate yourself on how the physical environment promotes criminal activity. A theory called 'defensible space' tells us that the more resident 'eyes and ears' are on a space in the public realm, the safer that space will be. Residents have to feel ownership over the space, leading them to speak up if something they deem is not acceptable is happening. 
 
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (aka CPTED) methodologies can help create defensible space. A few basic CPTED ideas are to eliminate hiding places in public spaces such as trimming overgrown landscaping and eliminating objects that ne'er-do-wells (!) can hide behind, increasing lighting, and ensuring good sight lines around a space. CPTED can also go farther! Back in the late 90s, I worked with neighborhood residents and Covington Police to address a few blocks that had long been known for prostitution, drug trafficking, and street gangs. We knew that the Police could not arrest their way out of the problem. So, I worked with neighbors to scan and analyze the built environment to see why these blocks were so problematic. We found that the streets were very easy to access off of the interstate, so johns and drug buyers could make an easy stop for their wares and get out of town quickly. We talked about potential solutions and experimented with some small scale interventions, and eventually landed on changing the vehicular traffic patterns to make it harder for folks that didn't know the neighborhood (that is, the johns and buyers) to get in and out quickly. After some politicking, we got the City Commission to agree to give it a try. Once the traffic was changed, crime dried up virtually overnight. Lots of studies show that community engagement and CPTED interventions do not just displace crime - it literally disappears. Today, these streets have seen a significant transformation, and folks that are new to the neighborhood have no idea how 'bad' those streets were 20 years ago. 
 
4) So, think about how you can use CPTED to make crime hot spots in your neighborhood more defensible. As you’re building this group to focus on safety, think about others you may want to talk with. In addition to the police, code enforcement officers tend to know a lot about what’s happening with buildings. Are there responsible landlords, small business owners, or social service agencies in your area? Who else can help? Be open to working with new folks. The more people are working to solve a problem together, the better the solution will be. 
 
5) Keep at it! As you implement some changes to the physical environment, continue to monitor how you and your neighbors are feeling about safety. This is more than just obtaining crime statistics from the police department; knowing the number of calls for service and arrests is fine, but safety is about how you feel. Do women feel differently than men? Can kids walk safely home from the bus? Are there more changes to your community that you and your neighbors and partners can make? Who else can you pull into your community safety collaboration?
 
Friday Ombudsman questionnaire: 
 

Where are your favorite Cincinnati places?:  A.J. Rahn's Greenhouse is my very favorite place in Cincinnati. I spend hours there.
 
Defunct place or institution you would bring back?:  The inclines!! Imagine taking the Incline up to Price Hill or Mt. Adams, and then biking back down. How great would that be?
 
New place or institution you would bring to Cincinnati?:  The City Museum.
 
If they would just make me mayor for a day, I would:  Promote more traffic calming measures in our neighborhoods, particularly in our neighborhood business districts.
 
You should have asked me:  Where I went to high school.
 
Shameless Plug – use this space to plug one local Cincinnati-area event/organization/website/business/place/product that is special to you. Why should we know about it? What makes it singular?:   I'm very excited to have joined the staff at Price Hill Will this month! PHW has a long history of working with residents, businesses, and other partners to improve the quality of life in West, East, and Lower Price Hill. Our MyCincinnati youth orchestra is amazing! There are so many incredible residents who care and have deep connections to this place.

https://pricehillwill.org/

Price Hill Will is hosting a meet and greet to welcome Rachel Hastings next Thursday, September 6th, from 4:30 to 6:30 at Price Hill Chili (4920 Glenway Avenue). Meet Rachel and take the opportunity to learn more about her and ask her where she went to high school. 

Facebook event details: https://www.facebook.com/events/455175785002194/