Some of my earliest memories are of Cape Town in the late 1990s. Apartheid had just ended in 1994 and yet the country was still very segregated and unequal. It was normal to live behind large walls and security systems, to always have your car doors and windows locked, to never walk down the pavement to the shops on your own. The only time I could play in the street was at my grandmother’s house, who lived within a gated community, however I never saw any other children there.
Almost 26 years on from the end of this racist regime, South Africa is still battling the aftereffects of Apartheid. Steps taken to reduce crime within the city is supported by landscape architects and urban designers who strive to integrate communities, ‘…spatial construction in urban environments should no longer be attached to intractable functions or intent on isolation’ (“12 Projects that Explain Landscape Urbanism and How It’s Changing the Face of Cities,” 2016).
Khayelitsha is Cape Town’s largest informal settlement, situated 30km outside the city centre (“Khayelitsha,” 2017). The Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) program is an organisation that strives to create safer, less isolated and more sustainable neighbourhoods to enhance the quality of life of the residents (“Who We Are,” n.d.). The organisation aims to reduce the rate of crime in Khayelitsha through urban landscape and design proposals (Green, 2014). The VPUU say that they are involved in ‘co-creating safe and sustainable neighbourhoods to improve quality of life for all residents’(“Homepage,” n.d.). They proposed to create four ‘safe nodes’ within the township that would each benefit up to 50,000 people using a team of experienced planners and urban landscape designers (Green, 2014) and set out a number of goals to guide them:
To clearly highlight what is public and private through design.
Designing areas for children to play and residents to unwind.
Provide a visible, accessible and adequately lit pedestrian pathway.
Create sustainable interventions within the landscape.
Provide maintainable, long lasting materials and proposals.
(“Case Study 2,” n.d.)
This project highlighted to me that it is important to always consider crime prevention when designing urban landscapes to allow residents to feel safe. So what can we do about it?
Clear visibility is a very important aspect when attempting to eliminate crime through design. A space that is open and easy to access tends to give residents more confidence within the space and this is especially true of women and children. In a study by the College of Policing, they show that CCTV does not reduce the rate of antisocial behaviour and spur of the moment crime, only crime that is premeditated. Therefore, design of the space is of key importance (“How Landscape Architecture and Urban Design Can Reduce Crime,” 2019). However, when designing, stress from the client, site, conditions and the budget can cause us to lose sight of how we could effectively and successfully design with crime prevention in mind. Therefore, defining common strategies to combat crime at the beginning of each project is critical to the design process. These strategies could include:
Adequate connections to the surrounding urban environment.
Distinctive and easy to navigate routes through the space.
A series of several pathways for residents, not just one.
Wide pavements to encourage families and groups.
Supplying a range of facilities that are open 24hrs to encourage more people on the street late at night.
Lower heights of trees, bushes and plants to improve visibility through the space.
Signs to show exit strategies if required.
Maintaining the space regularly to encourage a welcoming environment.
(“How Landscape Architecture and Urban Design Can Reduce Crime,” 2019)
The VPUU project based in Khayelitsha has provided inspiration for other informal settlements in Cape Town and there are currently a further 10 projects proposed by VPUU across the city. A member of the Cape Town city government praised the project and claimed it was so successful as “the development is human-scale. We also clearly defined the hierarchy of spaces, what was public, private, and semi-private.”(Green, 2014). There are evidently other aspects of this project that made it so successful, in particular, encouraging a transfer of skills and providing employment for residents through community participation. This gave the residents a sense of ownership and motivation to maintain the space, in turn fostering a sense of pride for the environment and helping to reduce crime and vandalism. Further community participation was implemented by setting up a neighbourhood watch and local security group which reassured residents when using public spaces and increased the numbers of people on the streets (“Case Study 2,” n.d.).