Tuesday, June 12, 2018

CPTED on a pendulum

Relaxing in Central Park made easy with benches, clean walkways
and something interesting to watch
By Mateja Mihinjac

Embedded within SafeGrowth practice resides a number of tactics, one of which is CPTED - crime prevention through environmental design. CPTED is often criticized for being simplistic and reductionist in its solutions and for promoting fortressing while displacing undesirable activity.

In January, Greg reprinted an article he wrote a few years ago about the exclusionary nature of CPTED when it disregards some at the expense of others.

These side effects may seem unsurprising considering that the word “prevention” implies attention to undesirable behaviors. However, years of experience teach us that not every crime problem will benefit from simply restricting behaviors; we also need to provide alternatives and support desirable conduct.

Not all dogs agree, but even in rain, dogwalking is pro-social
This does not infer a binary approach to CPTED but rather attention to details because, when it comes to intended and desirable outcomes, context matters! It is therefore prudent to outline some of the 1st Generation CPTED principles using a pendulum between restrictive and desirable behavioral outcomes.

Talented street artists can beautify unpleasant areas


A broader view of CPTED is nothing new; it can be observed in the early writing of CPTED by the original authors. For example, we know from Oscar Newman’s work on defensible space that territorial influence is most powerful when it combines “latent territoriality and sense of community” when residents care for shared spaces and each other.

Tactics to uncover latent territoriality include designing visual contact between residential areas and building semi-private areas where neighbors can congregate, factors that still emerge today in research.

Methods to enhance the social climate of an area include getting people to better know, and care for, each other with cultural and recreational activities.

Street markets provide a fun reason for going outside
Newman predicted this latent territoriality promotes ownership through supporting pro-social behaviors while concurrently deflecting unwanted use without the need for physical reinforcement.

Similarly, Jane Jacobs extended her discussion of “eyes upon the street” and argued that streets are safe when they provide opportunities for desirable activities by offering people a reason to occupy them, as we described in recent blogs on sidewalks and alternatives to bollards.

There is no shortage of other methods to create desirable locations, for example through tactical urbanism and placemaking that build pro-social activities and informal supervision.

Street busker activating a public plaza


Mainstream 1st Generation CPTED continues to undermine the need for investing in social capital as the underlying prerequisite for effective and sustainable crime prevention.

In SafeGrowth, we employ 2nd Generation CPTED to promote social cohesion, local pride and social interaction. The goal is to swing the pendulum towards pro-social conduct and away from an anti-social, target-hardening mantra. Ultimately, the key for quality of life in neighborhoods is finding the right balance between the two.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

What's up with sidewalks?

Dr. Jekyll lives on the left.
Poorly lit sidewalks with sodium streetlights meant for cars, not people

by Greg Saville

What’s up with sidewalks? Walkability might be the gateway to a friendlier and safer city, but it requires a high-quality place to walk with interesting destinations. My walks of late uncovered some big-time flops. What are designers thinking when they create sidewalks?

Shrubs 1. Sidewalk 0
Too narrow and obstructed by private landscaping
Some sidewalks are inappropriate for people with disabilities. Others have street signs in the middle of the sidewalk forcing walkers onto the street. Yet others are dark at night, in disrepair, too small or are encroached by yard landscaping.

Salvation lies elsewhere.
This church dismisses walkers by fencing front stairways
Some municipalities require homeowners to keep sidewalks clean in front of their home and, in winter cities, free of snow. That is reasonable. But cities often expect too much, such as when public sidewalks are worn or damaged and homeowners are required to pay thousands for repairs.

Too often sidewalks are poorly designed and they end with no destination.

Logic lost!
Warning walkers of a crosswalk, but forcing them to walk
onto the street to avoid the sign


In the planning movement called Smart Growth, walkability plays an important role. One attempt to measure walkability is The Walk Score, but it is far from ideal (try it).

Activating a sidewalk with lighting, benches, and a night-time economy

My current address has a measly Walk Score of 46, making it car dependent. Yet, nearby are trails, a lake, park, and mountain views. My former address scored a dazzling 84; In one direction there were great restaurants, parks, a library, coffee shops, school, and trails. Yet, in another, you could just as easily get caught between gang shootings. Obviously, Walk Scores say nothing about neighborhood quality.

Interesting design, colors & lighting attracts people
Recent Smart Growth designs include the SmartCode concept, an attempt to replace restrictive zoning practices of the past. As yet, it’s unclear SmartCode prescriptions are any better at triggering the creative, bottom-up placemaking shown in a few of these photos. But it’s a starting place.

Street artists at night bring culture to dead streets

Friday, May 25, 2018

To "Phoenix" - We can help you do better

Walking Manhattan streets on a rainy day last week
by Gregory Saville

Last week I walked rain-soaked streets in Manhattan and in ten blocks, 15 different homeless people approached me asking for cash. A few suffered mental illness, some a demon intoxicant, and others the unfairness of circumstance. One reached out for dollars with his left hand while he clutched a cell phone in his right. Everyone's story was different - except they were all on the street.

I often feel an apoplectic irrelevance at moments like that. Why does homelessness persist? What can be done? We have blogged many times about homelessness in Reducing homelessness, part 1 & 2, Sidewalk sleeping in Toronto, Hostile architecture and CPTED, and Dignity Village.

I’ve coauthored an ICA White Paper, on the topic, and Tarah Hodgkinson heads an ICA Homelessness committee to seek alternatives. But blogs and White Papers don't solve the problem. What can we do?


Big cities have always had homeless but for the first time in a very long time, the number of unsheltered homeless people is rising. Bucking a decade-long decline, homeless numbers have been increasing since 2017.

No surprise: New York and Los Angeles - the largest cities - had the largest numbers (over 130,000 combined).

Big surprise: Seattle and Silicon Valley’s San Jose had the 3rd and 6th largest homeless populations. Apparently, street living in those high tech cities bypasses the riches flowing from companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Facebook who also reside there.

Of the smaller cities, all but 2 of the 10 worst homeless cities were in warmer climate states (Florida, California, and Hawaii) where winter snows are absent.

Hostile architecture in the affluent Upper West Side, NY
Overall, numbers are down. Some kinds of homelessness continue to decline, child homelessness and veteran homelessness. Further, some states do much better at taking care of homeless people with overnight shelters. New York and Massachusetts house almost all of their homeless overnight (95% each). On the other hand, California, Nevada and Mississippi house only 49% to 68% of their homeless overnight.

There are some good news stories from Canada. Since 2015, the Canadian city of Medicine Hat, Saskatchewan (population 60,000) has eradicated homelessness in their city.

Rain lifting from a foggy NY evening. Lifting homelessness
from city streets - a lofty and worthy goal.
Clearly, negligent cities have much to learn from others, including the homeless themselves.

SafeGrowth advocate Kallan Lyons worked at a Toronto homeless shelter and helped produce Streets to Script, a book of writing in the words of those in the shelter. One resident, Phoenix, writes:
I sit and ponder,
Why life has turned out this way,
I had thought my life would turn out differently…
I will make a better life for myself,
So I sit and ponder,
How my life can move forward.
Yes, Phoenix, you can move forward. We all can do better to help you.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The beginnings of crime prevention in Canada – Professor Irvin Waller

by Tarah Hodgkinson

The story of crime prevention and victim’s rights advocacy in Canada can be traced back as early as the 1800s, but many authors claim that the beginning of the crime prevention era in Canada began in the mid-1960s. A large part of that story begins with our friend and past SafeGrowth blogger, Professor Irvin Waller.

This week Irvin reached out to let me know he was retiring. He probably could have retired years ago, but he remained dedicated to making places safer and defending the rights of victims of crime.

And good thing he did. If Irvin retired when he should have I may never have gotten involved in crime prevention and, in turn, SafeGrowth. Irvin was the first criminologist I met who showed me that I could take everything I had learned about crime and cities and people and translate that into making real change. I write this blog in celebration of his amazing career and consistent support of other changemakers.


Irvin Waller is not what many would call a traditional academic. He didn’t spend his career focused on writing papers or attending conferences. Instead, he moved around, working in government and founding international organizations like the International Center for the Prevention of Crime.

He also spearheaded the magna carta for victims of crime at the UN, which resulted in the declaration on basic principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power. He went on to develop the Safer Cities Program with UN Habitat and worked directly with the World Health Organization on guidelines to reduce violence.

Irvin Waller - photo CMNCP

He was involved in creating the Institute for the Prevention of Crime at University of Ottawa and has advised on crime prevention policy in Canada and internationally throughout his career. Irvin also has continued to write several books on crime prevention and rights for victims of crime.

Irvin's most recent book, Smarter Crime Control: A Guide to a Safer Future for Citizens, Communities and Politicians, speaks directly to community leaders and politicians about how to reduce crime and make communities safer. And guess what, SafeGrowth is in there too!

Interestingly, Irvin has consistently demanded that federal governments need to invest in upstream solutions and prevention at the same time that SafeGrowth continued to demonstrate the need for neighbourhood governance and local solutions. However, in his 2006 book, Less Law, More Order he expanded his vision and emphasized the role of local changemakers.

Since then, Irvin created the Canadian Municipal Network of Crime Prevention, further anchoring his station as a leader in Canadian crime prevention and an ally of the SafeGrowth philosophy.

Congratulations Irvin on an amazing career and on inspiring the next generation.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

New York returns the cop to the beat

With towers as a backdrop, New York is a city of neighborhoods
by Mateja Mihinjac

Once considered a breeding ground for crime and violence, today New York City is one of the safest large cities in the USA. While this cannot be attributed to any single strategy, there is no doubt establishing close and positive relationships between public and police promises effective problem-solving and quality of life in the long run.

It was not always so! In the past, the NYPD employed a number of strategies to improve public safety. Some of the best-known and controversial tactics include broken windows policing and stop-and-frisk. Between 2005 and 2013, the NYPD relied extensively on stop-and-frisk. Unfortunately, in 2013 the way they applied the tactic was ruled unconstitutional.

In addition, research found no correlation between this tactic and crime rates and, given increasing tensions between the public and police, NYPD rethought their approach.


In 2015 NYPD introduced a neighborhood policing model. The focus of the approach is permanently locating an officer - an NCO - within a neighborhood and building personal relations with residents on a daily basis. While this echoes earlier, often criticized, forms of community policing, the New York NCO  program attempts to take advantage of the intense personal knowledge of local areas.

It also provides officers with "sector integrity," allowing them time within their beat away from calls for service and assigning them to that neighborhood long enough to develop personal relationships.

NCOs focus not only on developing leads to tackle serious crime, but they also partner with residents for long-term problem-solving. As the NYPD website says: “sector officers play the role of a generalist cop who knows and feels responsible for the sector, and who provides the full range of policing services there.”

Before radio was used, beat policing and
call boxes were the norm in neighborhoods

In effect, this is a resurgence of the local beat cop of pre-radio days, except with a problem-solving focus and without the old style police call box. The NCO program also resonates with our methods in SafeGrowth where we teach residents how to partner with police, create planning teams, and target unsafe activities to create neighborhood safety plans.


The cornerstone of NYPD neighborhood policing are the NCOs - Neighborhood Coordination Officers whose daily presence within the assigned neighborhood and respectful demeanor help build relationships.

New York NCOs and residents team up to solve problems

I witnessed the positive effect of this approach on several occasions while in New York: residents would greet their NCOs with hugs while NCOs would share their personal phone number with the residents should they need assistance with crime-related issues. The goal is for officers to be part of the community and be seen as an ally as opposed to an enemy.  

According to the New York City Police Foundation, in neighborhoods implementing neighborhood policing since 2015, shootings have declined 58% faster and the number of arrests declined 10% faster compared to the rest of the city. In the past two years, NCOs on foot patrol have met thousands of residents in hundreds of meetings, thereby building deeper local relationships in neighborhoods throughout the city. 

As NCO policing continues to expand to precincts across all five New York City boroughs, the approach has been recently applied to transit. NCOs will patrol the same subway stations and train lines to provide safety and build relationships, in this case with frequent riders. The beat cop, so common in another era, has now returned to the neighborhood.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Village

New York's Greenwich Village

Fog's rollin' in off the East River bank
Like a shroud it covers Bleecker Street
Fills the alleys where men sleep
Hides the shepherd from the sheep
- Paul Simon, Bleecker Street

by Greg Saville

Walking through Greenwich Village in New York City, as I did last week, is like walking through American history. It reminded me of Simon and Garfunkle's 1960s song Bleecker Street, a nostalgic ode partly about a neighborhood New Yorkers call ‘The Village'. 

Greenwich Village is the place of America’s first integrated nightclub with Billy Holiday and where Edgar Allan Poe wrote poetry. It’s the neighborhood where Albert Einstein, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charlie Chaplin sat for sculptor Jo Davidson, and where Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsberg started the Beat Movement. Bob Dylan started here. Jewish intellectuals fled Nazi Germany to the Greenwich Village campus of the New School for Social Research. 

Springtime stroll in Washington Square Park
Breathing life into the neighborhood is Washington Square Park, the nexus of public life in The Village. Fifty-seven years ago another Greenwich Village luminary, Jane Jacobs, published her landmark text, The Death and Life of Great American Cities in which she wrote about the attempted destruction of Washington Square Park. 


In 1961 Washington Square Park was to be cut in half by an expressway and a pedestrian overpass, diced into slices by Robert Moses, former NYC Parks Commissioner. Moses was a leader in the modernist movement of city planning and, more than others, he led an urban renewal revolution to build expressways and expand growth into suburbs. 

Enjoying an afternoon in the park
On one hand, Moses built hundreds of city parks and public swimming pools, but on the other he divided neighborhoods with an orgy of expressway building. In the late 1950s, Washington Square Park, the lifeblood of Greenwich Village, was next in line; that is until Jacobs and her fellow Greenwich neighbors mobilized public support against the plan.

It’s difficult to imagine the decimation of Greenwich Village, the heritage it entailed, and the history it enshrined if Moses had been able to plow a wide expressway through the beating heart of that park. In many ways, Jacobs and others launched a crusade against Moses and modernist planning theory.  Fortunately for us, she succeeded.

Street piano in the park
A half-century after those battles, a stroll through this iconic Greenwich Village park offers tangible proof how, at least in this case, local efforts and bottom-up thinking blew away the master planning fog of some top-down schemers.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Glass half full - Asset mapping

Community-based asset mapping in Hollygrove, New Orleans
- photo by Claire Vancauwemberge  

by Mateja Mihinjac

I recently read John McKnight’s 1995 book The Careless Society: The Community and its Counterfeits. It reminded me of the vital importance in what we term vision-based asset mapping in our SafeGrowth work.

McKnight shows how elevating community capacities, rather than focusing on community deficiencies, can mitigate the many threats to community life that stem from a forest of unfocused and inefficient social services.


The book’s core premise of “a glass half full” explains why systems of professionalized social services embedded within our daily lives fail to generate authentic citizen communities that care. As we teach in SafeGrowth, building cohesion in troubled communities is difficult when residents don’t care, or when they expect other organizations to solve local problems with no local involvement.

Public exercise area for nearby apartments - fitness assets for everyone

The issue McKnight sees with communities surrendering their power to the social service system is the assumption that communities are not able to identify their problems and solve them on their own, or with the assistance of others.

Thus starts the dependency-creating cycle that external service providers propagate. Then, as service professionals present themselves as experts with a suite of solutions to proposed problems, they often justify their own raison d’ĂȘtre while contributing little to positive change in the communities that have become dependent on them.

Asset mapping can reveal empty lots ideal for building community gardens

All this generates negative side effects and leads to a disabled citizenry and weakened community ties resulting in a loss in local capacity to self-organize. In effect, says McKnight, we become surrounded by community services but isolated from the community.

This does not mean that social services and others offer no value. However, communities need to themselves identify these services as useful and thus become active, rather than passive, actors in the life of their community.


McKnight offers asset mapping as a tool for empowering communities and building capacity.

In our SafeGrowth work we help residents tap into the neighborhood resources to realize whatever vision they create to resolve problems within their neighborhood. We use this neighborhood social analysis as an important part of visioning and problem identification.

Some SafeGrowth teams employ GPS mapping software

However, unlike McKnight’s broad scan, we tailor our approach into vision-based asset mapping - tailoring assets toward a specific vision for that problem. This step is repeated for different areas gradually building a repertoire of assets for the entire neighborhood. Neighbors themselves learn not only much more about local gifts for capacity-building right at their fingertips, but they learn how to use them for problem-solving.

The vision-based asset mapping approach empowers residents to become active in solving neighborhood problems. At the same time, they choose what social services to summon and reduce their dependency on external service providers.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A tool for the archaeology of fear

Safety Audits examine the nighttime city

by Greg Saville

They link neighbors in common cause against crime and they collect data to build fear maps in ways never before possible. And yet community Safety Audits are among the most misunderstood, and misused, tools in CPTED. 

In 2005 the United Nations Habitat program recommended the Safety Audit as a method to assess street crime and fear around the world. Safety Audits originated in the 1980s as a method to assess safety in bus and subway stops during the infamous Scarborough serial rapist crimes in suburban Toronto (ending with the arrest of serial murderer/rapist Paul Bernardo and his wife Karla Homolka).

I took part in those original Toronto Subway Safety Audits in 1988 and published a study about their power to unify residents as they record their perceptions of the neighborhood at night. Properly facilitated and staffed, Safety Audits are unique and empowering and they collect information not available on standard fear of crime surveys.

Parking lots are a frequent target of Safety Audits

The first mistake is to think Safety Audits are the same as CPTED surveys or visual inspections for crime prevention. CPTED surveys work well on buildings and streets to assess crime opportunities in the nooks and crannies of everyday places. But CPTED experts cannot conduct a properly implemented Safety Audit; rather they can only facilitate residents. It is the native intelligence of residents that is recorded in a Safety Audit, not the assessment of an expert.

Some think Safety Audits are the same as a community walkabout, a Jane’s Walk, or Night-Out-Against-Crime. Those are not a systematic and coherent data collection activity like a Safety Audit.


Authentic community Safety Audits:
  • Use a small group of locals to answer audit questions
  • Are generally conducted at night 
  • Are conducted within a 75 yard/meter radius of a location and then move to other locations to audit an entire area
  • Include women since they experience the night environment different than men.

Police, residents, CPTED facilitators, and others participate in Safety Audits

Unlike CPTED surveys, Safety Audits extend beyond the physical environment and hone in on social factors: How involved are local residents about their neighborhood? What is the history of this place? How might local residents help improve conditions? 

The latest versions of Safety Audits use computer tablets and GPS enabled software to more accurately record fear and map perceptions. A few years ago I recorded a VLOG with LISC Safety coordinator Mona Mangat on how to conduct a proper Safety Audit.  

Safety Audits are the ideal tool for crime archaeology – they help residents dig up fear and perception discoveries of their nighttime city that may be invisible in other crime assessment methods. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Thoughts on public washrooms

Safe toilet design and access - Humanizing public spaces 
by Tarah Hodgkinson 

Awhile back I took my students to Commercial Drive, a popular commercial corridor in Vancouver, to complete a community safety audit. We visited a few park locations surrounding the main corridor, each of which had a public washroom. This isn’t unusual, but when I encouraged my students to check out the parks they reported that the washrooms were locked... ALL of them! In the middle of the day!


On one of the public washrooms there was a notice to call the city to have the doors unlocked. First call: Answering machine. Second call: They said they would arrive in 30 minutes. I couldn’t believe it! Thankfully, I wasn’t pregnant, toting around children, or anything else that might have made washroom access an emergency.

I’m happy to report that when I took another group of students to Commercial Drive this year, the washrooms were open, clean and accessible. That was a far cry from the locked doors we had seen the year prior, a much too common experience in Vancouver and many cities across Canada and the United States. This raises an important issue we often do not talk about regarding neighbourhood safety - access to clean and safe washroom facilities.


I was reminded of this issue when I visited Australia recently and discovered public washrooms everywhere, not only in Brisbane, but in the Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Sydney and anywhere else I went. For someone who drinks a LOT of water, washroom access is an important part of my daily activities. As someone who has been a caregiver for a person living with multiple sclerosis, washroom access is an absolute necessity.

Proper signage showing where to go
How could my home country, famous for being socially minded, not provide the basic human dignity of clean and accessible public washrooms as in Australia?

Public spaces aren’t created by the people who live there and too often the needs of the public, especially the needs of the disabled, marginalized or disempowered, are ignored in creating these spaces. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the design and management of public washrooms.

In some cities, public washrooms are places of increased target hardening to prevent undesirable behaviour such as drug use and sexual solicitation. For example, many of the public washrooms in Calgary have blue lights that purport to make it impossible to find a vein, a controversial strategy challenged by actual research. Others, like those on Commercial Drive, have found ways of reducing hours of operation and in some cases removing them all together.

Australian public toilets
Is locking down and removing public washrooms the way to solve illegitimate use? Could we encourage local government to invest in cleaning and checking these places on a more regular basis - such as the self cleaning bathrooms in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver? Could we provide safer alternatives for these users (similar to safe injection sites) instead of punishing the public by locking down places that address basic human needs? If other countries like Australia have figured it out, I think there is hope for Canadian and U.S. cities as well.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Unobtrusive security and alternatives to bollards - Part 2

The Canadian Embassy in Washington combines aesthetics with security
 - photo Creative Commons, Wiki 
By Mateja Mihinjac

Last week I outlined why the problem of vehicular attacks on pedestrians demands thinking beyond target hardening. These incidents cannot be simply eradicated through design, but some of the alternatives below offer possibilities for reducing negative social impacts that accompany hyper-security.


One way to avoid perpetuating fear and altering aesthetics of public spaces is to transform overt, obtrusive security to less visible (or invisible) security. Instead of fortressing our cities and increasing mass surveillance, target hardening practices can be integrated into the environment (e.g. street furniture, layout, paving styles, use of special materials).

Multiple cases of concrete bollards painted by local artists and activists show that citizens care about the appearance of their public spaces and the message they convey to their users. Other less obtrusive strategies include natural barriers such as rain gardens, ponds, bridges and Ha-Ha walls.

Simple, reinforced planters can provide security and image
Successful experiments have also demonstrated how altering pedestrian movement through playful and non-obtrusive designs such as floor markings and mirrors prompts people to use a designated safe route and foster their connection to both place and their users.

Congruent with the smart city movement, new invisible technical solutions are also possible. Sweden is now testing geo-fencing on a large scale before the country may be the first to implement this approach in a fight against heavy vehicles attacks. In the U.S., architects are designing safer schools.

Another popular option includes altering zoning practices in city centers such as special downtown zones that limit vehicle use to light-weight and slow-speed vehicles or pedestrian-only areas. Such zones have a life of their own. They provide opportunities for people to explore and enjoy them. Concurrently they help reclaim public space through reprogramming a restricted area into a positive land use. They also demand improved pedestrian infrastructure and street networks that support easy and safe movement.

Altered zoning practices can create pedestrian-only areas
The ideas about walkable and human scale design have culminated in practices such as the Barnes dance intersections. The World Resources Institute also provides a detailed overview of measures that prioritize a safe and human scale transport design.

New York's Highline Park is a pedestrian-only, elevated park above street level


Security professionals, designers and planners can balance security and socially-appropriate measures by providing safety and support connections as well as interactions between people. Obtrusive security measures divide and create barriers between people. There are better alternatives.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Rethinking bollards in public places - Part 1

Retractable anti-ramming bollards - photo by Apostoloff, Wikimedia Commons

By Mateja Mihinjac

Over the past few years, several western cities have seen an increase in attacks on pedestrians by vehicle ramming into masses of people. For example, New York's vehicle ramming last October that killed 8 people or the 2014 terror attack south of Montreal in which two Canadian soldiers were run down in a parking lot. 

In a bid to protect these soft targets, jurisdictions around the world have been installing concrete bollards and other hardened access control mechanisms. These measures intend to slow down or stop a vehicle or absorb an impact in the event of a crash. Some include:
  • Chicanes
  • Fortification through concrete bollards
  • Decorative planters, large rocks
  • Steel bollards (photo above)
  • Remote-controlled hydraulic barriers
  • Walls and hardened, bulletproof glass.

Although these design features are not new, they are instant reactionary solutions to vehicular attacks. As The National puts it: “the use of concrete blocks shows that cities have failed to incorporate effective anti-terrorist features, and are more for public reassurance”. Hyper-security measures neglect appropriateness and social acceptance. 


It might be too early to tell whether such measures prevent further attacks, but relying on obtrusive and defensive practices alone has already raised doubts about their appropriateness. Those doubts arise from feelings of false reassurance, unsightly bollards, and ugly aesthetics. Further, there are risks of displacement to more vulnerable targets and inadequate experience by designers and security officials while implementing high security, target hardening in public places.

Dressing bollards in Brisbane - beautifying a concrete block
In today’s high-risk society it is clear that something must be done to secure public safety. At the same time, target hardened solutions obsess on security at the expense of the democratic use of public spaces, what one author calls the paradox of democracy and hypersecurity.

Do these practices foster a culture of fear and alienation instead of a sense of security and kinship? We need to consider the impact of target hardened community spaces in the public realm, including freedom of movement and positive social interactions. The question is, What is the right balance?

Next week’s blog will provide some alternative practices for a better balance between security and socially-appropriate measures. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Bipolar CPTED - Inclusion or Exclusion?

Access controls with lavender - CPTED can be beautiful
by Gregory Saville

Reflecting on Tarah's excellent blog last week on the need for access control in public housing, I came across an article I wrote a few years ago that adds another dimension to the access control story. I thought I’d share…

CPTED is inclusive, but only if it is used to help residents socialize and take ownership of their common spaces. If not, the results are like the sugar-sweet candy bar; it tastes yummy and satisfies children, but if overused it leads to heart disease and, when the sugar kicks in, the kids go nuts.  

How does it work? CPTED reduces crime by dividing the public realm into semi-public and semi-private spaces. For example, architects design a landscaped courtyard in front of an apartment building entranceway so residents feel that space belongs to them. But CPTED can also exclude some groups. 

Access control fencing around hotel
Is it needed? What's the crime like outside the fence?

Developers use access control to build exclusive gated communities to keep outsiders away from wealthy, enclosed residential areas. Or the tactic called target hardening might use reinforced bullet-proof windows in bank teller areas to deter robbers. But that can also create a psychological barrier between legitimate customers and make it difficult for tellers to provide a more personal service and get to know their customers.


Sometimes CPTED can have both inclusionary and exclusionary impact. For example, back in the 1980s and 1990s, Los Angeles and Dayton, Ohio barricaded selected road entrances into high crime neighborhoods to cut drive-by shooting and drug dealing. Barricading and target hardening are the candy of CPTED - they feel good and they feel they should work. And sure enough, shootings and drug activity did decrease, at least initially. But later crime increased as criminals adapted to the barricades. Furthermore, residents complained about being more isolated, the inconvenience of the barriers, the traffic impact on nearby neighborhoods. Worse still, in Los Angeles they complained about not being invited to participate in planning.

Inclusionary public plaza in Europe - No fences required
Clearly, CPTED has a bipolar nature – inclusion vs exclusion. The devil truly is in the details! As Jacobs said in Death and Life of Great American Cities: “The first thing to understand is that the public peace …of cities is not kept primarily by the police, necessary as they are. It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.”


Beware of these exclusionary triggers:

  • CPTED checklists that list details for design. Some details can help, for example, lighting. But not always. Lighting research is inconclusive! In some cases, increased lighting can attract unwanted activity, or make it easier for drug dealers to see oncoming police. Therefore lighting may cause more harm than good. It may be necessary to turn lights out to cut crime. A better alternative to checklists is CPTED guidelines with examples and photos of positive designs, and requirements for a proper risk assessment prior to CPTED tactics.
  • CPTED that controls access, such as fencing around property, but doesn’t provide alternatives for socialization. For example, when children walk down residential streets lined with chain link fences they learn they are outsiders in their own neighborhood. Children need inclusive, semi-public play areas near where they live to feel they belong.
  • CPTED courses that teach students design tactics but ignore, or pay minimal attention, to 2nd Generation CPTED. That is where exclusionary errors begin! 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Shoot the girl - CPTED in public housing

Public housing, London, UK. - photo Iridiscenti Creative Commons

by Tarah Hodgkinson

A few years ago, a scorned lover walked onto a public housing project and shot his ex-girlfriend. She lived but has suffered terribly with her injuries ever since. The man did not live there, so how was he able to get onto the property and shoot his ex? Was this a fluke, spur-of-the-moment occurrence that might have been prevented?

In a journal article coming out this year, myself and some colleagues describe how we used crime mapping and analysis to examine questions about such crimes in public housing. We compared the police calls for service over a 7 year period at four nearby public housing facilities of similar size and occupancy. The housing where the shooting (and many other crimes) occurred went through a massive reconstruction during this time. This construction was intended to upgrade the living facilities and improve the overall livability and security of the location.


However, after the construction, we found not only did calls for police service start going back up, but they did so dramatically. In fact, the trend was increasing at a rate that surpassed previous levels of calls for service. This seems counter-intuitive. Why would a place that had made improvements to the image and maintenance of the property, as well as security, see an increase in calls for service when the other public housing developments didn’t?

We conducted field research that provided some context. While interviews with property managers demonstrated knowledge of security measures, particularly CPTED principles, some of these principles were not properly implemented in the redesign.

Another example of public housing with poor access controls - Vancouver, BC

For example, they constructed a large fence around the perimeter but failed to replace access control gates and security at key points. The redesign had major openings with no gates or doors to restrict outsiders from entering or exiting. While the entire site was fenced, there was no real access control in or out of the property. Unlike other locations we examined, not only did this facility not have security at the entranceways, it lacked a strong community presence. Thus, there were very little natural surveillance opportunities or proper access controls at the entry points where it mattered most.

Clearly, the lack of proper security measures in public housing, like access control and surveillance, can increase the risk of victimization. In this case, it is unsurprising that an outsider was able to walk right through the front entrance, unchallenged, and shoot his ex-girlfriend.

The implications of poorly implemented CPTED are clear, particularly for responsibility and accountability: accountability for competently implementing CPTED principles in a high-risk location, and responsibility for adequate security in public housing facilities to protect vulnerable residents.