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Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design or “CPTED”, is a globally recognized design practice of using physical psychology to deter potential for crime. The term originates from early works of city philosopher Jane Jacobs, architect Oscar Newman, and criminologist C.R Jeffreys (Queensland Government, 2017); suggesting strong correlation to city design and how users behave. But can strategic urban design really make a difference in crime prevention? To me the answer is yes, and this is why.

Modern CPTED typically examines four main principles: Access control, surveillance, territorial reinforcement, and maintenance. They each play an important role in how users behave in a physical environment. Each is broken down below.

Access Control dictates how users are able to gain access to a space. Should the space be fully accessible and inclusive to all? Should the space be fully accessible at all hours? Depending on the nature of a site, spaces can be controlled by fencing and locking systems to limit unwanted users and behavior such as vandalism and crime.

Surveillance examines glazing opportunities onto a site; potentially from neighbouring properties, high public usability and/or security surveillance. This in my opinion is the most influential practices of CPTED. As spoken by Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities “Eyes on the Street”, referring to how spaces are safer when exterior surveillance is present (Jacobs, J., 1961). Far less individuals will commit a crime when there is a high likelihood of being seen.

Territorial Reinforcement uses physical barriers to control how a space is used. Often this includes fencing and signage, demonstrating to users the permitted usability of the site. Perimeter landscaping and features can also be used to provide a sense of ownership past the public realm. To most, such barriers are enough to deter unwanted behavior, as it is evident the space is not their own.

Maintenance aims to deter criminal activity by providing an overall sense of ownership. It is perceived that individuals are less likely to commit crimes in well-kept areas, as it implies they are closely monitored (International CPTED Association, 2017). This also aligns with the “Broken Windows Theory” by James Wilson and George Kelling; describing how individuals are more likely to break windows in an area where they are already broken (Wilson, J., Kelling, G., 1982). This is also achieved by actively keeping lawn, waste and immediate cleaning of vandalism.

Old Eldon Square at Night

Thinking about how safe you feel in a space, these little implementations really do make a big difference in usability. Spaces that I feel uncomfortable using alone or even with others typically consist of poor lighting, surveillance and low sense of ownership. This highly dictates which spaces I choose to spend my time, and which paths I feel safe to walk home at night.

Various case studies display correction of behavior through a CPTED examination and application.  Researcher Randall Atlas at Barry University in Miami completed such to correct an environment of high crime and assault on campus (Atlas, R. 2004). Through implementation aligning the four CPTED principles, these rates were shown to drop to an all-time low, allowing students to feel safe on their own campus.

CPTED is globally accepted by police enforcement and is typically requested upon application of a development. However, they are encouraged even when an application is not required.

Some argue that CPTED simply moves criminal activity elsewhere, where ultimately crime rate remains the same (Cozens, P., Love, T., 2017). However, if all developments are designed with CPTED principles in mind, shouldn’t this should be avoided? In addition, many argue the ethics of constant surveillance, as an exposure to one’s privacy (Gellman, B., Adler-Bell, S., 2017). However, for the potential of safer spaces is it not worth the discomfort?

Let me know your thoughts below.



Barry University Case Study:



Atlas, R. (2004). Atlas Safety & security Design Inc. Barry University Security & CPTED Case Study. Retrieved from:

Cozens, P., Love, T., (2017). Criminology and Criminal Justice. The Dark Side of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Retrieved from:

Gellman, B., Adler-Bell, S., (2017).The Century Foundation. The Disparate Impact of Surveillance.Retrieved from:

International CPTED Association (2017). International CPTED Association. Homepage. Retrieved from:

Jacobs, J. (1961). The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House.

Queensland Government (2017). Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. Guidelines for Queensland. Retrieved from:

Wilson, J., Kelling, G., (1982) Broken Windows. Retrieved from:



School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

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