Monday, March 18, 2013

The street as classroom

  Evening CPTED audits - the city at night - photo by snowycactus
A few weeks ago a colleague of mine teaching at Harvard University asked if I would do a webinar with some planning and design students embarking on their first night-time CPTED field project. I talked with Benjamin Scheerbarth, Elise Baudon and Susan Nguyen about the myth and reality of CPTED and the difference between fear and risk; what residents' perceive versus what they actually experience. That's exactly what their research uncovered.

On one hand their observations suggested the area had "strong environmental design to prevent crime". Police on the audit confirmed "an overall safe downtown atmosphere with scattered incidents of [disorder]". On the other hand community members described fears of unsafe pockets and a sketchy area. Crime data suggested problems with theft and assault.

What to think? Who to believe? (I love conundrums like this for students!)


To the practitioner this is unsurprising. Crime geographers have been saying for some time that risk and fear are very different animals. One has a dangerous bite; the other frightens with a snarl. Yet it's impressive the students uncovered this so quickly.

To their credit the students dove deeper and discovered how events cluster around certain places and times (like bars at closing) and how to target solutions. Their recommendations spanned basic 1st Generation CPTED (better lighting, signage and cameras) and 2nd Generation CPTED  (diversified land uses, evening farmers markets, night-time community walks).

For a first time CPTED project, that's not bad. Not bad at all!