Thursday, February 23, 2012

Building Paranoia in Rogers Park

A few years ago I found a great collection of essays in a book titled, Architecture of Fear (1997), which contained the article “Building Paranoia,” by Steven Flusty.  It was adapted from a paper published for the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture in 1994 and develops a vocabulary for describing the kinds of spaces he saw being created throughout the L.A. region.  I remember reading this chapter, shuddering, and being thankful that I don’t live in L.A. Here's a quick summary:

Stealthy Space
Space that is obscured and cannot be found.

Slippery Space
Space that cannot be reached, due to contorted, protracted, or missing paths of approach

Crusty Space

Space that cannot be accessed, due to obstructions such as walls, gates, checkpoints, etc.

Prickly Space
Space that cannot be comfortably occupied.

Jittery Space
Space that cannot be utilized unobserved.

South side of Estes West of Sheridan
But soon I started to spot the same things in my own neighborhood.  Perfectly nice corners were being transformed into miniature prisons.  Storefronts were installed that could withstand medieval sieges.  Homes and apartments destroyed their beauty in the name of security. 

Chicago’s grid tends to discourage the creation of Stealthy and Slippery Space.  These seem to be more common in suburban areas, or large redeveloped areas.  But I’ll bet anyone can think of a few Crusty, Prickly, and Jittery Spaces in their own neighborhood.  Following are a few examples that I found uncomfortably close to home.

North side of Estes, East of Sheridan
What you see here are steel and concrete modifications to eliminate a potential gathering or resting spot.  One set is welded iron, and the other is cast concrete.  In another era maybe they would have set broken glass on the surfaces. I wonder what was going on out here that had to be eliminated.  Noisy kids?  Vagrants?  Criminal activity?  Whatever it was did these devices put an end to it.  I would argue that these actually make the block less safe by removing "eyes-on-the-street".  As Jane Jacobs observed, well-used sidewalks and public places are an important deterrent to crime.
Glenwood and Morse
You should see how lush the grass gets behind this wall.  It’s like a shag carpet.  This is a good example of prickly space. But the jokes on them!  You can sit on this wall if you don’t mind straddling the iron spikes.  At least until your legs go numb… Across the street the security gates remind you to walk a little faster.

East side of Clark, between Estes and Touhy.

It never occurred to me that people might be hopping from roof to roof illicitly.  Judging from these deterrents it must be common. Did someone break into a storefront through a skylight?  Is that something that's likely to happen again and again?  Sometimes these things are a permanent solution to a rare event.   This wins the prize for the most diversity in materials:  chain link, razor wife, and a starburst of sharp steel spikes.

Morse and Glenwood

Rogers Park also has plenty of Jittery Space.  This is a video camera in a box at the northwest intersection of Glenwood and Morse.  It has a blue strobe light and the police insignia, in case you were in danger of overlooking it.  Glenwood and Morse has a reputation (not-unearned) of being a trouble-spot.  But cameras can’t see around corners.  

Close-up detail

High tech surveillance never makes me feel safer.  I know that somewhere in an accounting department someone is trying to figure out how many cameras equal one police officer.   

Clark and Greenleaf

This is one of the older commercial buildings in Rogers Park.   The owners have done everything possible to blind the building to anything happening at ground level.  Glass blocks fill the windows, and the security door is protected with a steel grate.  Just in case, an additional wrought iron gate guards the 3 concrete steps leading to the door.  And it works!  People rush by this building.  I doubt they even see the “No Trespassing” sign posted high on the wall.  This used to be one of Roger Park’s post offices.


The sad part is that there's often reason for these modifications.  How many times can you chase away drug dealers before you fence off your property?   How many times will you have your business or home broken into before the steel door and padlocks go up?  But there needs to be some type of balance at work.  I don't want Rogers Park to become one of those neighborhoods where you can't sit down without being expected to buy something.  Or have those streets where you never see a single human because of all the fences and walls.  We're all in this neighborhood together, even if we don't want to admit it.  And sometimes uncertainty is the price you pay for maintaining community.


  1. Great piece Larry,

    I featured it with a link to you @ Check it out and let me know if you approve.



  2. Thanks Charlie, I definitely appreciate the link!