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One concept that has always left designers with a head scratching problem in urban design, is how do we make our spaces safer. If you’re working on a site which is known to have problems with crime, how do we actually make the space safer for the community? Can we? or is it just a false promise to those who feel vulnerable?

[1] ( No date given)

What is Safety?

First off, what does it mean to be safe? The more formal meaning being a buildings ability to protect against harm and threats, such as providing privacy and protection from weather. But more common in Urban Design is the perception of safety, in larger scale developments it’s more about increasing the feeling of comfort and eliminating the perception of risk.

[2] ( 2018)

Designing Safety

Jane Jacobs touched on the safety of the sidewalk in ‘The Death and life of Great American Cities’, safety in the city comes from community, with more activity and eyes on the street, inherently makes the space safer to navigate. But this is just a perception, the more active of a community does make you feel safer, but in reality it doesn’t eliminate any risk from navigating a space.

The reality is the task of making spaces completely safe is bar impossible, but the perception of safety itself can provide enough of a barrier that spaces can be safe.


So, how else is this perception created? Ownership is another important aspect to safety, the difference between the public/private sectors in design is key to defining the barriers of what is ours, and what isn’t. When we’re within what is ours we immediately feel safer, or at home. (Ali 2003)

[3] ( 2009)

Above is a map of neighbourhood designed around safety, the strict private sector within the design, maintains the perception of safety in the development, with plenty of eyes on the streets too, demonstrating a perceptual safe neighbourhood. With the stats to back it up too as seen below, being far below the 101 crimes per year rate (per 1,000 people) in England.

[3] ( 2009)

Compare this to Clarence Gardens which is a scheme with inconsistent design qualities regarding crime and security. With undefined public/private sectors and less defined streets in general, the numbers are vastly different, showing that perceptual security does work in neighbourhood design.

[3] ( 2009)




CBC (2019) Creating safe spaces starts with talking — and listening — to each other (online) Available at: Accessed 21/05/2020

GOV UK (2020) Crime Statistics (online) Accessible at: Accessed: 22/05/2020

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

Madanipour, A., (2003). Public and private spaces of the city, London; New York: Routledge

Safe Communities (2015) Why the Perception of Safety is Important (online) Available at: Accessed: 23/05/2020

Statista (2019) Crime rate per 1,000 population in the United Kingdom from 2002/03 to 2018/19, by country (online) Available at: Accessed: 23/05/2020

Figure List

[1] NCS Madison (no date given) Security-Icon (online) Available at: Accessed: 22/05/2020

[2] How Stuff Works (2018) Nextdoor and More: The Good, Bad and Ugly of Neighborhood Social Networks (online) Available at: Accessed 21/05/2020

[3] Design Council (2009) Creating safe places to live through design (online) Available at: Accessed 21/05/2020

One response to “Persceptions of Safe Spaces”

  1. Thank you Ben for sharing a topic of such a pressing concern! You have touched upon the concepts of natural surveillance and territoriality, which form the basis for Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) theory, that was discussed earlier in the blog (Zeynalov, 2019). However, through my current research of the topic, situational crime prevention (SCP) could be considered as a potential crime prevention solution. Developed by British researcher Ronald Clarke (1992), SCP adopts an action research model, which enables its users to implement and exchange a variety of preventative techniques based on responses to crime in the urban environment. Where the theories of Oscar Newman (1996) and C Ray Jeffery (1977) employ social reforms and criminal rehabilitation ideologies, respectively, rational choice theory, which encompasses the SCP, primarily focuses on politically conservative ideology by cooperating with government authorities and law enforcement officials (Hayward, 2007). Moreover, Gilling (1997, p. 43) argues that in comparison to CPTED, the SCP theory engenders a sense of hope among policy makers with a total of 25 techniques allowing them to exercise diverse implementation strategies (UNODC, 2020). Although fairly modern, the theory found its practical success in securing safe urban environment in deprived districts of Seoul, South Korea (Won and Choi, 2012, pp. 3608-3611) and marginalized neighbourhoods of Medellín, Colombia (Aguinaga, 2015).

    Reference List:

    Aguinaga, G. (2015) Learning from Medellin: a success story of holistic violence prevention. Available at: (Accessed: 17 May 2020).

    Clarke, R. (1992) Situational crime prevention: successful case studies. New York: Harrow and Heston Publishers.

    Gilling, D. (1997) Crime prevention: theory, policy, and politics. London; Bristol, Pa.: UCL Press.

    Hayward, K. (2007) ‘Situational Crime Prevention and its Discontents: Rational Choice Theory versus the ‘Culture of Now’’, Social Policy & Administration, 41(3), pp. 232-250.

    Jeffrey, C. (1977) Crime prevention through environmental design. 2nd edn. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.

    Newman, O. (1996) Creating defensible space. Philadelphia: DIANE Publishing.

    UNODC (2020) Situational Crime Prevention. Available at: (Accessed: 20 April 2020).

    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.

    Zeynalov, A. (2019) MISSION POSSIBLE: Crime prevention through environmental design. Available at: (Accessed: 25 May 2020).

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