Preventing Crime through Cities
Patience Adzande has a vision of creating more livable and safer urban environments for Nigerians. Growing up in the town of Makurdi, located in Benue State, she experienced the rapid growth of what she first knew as a small town. As the population of Makurdi increased with the rapid shift of populations from rural to urban spaces, the pace of development lagged. Infrastructure became inadequate and access to basic amenities like water and electricity more difficult. In her words: “Conscious urban planning seemed to be lacking. This formed my interest in human geography. It enabled me to understand and appreciate people’s behavior in space.”
After obtaining her BA in Geography, she went to work as an industrial attache at the Benue State Urban Development Board. After finishing an MA program in Urban and Regional Planning, Patience decided to apply her knowledge in the field. She took a position as a town planning officer at the Benue State Ministry of Water Resources and Environment. Her quest for knowledge and passion for change grew the more she learned. Her focus always directed her to the human and experiential elements of cities.
For the next five years Patience worked tirelessly as a town planning officer, hoping to instill the same spatial organization she watched disappear from her town in other emerging urban environments. As she describes it, she craved a community of “like minds” and felt a need to “share ideas with other people… so that they could have like minds to deal with the challenge of having livable cities.”
Unfortunately, this position as a practitioner did not yield the results she sought. Instead, she was left feeling underutilized both creatively and professionally, looking for a new avenue to travel down. In 2009, while she was still working as a town planning officer she attended the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners Conference on “Planning Nigerian Cities for Increased Communication and Security.” The topic stirred her interest. While sitting in the audience she realized there were no examples of research that actually took place in Nigeria, and no local content on the relationship between the urban environment and the incidence of crime. She says, “It was an eye-opener; I could see that there was a role that urban planning could play in curbing crime in the city. Nigerian government, at all levels, is struggling with crime. Crime thrives, and they offer solutions like you need more loyal law enforcement agents, more vehicles, or technologies. Nobody seems to really think about the option of using urban planning as a tool in combating crime in the city, and I could see this at the conference. This stirred my curiosity.”
She had experienced first hand, through her work as a town planning officer and as an inhabitant of the newly urbanized Makurdi town, that the efforts of the government in curbing crime had yielded few results. The more she looked into the relationship between spatial planning, how that space is utilized within in a community, and the corresponding incidence of crime—she found a hole in the research, as well as a new opportunity for herself.
With the encouragement of her academic mentor, Patience entered her PhD program at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, in the Urban and Regional Planning Department. She is currently conducting research using police crime statistics with the intention of understanding the criminal patterns and victimization in Makurdi town both physically and socially.
In her own words: “When you define crime, there are four things: an offender, a law, a target, and a space. Crime does not take place in a vacuum; it takes place in space. So as an urban planner we are concerned with what happens in space. For urban planners the physical environment acts as our laboratory. It is where we carry out our experiments. To adequately understand the actions that occur in the environments, you have to study the social and physical phenomenon in the environments. You can’t say that crime happens here because of the layout of the street. You are leaving out the social component, what the humans do. If you look at patterns of activities— those are carried about by humans. The physical is brought about by the social and vice versa. It is this premise I used to carry out my study.”
Currently Patience is working on testing her hypothesis that the sociality of an inhabited space influences the organizations, perceptions, and use of the physical environment. She seeks to determine what kinds of spaces are associated with crimes and victimization, as well as the types of crimes that cluster in certain spaces. It is rare that this type of application in crime analysis exists, with city planning occurring as a response to already determined local conditions.
As impassioned as Patience is about conducting her research, when she returned to the academy she found a second passion for teaching. Of teaching, she says, “Often times I have students walk up to me and tell me, 'You have made a difference in my life,' and it really makes me feel fulfilled. When I get those kinds of comments I sleep like a baby. I really feel fulfilled. Teaching for me is great. It feels very good to be able to pass across the little you know to somebody. You are affecting an individual who will affect other people, and the change spreads and it goes on and on and on. I hope to remain in teaching. Teaching allows me a larger impact.”
By Natalie Reinhart