One moment...

Blogs / In the Know / Designing safer communities

Designing safer communities

The physical layout and design of our communities has a much bigger impact on crime than many local governments realize. Securing areas that are naturally prone to crime and addressing the design factors that put people at risk can significantly reduce crime.  Design elements like lighting, shrubbery, benches, and windows can either encourage or discourage criminal activity, so learning to recognize and address the connections between design and crime is crucial to building safer communities. The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) of the US Department of Justice discusses the Crime Prevention Though Environmental Design (CPTED) approach as a tool within the Problem Oriented Guide for Police. CPTED is a systematic approach that examines the “environmental conditions and the opportunities they offer for crime or other unintended and undesirable behaviors.” By examining the spatial aspects of the scene of crime, CPTED answers the “why here?” question and proposes design solutions to discourage antisocial elements. 

The major strategies of CPTED include:

  1. Controlling access by providing physical and perceived barriers to entrances and access ways.  The environment should remind people of who belongs in the space, appropriate behavior, and duration of stay. Fences, hedges and other landscaping features show boundaries while pathways and gardens help visitors navigate movement.
  2. Increasing visibility and the chances to see and be seen by others. Creating more “eyes on the streets” is crucial for natural policing of areas, especially parking lots and back alleys. Buildings should face the street and use windows that allow people to look in when outside and out when inside. Lighting should be placed at a height to maximize visibility and reduce dark spaces. Trees and shrubs should be chosen and maintained to allow views of people approaching from a distance. Street furniture and a high-quality environment also encourage visitors to frequent areas, thereby maintaining an animated space and fostering a desirable “familiar stranger” effect that helps people police themselves.
  3. Using design elements to create a sense of belonging and ownership to ensure maintenance. Maintenance is important to keep a positive perception of places and discourage vandalism. While rules and regulations provide cues to appropriate behavior, community involvement is crucial in the long term. Public art, landscaping, gardens, and quality convening areas help to individualize spaces. Familiarizing areas by asking school children to paint a wall or involving youth in neighborhood watches also help the community relate to the space and creates a sense of ownership.

Most of CPTED strategies are relatively cost–effective, but to be most effective they should be integrated into the larger community safety plan. The City of Virginia Beach, Va.’s Crime Prevention Through Environment Design document illustrates the use of CPTED as part of the design guidelines of the city. Its strategies are used in versatile environments like low density residential neighborhoods, single family homes, apartments, schools, and downtowns.

The following ICMA articles and web links provide more information on CPTED: