In the early part of the year, Jeff Fugate and Derek Paulsen ushered in a new era for urban planning and design in Lexington. Fugate became just the second head of the Lexington Downtown Development Authority while Paulsen was the first to be named commissioner of planning. Paulsen brings in software and statistics he developed during his time in academia and consulting with the State Department to help the city build better neighborhoods, while Fugate brings an extensive background, including a master’s degree in city planning from MIT, to find new ways to make downtown the true center of Lexington.
Lexington’s first commissioner of planning leverages data for informed, and safe, neighborhood design
He pulled out his iPad and showed off three seemingly identical maps. Their colors varied only slightly, but the headers for each were different: Calls to 311, Code Enforcement Violations and Crime.
The maps, which encompassed Univeristy of Kentucky’s campus and the neighborhoods that surround it, are part of the pilot version of the Neighborhood Information Management System (NIMS) being put into place by Derek Paulsen, Ph.D., Lexington’s first commissioner of planning. The similarities among the maps are no coincidence, said Paulsen, an expert in what makes neighborhoods thrive or stumble.
The sample maps in NIMS, which is still being rolled out, share multiple “hotspots” of concern. The hottest of them is State Street, an area of high-density student housing off Nicholasville Road. NIMS indicates that State Street is lousy with code enforcement violations. Residents have also placed a good number of calls to 311, the city’s portal for information and to levy neighborhood reports. In addition, police reports on the street well outnumber most other areas.
“A lot of my research has been on geography and crime,” said Paulsen, who came to Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government in February as a tenured professor in Eastern Kentucky University’s College of Justice and Safety. “I’ve presented in public and in geography journals before, and they all think I’m a geographer. The criminal-justice folks think I’m something else, and they’re not sure how I fit there. I don’t think it’s easy to just sort of classify me as one thing, and that’s good. It’s kind of the way my research has always been; it’s cut across different lines.”
That ability to cross lines has added to Paulsen’s comfort level in leading the change in process inside city government. He’d been on the city’s planning commission for three years and was serving as its chair when Mayor Jim Gray appointed him. However, Paulsen, a Connecticut native who moved to Lexington while still in elementary school, was already well known to the Lexington Division of Police at that point. Paulsen took Chief Ronnie Bastin and Assistant Chief Mark Barnard to England to study one of his areas of specialty, called Secure By Design, which involves the use of crime-reducing measures in the development of properties.
“You’re not going to do away with crime, but what you’re trying to do is do away with the opportunities for crime,” he said. “You’re trying to design out those things. More than anything … it’s about unintended consequences — thinking things through before you do them. Because if you make it an eraser mark instead of ripping up sidewalk, that’s a much better thing.”
The same holistic approach to building a new development or neighborhood from scratch can be utilized with existing areas.
“I became an expert on failed neighborhoods: what makes a neighborhood fail and why crime comes in there. It was to the point where I felt I was doing post-mortems on places that didn’t work,” he said.
“Why is it they didn’t work? What is it about them that creates opportunities for crime and allows it? The more we were looking at it, the more we were identifying things that were in urban planning that had an impact,” Paulsen said of the research he conducted with his students.
Paulsen conducted research looking into gang-related homicides on the streets of Los Angeles and in homicides at certain apartment complexes around Indianapolis, Ind. He’s even done consulting work for the State Department, earning diplomatic status in his past travels to Mauritius (an island east of Madagascar), Kenya and India while teaching about cyber-terrorism and cyber-security.
“The police will tell you, you can’t arrest your way out of a bad neighborhood. There are other issues that are going on there,” he said.
“It’s multiple things, and how do we bring the different departments, the different divisions, together to determine what’s going on here? And then really bringing the best solution for it,” he said.
Paulsen attended Florida State for his undergraduate study and earned his master’s degree from EKU and his doctorate from Sam Houston State. He has a long history of bringing multiple views to problem solving. For the National Institute of Justice, he developed software called SPIDER, short for Spatial Pattern analysis for Investigative Decision-making Exploration and Response, which helps find serial criminals by tracking patterns to see where the larcenist, burglar or worse might live.
Paulsen took a critical eye to similar software that cost departments and others in the field $40,000 to buy. Using his research, he developed the SPIDER software — which is free to download — to find criminals and forecast their next moves more accurately.
He also has a book coming out before the end of the year, in collaboration with the American Planning Association, called Crime and Planning, based on his findings that planners underestimate the impact they have on the level of crime. Everything from “how they put in roads, park design, trail design, things that are within the planning’s purview,” Paulsen said, plays a role in a community.
Now instead of theorizing, Paulsen is putting his ideas into practice. In early November, the city rolled out its open data website and plans to add more, including a public version of what Paulsen has on his iPad that collects data interactions with the city across the map.
“They’re three different databases, and who responds to them are totally different people,” he said about the 311 log, code enforcement and police reports. “While we’ve got a good history of people working together informally, I don’t think we have really been looking at the data together to figure out what’s the underlying [cause of problems].”
Paulsen hopes to develop even more for Lexington and any other city that would be interested through CitizenLex, an online system that was picked as one of the top 20 Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayor’s Challenge submissions. Paulsen, along with the city’s Finance and Administration Commissioner Jane Driskell, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff Jamie Emmons and local software engineer and entrepreneur Nick Such, flew to New York in mid-November to compete for a $5 million grant supported by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The idea of CitizenLex — which will know its fate in early 2013 — would be to compile and present more data to the public that could be collected and used in things like smartphone apps and to encourage local community involvement by highlighting areas of need.
“It’s not just looking at crime data, because that’s not necessarily the first indicator,” Paulsen said. “It’s code, it’s 311, it’s increase in renters versus owners — it’s a lot of other things.”
When that information can be considered in aggregate, a formerly reactive, uncoordinated approach can be channeled into a more proactive and unified method, focused on one important question, Paulsen said: “How do we then take that information and put it into how we design neighborhoods?”
New DDA president looks to build broad, informed perspective on future of city’s core
When he left his parents’ 25-acre plot in rural Warren County for the University of Kentucky in the mid-1990s, Jeff Fugate thought of himself “as a country kid and assumed I would always live in the country.”
Four years in Lexington and working professionally in Washington and Boston sent him on a different path, which included a stopover at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a master’s degree in city planning.