Did the Built Environment Contribute to the Trayvon Martin Tragedy?

In an opinion piece for Better! Cities & Towns, Robert Steuteville argues that the Sanford, Florida, case is partly about what happens to a gated development when residents find themselves on the same side of the gate as people they fear.

The recent killing of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by an armed neighborhood watch volunteer named George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida has become a nationwide news story over the past week. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense and has yet to be arrested, which has sparked outrage in cities across the country, and online.

Robert Steuteville sees a reason why he believes planners should be taking notice of the case - the role that "a poorly planned, exclusionary built environment" has played in causing the tragedy.

Steuteville describes the community in which the killing took place - the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a 260-unit gated development of townhouses - and points out the reasons why its auto-oriented layout and context makes pedestrians the object of "pity or suspicion."

For Steuteville, "Martin was killed for being a young black male on foot, foolish enough to walk in an inhospitable environment to the convenience store for a sugar fix...In all of this agitation, the physical environment that discriminates against, and focuses suspicion on, anyone who doesn't drive should not be forgotten."

Thanks to Robert Steuteville

Full Story: Gates, sprawl, and 'walking while black'



Poor Access Inspires Distrust of Strangers

This gated development is here (and here).

From the appearance of the area's street layout, both in this development and nearby, it's likely that no one would enter these developments unless they had some purpose for going. And for many of them either gate access would have to be authorized or the gates defeated. Casual passers-through and -by would seem to be few in those deeply nested culs-de-sac and loops and almost zero behind the gates. So an unfamiliar person, even a new resident or a guest, would have to be questioned presence just because of the relative inconvenience and difficulty of access. The author's right—this environment inspires a special distrust of carless users of the street—but I think the setting makes all unfamiliar visitors, including those in cars, appear suspicious.

People are murdered in inclusionary places too

The weekend following the posting of Robert Steutville'sopinion piece, a killing occurred in downtown San Diego. This is a place that is often heralded as an example of downtown revitalization. The gridded streets are open to the pubic. Unfortunately, there was a dispute between the occupants. Unfortunately, as reported by Sandra Dibble of the San Diego Union Tribune,

". . . A 41-year-old man died early Sunday after being shot following a verbal altercation with occupants of another vehicle at a traffic light, San Diego police reported.

The shooting took place shortly after 2 a.m. at the intersection of Ninth Avenue and G Street. Officers found the victim lying in the street. He died shortly afterward at a hospital.

According to a preliminary investigation, the victim and two friends had driven south on Eighth Avenue when they stopped for a red light at G Street. A verbal dispute broke out between the victim and the occupants of another vehicle also stopped at the light, police said.

The other vehicle followed when the victim and his friends turned east on G Street. While stopped at a second traffic light at Ninth Avenue, the victim got out of his car and approached the other vehicle. Someone inside that vehicle then opened fire at the victim, and he fell to the ground, police said. . ." (http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/mar/25/man-shot-to-death-at-downtown...)

While exclusionary design might increase the chances of an unfamiliar person being perceived as a threat, inclusionary design is no panacea. Gated environment or not, some people are willing to pull a deadly trigger too quickly.

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