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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’[1]. 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?

Analytical Data 

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[2]. 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.

Crime Index for Countries 2019 (Courtesy of Numbeo)


Personal Initiative
“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[1]. 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”.

Poster of ‘Night Out for Safety, Democracy and Human Rights’ (Courtesy of Justice for Families)[3]
Defensible Space
“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[4]. 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[5]).

Newman principally bases the principle of natural surveillance on Jacobs’s ‘eyes on the street’ proposal[6]. However, referring to Kitty Genovese murder (video below[7]), 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[8]. 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 Psychology
“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)[9]. 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.

Modern Solutions

During my research, I have encountered Seoul’s ‘Root Out Crime By Design’ as the most intriguing CPTED project[10]. 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’).

‘Before and After’ images of the project[11]
Insecurity Map[12]
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[13]). 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).


[1]Jacobs, J. (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Harmondsworth : Penguin, pp. 39-65.

[2]Numbeo (2019) Crime Index for Country 2019. Available at: (Accessed: 19 December 2019).

[3]Goodyear, S. (2013) A New Way of Understanding ‘Eyes on the Street’. Available at: (Accessed: 19 December 2019).

[4]Newman, O. (1972) Defensible Space: Crime Prevention Through Urban Design. New York : Macmillan, pp. 51-77.

[5]Urban Exposure (2015) [Video] Defensible Space by Oscar Newman feat. Aylesbury Estate & Pruitt-Igoe. Available at: (Accessed: 21 December 2019).

[6]Newman, O. (1972) Defensible Space: Crime Prevention Through Urban Design. New York : Macmillan, pp. 78-101.

[7]Peter David Documentaries (2002) [Video] History’s Mysteries – Silent Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Murder (History Channel Documentary). Available at: (Accessed: 21 December 2019).

[8]Newman, O. (1972) Defensible Space: Crime Prevention Through Urban Design. New York : Macmillan, pp. 102-117.

[9]Jeffery, C. (1977) Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. 2nd edn. Beverly Hills : Sage Publications.

[10]Metropolis (2019) Root Out Crime By Design. Available at: (Accessed: 22 December 2019).

[11]Kim, J. (2013) Towards a Design-City (Post-Design-Capital). Available at: (Accessed: 22 December 2019).

[12]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.

[13]Arirang Issue (2016) [Video] 4 Angles _ Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Available at: (Accessed: 22 December 2019).

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.

2 responses to “MISSION POSSIBLE: Crime prevention through environmental design”

  1. Thank you Adil for posting a unique case study that is considered as an alternative method to deter crimes with the use of residential passive surveillance. Even I myself was intrigue reading that Salt Way case study you posted. I believe it is relevant as of the moment to implement this kind of method due to the fact that it is community based and it enhances the enclosure of our neighbourhood. Due to the community driven approached and direct collaboration with the government and external stakeholder, the project offers the local community a moral boost. According to the statistics they have given -people who initiated the project. 78.6% of the residents responded that Salt Way project helped prevent crimes in the local area, 56.5% felt the residents are safer than before and 42.3% stated that residents are having better relationship with their neighbours. (, 2015), (, 2015). These statistics have replicated on various studies that CPTED initiated, stated that community has positively influenced crime prevention (Whitzman 2012) and reported that the proportion of crimes in the street is lessen when there is evidence of social cohesion with neighbours and willingness to collaborate with other external stakeholders (Sampson et al. 1997).

    However, it is not a roaring success proposal. Despite that there is an decrease of burglary in the district right after the CPTED was applied, the crime rate heighten on the adjacent neighbourhood areas (Jeong et al. 2017). In addition, regarding for violent crimes, according to (Kim, Hong and Jeong, 2019), “the crime rate increased both in the district where CPTED was implemented and in the other districts where it was not. CPTED installations in Yeomni-dong for improvement in the physical environment produced no significant effect, but elements that induced residents’ participation produced significant positive effects for crime prevention”. In the study that Kim, Hong and Jeong published, they emphasised the importance of ‘social cohesion’ as there is evidence of positive effects for crime deterrence. It includes the strengthening the relationships in the neighbourhood by encouraging community activities, joining governmental programs and town problem solving activities. I believe these ideas would be beneficial to the residents as it is the first step for looking for each other, improve social connection and be a source of coping mechanism.

    All in all, I believe that simply improving the physical environment has less impact/less significance on crime prevention but there should be a clear evidence of public engagement for the proposal to work. If we only fully concentrate on the physical realm and not the main root of the problem, the idea of physical intervention is just scratches the surface and the underlying issue is still there. This proposal may have a lot of loopholes that needs patching up and it is not a sure fire strategy for preventing crime much less getting fully rid of it. But preventing crimes is something that the society needs to tackle head on with the help of the government incentives. Programmes such as competitive sports, volunteering, helping cultural festivals in towns and activities that falls under community culture should help young adults or even proper adults to clear off with crime activities. Thanks for the interesting post Adil! 🙂

    Kim, D., Hong, S. and Jeong, Y. (2019). Crime Prevention Effect of the Second Generation Crime Prevention through Environmental Design Project in South Korea: An Analysis. Social Sciences, 8(6), p.187. (2015). [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jan. 2020].

    Sampson, Robert J., Stephen W. Raudenbush, and Felton Earls. 1997. Neighborhoods and Violent Crime: A Multilevel Study of Collective Efficacy. Science 277: 918 (2015). Seoul City’s Salt Road project | Social Life. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Jan. 2020].

    Whitzman, Carolyn. 2012. The Handbook of Community Safety Gender and Violence Prevention: Practical Planning Tools. Abington: Routledge.

  2. Thank you, Adil, for discussing an increasingly relevant and important topic that cities are facing. Of the four main principles within Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) – natural surveillance, natural access control, territorial reinforcement and maintenance (Hepburn, 2019) – Seoul’s ‘Root Out Crime by Design’ prioritises maintenance as they key principle in preventing crime, by improving aesthetics and therefore changing perception of different areas within the city, in particular through its voluntary wall-painting program (Metropolis, 2019). 

    However, has Seoul’s strategy been successful in achieving the aim of preventing crime? In 2011, one year prior to the implementation of the Root Out Crime by Design strategy, the crime rate in South Korea was 0.86 per 100,000 population (Macrotrends, n.d.). In 2012, this decreased by 4.15% to 0.82 per 100,000 population whilst the strategy was being put in place. The success of the scheme was almost immediate, portrayed in the 17.15% decrease in crime, to 0.68 per 100,000 in 2013 (Macrotrends, n.d.). Since 2012, the general trend of crime rate in South Korea has decreased over time (Macrotrends, n.d.) which suggests CPTED in Seoul has been generally successful in reducing crime. Whilst these figures reflect crime rates for South Korea as a whole, Seoul is recognised as being a “very safe city” which has overall risk measured as “low”, with crime rates “lower than US cities and on par with most European ones” (Travel Safe – Abroad, 2019). This suggests that the downwards trend present for crime in South Korea also reflects the status of that in Seoul.

    This project and its subsequent outcome is key in the CPTED movement. If crime can really be prevented by simple things such as maintenance, why are these seemingly straightforward measures not implemented more? I know, personally, I feel much safer in a place with better lighting or with no broken windows in sight. However, could this instead displace crime to areas that are not maintained or better lit? If so, who is responsible for ensuring the maintenance of an area is upheld? Nevertheless, Seoul has proved CPTED to indeed be effective in reducing crime, and thus should be used as a precedent in the implementation of efforts within cities to reduce crime. 


    Hepburn, G. (2019) Preventing urban crime through environmental design, Available at [Accessed on 26/12/19].

    Macrotrends (n.d.) South Korea Crime Rate & Statistics 2011-2019, Available at [Accessed on 26/12/19].

    Metropolis (2019) Root Out Crime by Design, Available at [Accessed on 26/12/19].

    Travel Safe – Abroad (2019) How Safe is Seoul for Travel?, Available at [Accessed on 27/12/19].

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