Friday, September 7, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: Designing our way out of crime

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
September 7, 2012

Police in Washington D.C. are joining with developers in the belief that the way things are built can influence the behaviors of criminals and potential victims, reported the Washington Post.
Recently, police officers sat down with architects and contractors as projects were being designed.

The police reached out to developers of major initiatives to request a seat at the table. When developers agreed, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said, “Police can contribute while changes can still be made with the stroke of a pen instead of the rumble of a bulldozer.”

“For many, many years architects have never even considered the design of the facility for crime prevention,” said Police Chief Tom Carney of North Miami Beach. “And what we see is that the facility is designed a certain way and it looks really great, but six months later you have a major crime problem.”

The idea that architectural design can influence crime is not new. In the early 1970s, criminologist C. Ray Jeffrey coined the term Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).

CPTED is a crime prevention strategy that focuses on the planning, design and structure of cities and neighborhoods. It reduces opportunities for crime by using blueprints, crime data and evidence-based management methods.

Crime reduction is achieved by creating environmental and social conditions that:
-- Increase the likelihood of detection, and apprehension;
-- Increase the time, energy and resources required to commit crime;
-- Minimize the actual and perceived benefits of crime; and
-- Minimize the opportunity to commit crime.

“We can target harden a building -- police and security are good at that -- but then you’ve got a fortress,” said Art Hushen, founder of the National Institute of Crime Prevention. “We try to soften it up using these design concepts where we blend them in and they appear to be inviting.”

There are four basic principles to CPTED. Initially, CPTED promotes natural surveillance, “see and be seen.” A potential offender is less likely to act if they think someone will see them. Lighting and landscaping are key components of visibility.

The second principle is natural control. Walkways, fences, signage help direct the flow of traffic while decreasing the opportunity for crime.

The third principle is territorial reinforcement. Through the art of physical design users develop a sense of ownership. Potential offenders are discouraged after they perceive the area is controlled.

The final principle is maintenance. This principle grew out of James Q. Wilson’s “Broken Window Theory.” Neglected and poorly maintained properties invite criminal activity. A Nuisance, unabated, will lead to neighborhood decline.

Pittsburgh neighborhoods are utilizing CPTED to protect their inhabitants and visitors. The Community Design Center of Pittsburgh commissioned a study to improve public safety and reduce vandalism near East Carson Street along the South Side’s Historic Main Street District.

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