Thursday, May 15, 2014

Where Do The Children Play? - Gang Violence in OKC

"Cities are never random. No matter how chaotic they might seem, 
everything about them grows out of a need to solve a problem."
 - Neal Shusterman, Downsiders

We normally keep it pretty light-hearted at CarlessInOKC, but today I want to talk about something more serious.

What is the scariest thing about a city? The buildings aren't scary. Streets as a physical construct, aren't scary. Parks aren't scary. Sidewalks aren't scary. What's scary are things that are out of our control: weather, loose animals, and most of all, other people

I recently had the opportunity to work with a school in the northeast of the city, where the group I was with taught 5th graders about walkability. We took them on a walk in the neighborhood around the school and got them to talk about areas that needed improvement. When asking them what the biggest impediments to walking to school or around their neighborhoods was, a surprising theme arose -- they didn't rank lack of sidewalks or bike lanes highly, nor the amount of lighting; they were afraid of kidnappers, of gangs, of being hit by cars, and of vacant buildings (because there might be scary people in them). Their biggest hindrance to being out and about is that they don't feel that they can trust the other people who would be around. 

We got the students to write letters to their Councilman, and one stood out. 
This 5th grader's letter was one of the most eye-opening things I've seen since beginning work in OKC. He wants to be able to play outside, go to his park, play basketball, but he's afraid of the people he may encounter on the way. It's an injustice that a child can't enjoy his neighborhood for fear of violence. 

Gang violence is an issue in Oklahoma City, and it's not easily remedied. In fact, Oklahoma City was ranked in the Top 5 U.S. cities for worst gang violence by the CDC. In neighborhoods with high poverty and low social mobility, gangs have become a solution (albeit a faulted one) to the problem of a lack of support from a community. The violence and illegal activity are side-effects of a much deeper problem. The maps below show where the highest rates of gang activity occur, as documented by incidences that resulted in police action.

Heat map showing where gang violence occurs
Map showing ZIP codes with highest rates of gang violence
Here are the incidences of the top 5 most common gang-related crimes committed since 2008. Notice the upward trend of drug-related arrests.

Assault with a Deadly Weapon
Poss. Of Controlled Substance
Poss. Of Firearm
Shots Fired

Crime is a complex concept, and it would be a dubious venture to attempt to correlate any social trends with the numbers above; however, it is interesting to see the reliance upon drive-by shootings in a city that is known to be very car dependent.

39 of the 63 ZIP codes within the Oklahoma City municipal boundary have at least one recorded incident of gang violence. The table below shows the five ZIP codes with the highest number of gang-related incidences since 2008, as well as the five ZIP codes with the highest number of gang-related incidences per capita (population of respective ZIP codes).

Total Incidences
Per-capita Incidences

Often, these areas with the highest incidences of gang violence seem to be forgotten when all the great improvements to the city are occurring, and the situation doesn't seem to be getting much better. The quality of schools, grocery stores, housing, and infrastructure decreases because these areas must compete in a free-market economy with regions of the city that have more wealth and a much more well-represented citizenry.

"Bad areas of town" needn't remain that way, and they don't have to be "gentrified" to improve. What we need is a concerted effort by the community to improve blighted areas -- incentivize revitalization and rehabilitation of housing in the area; improve streetscape designs so that people without vehicles can access their daily needs; incentivize grocery stores and clothing stores to open businesses in these areas; and grow a sense of total community such that people from all over the city can participate in helping to bring these areas up to a more livable standard. We need intervention in the lives of at-risk teens, and support for families. We need a lot.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of being able to trust people in your community. No child should be afraid to go to the park because of the threat of violence. They can't drive, and they are citizens just like the rest of us; we should build sidewalks and bike lanes with that in mind. Oklahoma City has so much potential, and I’d be very happy if it could be realized for everyone across the city, regardless of where they live, what their income is, and how old they are. 

I don't pretend to know how to solve all of the issues related to scary people, and I would love to hear from you about your ideas to improve conditions for children; maybe, together, we can make a difference.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Double Duty - How Being Carless Can Make You A Better Athlete

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about sports training; more specifically, I've been thinking about running, because John and I are beginning to train for a half marathon in October.
Full disclosure: This is an extremely audacious goal for me. I ran my first nonstop mile a little less than a year ago, and I ran my first 5K last August, and a couple of 5Ks since then. As a person who spent my entire life being told (and worse, believing) that I was just naturally unathletic, I never thought that I'd be running races, or hell, even running at all... for fun. Because of that, I owe these achievements to the support of John, who always believed in my potential and who has coached me through whenever I thought I couldn't take the next step.

Our first 5K together - my first ever!
However, there's another influence at play here that has allowed me to make the quantum leap from running 5Ks to actually thinking I have a shot at running a half-marathon in less than six months, and for that, I have being carless to thank.
I know it sounds a little weird to say that not owning a car is making me a better athlete, but I absolutely believe it. My running skill before I moved to Oklahoma City (when I still relied on a car for transportation) and my running skill since I've moved here and ditched the car has followed a trajectory that isn't entirely explained by the normal rate of improvement that comes with continued practice. In fact, there was a period of about two and a half to three months there in which I didn't run at all because we were in the midst of final-stage wedding planning, the wedding itself, moving to Oklahoma City immediately afterwards, and then settling into our new home. And yet, when I began running again here in OKC, I was a much better runner than I was before, even with the extensive break from training.

Cats help with sports training. It's a scientific fact.
It didn't take long for me to realize why I had improved so much: Relying on walking as our main form of transportation had greatly upped my overall endurance. Ever since ditching our cars, John and I were regularly trekking around on foot for hours at a time, and without even realizing it, I had increased my ability to keep moving at a quick pace.
There's a lot of knowledge out there to back me up; almost every beginning running program employs walking as a way to build up endurance in preparation for running. It's one thing to set aside a certain amount of time during the week to walk; it's another thing entirely for walking to be an integral part of your everyday life. It adds up quickly to help you get to a point where you're comfortable walking for a long period of time, which translates easily to being able to run (if slowly at first) for a long period of time. Without even realizing it, our lifestyle change had positively impacted my athletic skill in an unexpected way.
Similarly, getting bikes has coincided nicely with our training for the half marathon, as our training plans both call for cross-training a couple of times a week. Generally, cycling for a workout is much different from cycling to and from the library; however, getting those extra bike rides in during the week, even on non-training days, is helpful to us from a training standpoint. There's also the option of planning and executing our evening bike rides in a way that can serve as cross-training: cycling to dinner, for example, at a restaurant that's located far enough away to constitute a good workout.

Training hard or hardly training, am I right?
This kind of training/living overlap was not the case when I was driving a car as my primary mode of transportation. If I wanted to train or work out, I had to fit designated workout times into my schedule. Serious training and exercise, of course, have to be planned and executed no matter what, but because of my carless lifestyle, there's this seamless integration of many of those same elements into how I get around. Training and becoming healthier and more athletic is just a natural part of my daily life now, and I love that.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Running In OKC - The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon

This past weekend was an exciting one in Oklahoma City. Between the Arts Festival, the H&8th Night Market, the Norman Music Festival, and the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, there was no shortage of fun, exciting things to do in the community all weekend. Here at Carless HQ, we were particularly thrilled about the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Not only are we running enthusiasts, but we also live next door to the Memorial, and therefore next door to the festivities, making it super convenient for us to spectate on what was sure to be an unforgettable race.

Starting to get lined up and ready to run.
We went to sleep early on Saturday night so as to be able to wake up early enough to catch the race start just after 6:00am. I woke up a little earlier than John and made my way downstairs to see how things were shaping up. I was stunned to see hundreds and hundreds of people outside of our apartment building, mostly people in running clothes with numbers pinned on, stretching and otherwise preparing to race. The air was practically buzzing with anticipation and I could barely stand still, I was getting so caught up in it.

Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating. An intermittent light drizzle and occasional lightning in the distance threatened to ruin everything, but the weather experts insisted it would pass, so the start was pushed to 7:00, then 8:00. John had woken up and joined me by this point, and we came back downstairs to watch the runners leave once the organizers received the go-ahead to start around 8:15.

And they're off!
I am still new to running, so I had never been to a race of this magnitude. 26,000 people were running in either the 5K, the half marathon, the marathon, or the marathon relay, and the enormous crowd of runners stretched back several blocks down Harvey. As the first wave of runners dashed off at the gun, I was overwhelmed with emotion to see so many people who had worked so hard to be here. As a new runner, I know what it's like to be in that place after so much training, so the whole scene really hit home.
John and I were almost immediately hit with another feeling familiar to runners at races in which they are not participating: "the itch." We wanted to be a part of this! I have only run 5Ks so far, and John has run one half marathon but not in several years, but as soon as we saw the runners leave out, we knew we wanted to start training for a half marathon. This feeling only grew stronger as we moved up to Broadway to watch the finishers come in. Standing at the sidelines with our Coffee Slingers coffee in hand, we saw thousands of runners cross the finish line, including the male and female winners of the half and full marathons, while listening to the awesome emcee encourage the finishers while keeping the crowd pumped up. (By the way, does anyone know who the finish line emcee was? He was incredible!)

Camille Herron coming in strong to win the women's marathon.

Jason Cook crossing the finish line to win the men's marathon.
We went home afterward and immediately started looking up races taking place in the next few months. My original plan had been to train to be able to run a half marathon by next year's Memorial race, but after John found a half marathon scheduled for mid-October and a 25-week half marathon training plan, I decided to just go for it. Watch for the Carless Couple running around town in upcoming months because we are now officially in training - and we were inspired by the runners of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon!