One of discussion topics of Tim Townshend’s lecture briefly touched upon Jane Jacob’s ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’. While reading the book, I have encountered an intriguing chapter, namely ‘The uses of sidewalks: safety’. It essentially urges to provide a safer and securer environment for people in the streets. Given that crime reasonably impacts on insecurity in urban environment, I questioned myself if there are any actual means of preventing it through urban design?
Crime is a social problem, that each country currently faces and fights against. Majority of South American and African countries demonstrate the highest amount of crime rates as of 2019. Moreover, such countries as Jamaica, Brazil and Argentina have increased excessively in crime rates in past decade, while the United States, Malaysia and Algeria have successfully decreased.
“To keep the city safe is a fundamental task of a city’s streets and its sidewalks” – Jane Jacobs
The first mentions of crime prevention through urban design were recorded in the examined Jane Jacobs’s book in the 1960s. Jacobs proposes to establish numerous stores (promoting ‘eyes on the street’) and a good lighting system along streets and sidewalks. She believes that these establishments would effectively work against encountering ‘strangers’, and, therefore, contribute to a more positive urban experience. However, Jacobs’s proposals, and particularly the first one, lacked in believability and relevance. Currently, it seems strange to acknowledge that “people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity”.
“Crime issue hinges on the inability of communities to come together in joint action” – Oscar Newman
Oscar Newman was the first to reinterpret Jacobs’s proposals and identify concrete design-led solutions to this problem. The architect proposes a ‘defensible space’ model for residential environments, a space, which answers three housing design principles of territoriality, surveillance and image. In terms of territoriality, boundaries between public and private spaces should be well-defined. Newman’s study shows that high-rise buildings are more vulnerable to crime and vandalism rather than low-rise ones. This is evident in Van Dyke Houses in New York and in Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis (video below).
Newman principally bases the principle of natural surveillance on Jacobs’s ‘eyes on the street’ proposal. However, referring to Kitty Genovese murder (video below), Newman suggests to redefine external and internal spaces of buildings. Firstly, buildings should be either oriented towards or located within 50 feet of streets. Secondly, interior architects should transform vulnerable to crime lobbies, elevator spaces, fire stairs and hallways into observable spaces from outside.
Eventually, majority of housing developments in America looked frugal from outside. Newman strongly believes that such frugality, in fact, attracted criminals and vandals to these spaces. Hence, a more elegant and aesthetically pleasing design would provide a safer and securer neighbourhood.
“Criminal behaviour manipulates or operates on the environment in such a way as to produce desired amount of stimulation for the organism” – C. Ray Jeffery
In reality, criminologist C. Ray Jeffery originally coined the currently widely used term ‘Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design’ (CPTED). In his eponymous book, Jeffery states that criminal punishment by police and court demonstrate no reduction of criminal activities in the urban environment. Therefore, Jeffery suggests to apply the following crime prevention programs, such as architecture and planning-led physical security and general surveillance programs. Apart from Newman, Jeffery’s argument is also concerned with analyzing criminals’ behaviour and habits. Collectively, these strategies would ensure safety for crime victims as well as beneficially assist criminals.
During my research, I have encountered Seoul’s ‘Root Out Crime By Design’ as the most intriguing CPTED project. Launched in 2012, the project addressed solutions to then incidents of sexual harassment, murders, robberies and arson. Due to a deprived state of districts and subsequent rapid increase of female harassment in South Korean capital, local authorities attempted to substitute police workforce with environmental design. Furthermore, by mapping out crime incidents, they started to collaborate with local communities on environmental solutions for the specified areas (known as ‘salt roads’).
The government initially installed CCTV and IP cameras along with establishing children libraries and ‘salt’ cafes which were run by local residents. Thanks to community participation, gloomy steps were transformed into pleasant walkways, metal gates into cartoon characters and a soulless alleyways into playgrounds. Moreover, all streets were enhanced by yellow-coloured light poles with a map of surrounding areas for an easier navigation. Some of derelict buildings were refurbished and transformed into community and fitness centres (video below). By encouraging joint community participation (Jacobs), Seoul Metropolitan Government significantly improved the city’s image (Newman), which led to reduced crime and vandalism rates (Jeffery).
Jacobs, J. (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Harmondsworth : Penguin, pp. 39-65.
Numbeo (2019) Crime Index for Country 2019. Available at: https://www.numbeo.com/crime/rankings_by_country.jsp?title=2019 (Accessed: 19 December 2019).
Goodyear, S. (2013) A New Way of Understanding ‘Eyes on the Street’. Available at: https://www.citylab.com/equity/2013/07/new-way-understanding-eyes-street/6276/ (Accessed: 19 December 2019).
Newman, O. (1972) Defensible Space: Crime Prevention Through Urban Design. New York : Macmillan, pp. 51-77.
Newman, O. (1972) Defensible Space: Crime Prevention Through Urban Design. New York : Macmillan, pp. 78-101.
Peter David Documentaries (2002) [Video] History’s Mysteries – Silent Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Murder (History Channel Documentary). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPSLmQ5QLS0 (Accessed: 21 December 2019).
Newman, O. (1972) Defensible Space: Crime Prevention Through Urban Design. New York : Macmillan, pp. 102-117.
Jeffery, C. (1977) Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. 2nd edn. Beverly Hills : Sage Publications.
Metropolis (2019) Root Out Crime By Design. Available at: https://www.old.metropolis.org/awards/5th-edition-2014/root-out-crime-design#info (Accessed: 22 December 2019).
Kim, J. (2013) Towards a Design-City (Post-Design-Capital). Available at: https://failedarchitecture.com/towards-a-design-city-post-design-capital/ (Accessed: 22 December 2019).
Won, M. and Choi, Y. (2012) ‘A Study on Roles of the Community Design in Crime Prevention: Focusing on Project called Root out Crime by Design in South Korea’, Engineering and Technology International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 6(12), pp. 3607-3615.
Colquhoun, I. (2004) Design Out Crime: Creating Safe and Sustainable Communities. Oxford, Burlington, MA : Architectural Press.
Poyner, B. (1983) Design Against Crime: Beyond Defensible Space. London : Butterworths.