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Robert Kahle, president of Kahle Research Solutions, Inc. and a former co-director the Urban Safety Program at Wayne University in Indiana, says that these kinds of makeovers are aimed at what the police call "quality of life issues"--truancy, panhandling, loitering, and public urination. "What we are really talking about," he says, "is encouraging public order. And organizations are using more of these kinds of passive approaches to crime prevention."
Uptown merchants and shoppers have complained for years about the number of teens and panhandlers loitering in the area. While some of the kids congregated at the bus stops or shelters, the prime gathering spot was the outdoor patio at McDonald's. "I've had trouble with the kids," says McDonald's owner/operator Ken Darula. "The whole area has had trouble with them. Some of these kids are not the real feeling types," he adds. But Darula denies that he removed the outdoor seating to drive people off his property. "I needed to move the building closer to the sidewalk, and make extra room for the drive-thru," says Darula. He adds that he loved the outdoor seating, but it didn't work "because of the length of winters here." And the police substation attached to the new McDonald's is merely a friendly gesture. "Some of the beat cops heard that I was thinking about tearing down the building, and they were looking for office space. This way they wouldn't have to return to the precinct," he says.
University of Minnesota Professor Judith Martin, a member of the Minneapolis Planning Commission, confirms that Darula was required to make certain physical changes in order to comply with city codes. But she concedes that the removal of the patio does send a message to outsiders. That's the owner's prerogative, she says: "What McDonald's took out was semipublic. And that space had been appropriated by people that made other parts of the public uncomfortable."
In recent years, a number of cities and states have gotten more aggressive with "those" people. Many, for example, have introduced statutes that make panhandling a crime. These kinds of punitive measures, however, have raised the ire of homeless advocates and First Amendment supporters. Some states, including New York, have recognized begging as protected speech; others have continued to pass anti-panhandling statutes. And while the homeless population in the Twin Cities is considerably lower than metro areas, state officials predict that changes to welfare and social security disability payments will cause these numbers to spike.
Kahle finds the contemporary design trends troubling and anti-democratic. "Decisions are made about how to keep the 35- to 50-year-old affluent types, while routing out kids," he says. "And public spaces are being created to make those viewed as less desirable [move on]." Public benches in Los Angeles, for example, are built without backs, and the seats have a tube-like shape that makes sleeping on them impossible. Closer to home, the newly reconfigured bus shelters along the Nicollet Mall pump out classical strains at deafening levels. Martin maintains that the Planning Commission added this feature purely for aesthetic reasons. "It's aligned with the character and design of the shelters," she says. But as Kahle points out, "It's well known within the industry that classical music discourages teen loitering. It was first used by 7-11 stores across the country over a decade ago."
What's ironic about CPED, says Kahle, is that while it attempts to reduce the number of individuals in a given space, research shows that the safest areas are typically those with lots of people. "The more people the better to preventing crime. And having more people around reinforces the norms of behavior. For instance, if the behavior is public urination, it's more effective to have other citizens, rather than the police, sanction that behavior," he says. But because of our increasing fear of strangers, Kahle expects the popularity of CPED to continue to grow. And while it may not actually prevent crime, it does reroute it. Just look at Uptown. The kids who used to hang out at McDonald's are now huddled at the entrance to Calhoun Square.