A graffiti-covered roll down gate
Roll down gates. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are a reality in many urban communities. To the average consumer, the presence of roll down gates suggests crime, lack of security and overall urban blight. Yet to many business owners in communities with historically high levels of crime, the idea of openly displaying the merchandise in their store after hours is like an invitation to smash and grab. The roll down gate gives them security and peace of mind not only from theft, but also from vandalism in the form of graffiti or glass etching. 
Yet more and more communities are finding that the removal of roll down gates does not result in an increase in either theft or vandalism. In 2009, the New York City Council passed a law requiring see through gates that offer 75% visibility (the law only applies to new gate installation), determining that the benefits outweigh the risks. The idea is that transparent gates (or no gates at all) offer ambient light in the evening that helps keep a street safer, allows police to see inside a store in case of an emergency, and helps to make a neighborhood look and feel safer. Store owners also find that visibility can be helpful – customers are able to browse when the store is closed and perhaps find a reason to come back. In some communities the Commercial District Management Association has tied the distribution of storefront improvement dollars with the replacement of solid roll down gates, a nice carrot that encourages business owners to do what they otherwise might not. 
As Commercial District Managers grapple with convincing their business owners to give gateless windows a try, we sought to offer some alternatives that we have seen work…
Behind-the-Window Roll Down Gate. If roll down gates are required, these by far are my favorite option. They provide a nice balance between business and community concerns. One good example is The Elbow Room, a mac-and-cheese shop in downtown Newark, NJ. The see through roll down gate is located behind the window, allowing the renovation of a historic storefront to shine, even when the store is closed. 
Look Ma, No Gates at All! In some communities, the lack of roll down gates by newer businesses is a sign of confidence in overall community safety. 

Transparency at Eye Level. Not the best option…but an option. 



And then there is the option of “If you Can’t Beat em, Join ‘em.”
Lauren Collins, Executive Director of the Church Avenue BID
at the press event for  “Uncover Church Avenue”
That is exactly what the Church Avenue Business Improvement District in Brooklyn, NY did. Executive Director (and Coro Neighborhood Leadership alum) Lauren Collins drew her inspiration to create a storefront mural program after she and I discussed the success of the Excelsior Storefront Mural Program in San Francisco (http://www.eagsf.org/excelsior-mural-program.html) – a program I was familiar with from my years running LISC’s national commercial technical assistance program. Lauren took the idea and ran with it, engaging local artists in a competition that garnered over 50 submissions. Volunteers even helped paint the murals. The program, entitled “Uncover Church Avenue”, garnered local press and participating businesses were thrilled to receive makeovers. Here is a local news piece on the program.