The Role of Environmental Design in Preventing Crime

Did you know that the design of outdoor spaces plays a significant role in the occurrence of crime? It’s actually a concept we’ve long employed in our work with local government and developers in creating new urban landscapes. It is guided by a set of principles based on extensive research from across the globe. It even has its own acronym – CPTED

What is CPTED?

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, or CPTED, is exactly that: creating a space that feels safe, so that people can make use of it. Sometimes referred to as Designing Out Crime, it’s multidisciplinary and integrates architectural design with built and natural environments to create spaces that deter or prevent criminal acts as well as discourage unwanted and anti-social activities or behaviours. This leads to a sense of belonging that allows disparate groups to safety use or enjoy a space and improve overall quality of life. Put simply – it’s design that prevents personal and property crime – both actual or perceived – by addressing the typical causes.

When do we apply CPTED?

Ever walked down the street to return to your car after a night out, taking a shortcut and had that unmistakable feeling of the hair on the back of your neck standing up? You’re suddenly highly aware of your surroundings. There’s no-one around, there are overgrown nature strips and the streetlights are poor. A tall fence is on your left covered with graffiti and it feels like a long, long way to your car. It’s a sense of personal vulnerability that doesn’t lend itself to feeling safe and secure!

Photo by Flex Point Security Inc. on Unsplash

Public spaces ideally should enhance the life of their communities. They should meet the physical, social, cultural and economic needs of where people live and work. Safety and the perception of safety doesn’t happen by accident but by influential, impactful and purposeful design.

Hello, CPTED!

One of the most encouraging things about CPTED is the fact that it’s not just for new projects on the drawing board. All spaces can be looked at with a CPTED lens. For example, the government of Singapore brought the principles of CPTED to life through a partnership between police, construction, real estate and hospitality stakeholders, among others, resulting in a formidable yet highly achievable approach as detailed here.

The principles of CPTED

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design has a universal set of principles that provide a thorough blueprint to create spaces that are vibrant and livable:

Activation – this is primarily focusing on designing and managing public spaces and their surrounds to be some where people actually want to be.

Passive surveillance – like the scenario above, when we feel alone, that nobody’s around should we need help, the area feels distinctly unsafe. When you know that people can see you, if something is to go sideways that it’s going to be noticed, then the feeling of safety increases. We also know that the likelihood of crimes decreases when people know they’re likely to be spotted.

Ownership – when individuals and communities feel connected to a public space, they have a shared sense of responsibility for its security. They want it to feel safe!

Management – this is about well maintained, clean and immediately repaired when required buildings and spaces. This could be parks where gardens are looked after, where playground equipment isn’t damaged, where rubbish bins are regularly collected.

Legibility – there’s nothing worse than a confusing mishmash of a space, where one can wander around not knowing how to get from point a to point b. Signage is confusing or non-existent. Footpaths disappear.

Photo by Marco Chilese on Unsplash

Territorial clarity – this is about clear, legitimate boundaries between spaces. Imagine a typical street with a neighbourhood park flanked by residential properties on either side and a recreation space such as a soccer field behind. What’s to stop someone setting up a barbecue in a residential property? What’s giving the resident a sense of privacy from the soccer supporters as they hang out their washing? Boundaries help people know how a space should be used.

Limiting vulnerable places – let’s face it; some public spaces simply make people and property more susceptible to harm than others. Please note- the descriptions above are very much our Orterra paraphrasing of a series of key principles and policy documents, including our very own home state of Queensland’s Guidelines as described here.

When the goal of landscape architecture is to design spaces for people, the concept of CPTED is of critical importance. Nobody wants to be in a place that’s perceived to be unsafe or even just unpleasant. When a space has an absence of people, looks poorly maintained and just creepy why would anybody not go out of their way to avoid it? It’s this concept that can make or break a design, and is one we are well versed in. Want to know more? Just reach out!

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