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calendar   Sunday - March 30, 2008

Sign o’ the Times, episode 4

LA Buildings and Parks Designed to Defeat Drive-Bys

Civil Engineers in Los Angeles and other cities have taken a step into the future by looking hundreds of years into the past. They have added a new requirement to their designs: the ability to deflect or defeat gunfire. This in itself is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in urban areas, but it makes good sense. If you can’t cut down on the violence, then try and make things safer for the people who have to live and work there.

Seniors in Steel Plaza’s retirement complex in Pico-Union sometimes like to take their morning walks in the building’s courtyard, protected by a black wrought-iron fence and perched 30 feet above the intersection of West 3rd Street and South Union Avenue.

“We’re quite safe here,” said Victor Gamad, 73, who has lived in the building since it opened a decade ago. “We never get frightened, except for when someone sets the fire alarm off.”

Steel Plaza, which opened in 1998, was designed to be “drive-by proof.” It is one of the early examples of what has become a growing movement in urban sections of Los Angeles to blend public safety with architecture.

“If you just build boxes and windows, you’re not going to help,” said City Councilman Ed Reyes, an urban planner who has adopted the safety-by-design strategy to deal with increasingly crowded neighborhoods.
...
“Every development is geared toward the people that have to live there on a day-to-day basis,” Reyes said. “When we look at the pragmatism of our neighborhoods, we have to ask questions: Where is the bullet going to come from? What projectile elevation should we adhere to in our development? Where should we situate the trees?”
...
Reyes said his goal is to reduce the effect of density. “We can either run away from it,” he said, “or we can ask how we can create relief so that we have our places of sanctuary.”

It looks to me like some folks are using their heads for once. Yes, it would be better if the crime and the shootings went away, but until that happens, it’s better to increase safety when you can. And if you can do it in a way that doesn’t make people feel like they’re living in armored boxes, so much the better.

Parks are being built with earth berms around them so that there is no direct line of flight from nearby streets; bullets fired there would either be stopped by the dirt, or pass way over the people using the place.  I think I’d rather have my kids playing in such a place, if I had no other choice than to live in a drive-by kind of neighborhood.

One example of his office’s work is a 5-foot-high dirt hill built to shield visitors at Rio de Los Angeles State Park from drive-by shootings along San Fernando Road. The 40-acre tract, better known as Taylor Yard Park, opened last year. imageThe hill is fortified by a fence lined with bushes and trees on each side.

Anti-truck barriers are common everywhere these days, not just outside the US Embassy in DustBallistan. Some have even tried to make them attractive and to blend in with the overall architectural design. Naturally the NY Times worries a bit about how all this will impact our psyche, and sublty tries to blame it on Bush:

After 9/11, a craving for the solidity of walls reasserted itself. And the wars on terror, and fractious peaces, enforced it. The Green Zone in Baghdad, Jerusalem’s separation barrier, the concrete bollards that line corporate headquarters on Park Avenue — all are emblems of an unintended new mentality.  Four years after the American invasion of Iraq, this state of siege is beginning to look more and more like a permanent reality, exhibited in an architectural style we might refer to as 21st-century medievalism.



I should note that New York City has very little in the way of drive-by shooting going on, especially in the posh areas like Park Avenue. But the Times did almost come up with a good name for this phenomenom, which I’ll call Modern Medievalism. No windows on the ground floor. All windows at least 3 feet off the floor. Double thick flooring. Thick walls that can stop bullets or at least really slow them down. Barriers that can stop charging vehicles. Strong fences, security cameras, living areas that face inwards like surrounded courtyards. If the world outside has turned evil, you do what you have to do to keep it out.

Casa Loma, a 110-unit residential facility for single parents about four blocks from Steel Plaza, was built in 1993 by the nonprofit group New Economics for Women, which worked closely with Reyes to design the building.

A year before construction, the nonprofit group asked local residents what they wanted in an apartment building.  The result was one of the city’s first child-care centers in a public housing building, apartments built surrounding a large courtyard where parents could watch their children and laundry services on each floor. The apartments are above ground-level, and there are security cameras at all entrances.

“It’s done so the kids don’t have to sleep in the bathtub,” Reyes said. “I have parents telling me that they’re resorting to this because they don’t want their child to get hit by a bullet.”

Note: if you or your children are sleeping in the bathtub to hide from bullets, move. If you can’t - not won’t, but REALLY can’t move - then please make sure you have a cast iron tub. Plastic and fiberglass tubs won’t even slow the bullets down. Sandbags wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

While not actually intended to be bulletproof, many stores have found that they can reduce “smash ‘n grab” crimes by replacing their windows with laminated glass. Laminated glass has a layer or two of high strength plastic in between the sheets of glass, just like a car windshield. Hit it with a rock or a baseball bat and it will break, but into many little square pieces that tend to stay attached to the plastic. It takes more time to bust through, and the smash ‘n grabbers know that time is working against them.

“Laminated glass has gained such a reputation for security that, once the word is out in the criminal community that a store has installed laminated glass, the repeat occurrence of smash and grab attempts at that particular store drops dramatically!”
...
“Criminals will never dedicate more than two, or maximum three, minutes to a smash and grab attack since they know precisely the amount of time needed for the police to arrive from the first alarm bell”.

I do not know if laminated glass is available to the homeowner, but if I ever have to shop for replacement windows you can be sure it’s something I’ll be asking about.

image
What about the rest of us, who don’t live in urban areas subject to drive-by gang shootings, or in places where the likelihood of terrorist truck bombs is slight? A post over at Say Uncle the other day got me thinking about home defenses, so I dragged up these old “let’s see what happens” posts over at Box O’ Truth, where I was reminded that most house walls won’t do a thing to protect you from bullets. Similar results were found, in a more scientific way, by this physics guy. About the best you can hope for is a well built, well insulated home with good solid real bricks on the facing. in front of 3/4” plywood sheathing. That should stop pistol bullets pretty well. And be glad that almost no criminals or terrorists use real high powered rifles or buffalo guns. You need about a foot of sandbags to stop them, or a mile or two of distance.

The wall in the diagram is also very quiet too, which is another good thing for urban design. 4” - 6” of cast concrete would probably do a better job, but that might be better suited to an industrial or commercial wall design.





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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 03/30/2008 at 06:25 PM   
Filed Under: • CrimeSelf-Defense •  
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