Designing against Crime

By McCormick, Joel | Parks & Recreation, May 2006 | Go to article overview
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Designing against Crime


McCormick, Joel, Parks & Recreation


Time spent at the drafting table can make parks and green spaces safer.

Imagine being afraid to jog in your local park. Or perhaps you're one day shocked to find graffiti painted on the playground where you like to take your children. Imagine avoiding a nearby green space because of fear. This isn't a myth for many communities-it's a reality.

Park life is invaluable. Not only do park and recreation professionals recognize the benefit of fresh air and green space, but recent research has shown that the kind of experience park-goers receive is a psychological imperative for relaxation and happiness. The concern and stigma of crime is threatening our park and recreation areas, especially in urban environments.

The places that were built to rejuvenate us and to provide places for our children to play and grow often serve as "hang-outs" for criminals, including drug dealers and prostitutes. In fact, researchers reported in a 1992 study that "fear of criminal victimization threatens the quality of life of many Americans [and] almost half of the U.S. population has reported feeling unsafe in areas within a mile of their homes."

Consequently, it has become a part of routine park management to make parks and green spaces both regenerative, attractive, natural-looking areas while maintaining safety and peace of mind for the public.

Fortunately, a model for dealing with this universal problem has been effectively put into action. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a term described by C. Ray Jeffreys in his 1971 book of the same title. Jeffreys defines CPTED as the "proper design and effective use of the built environment that can lead to a reduction in the fear and the incidence of crime, and an improvement in the quality of life." CPTED principles provide park users a comforting, safe feeling while discouraging potential criminals, therefore reducing crime proactively and unobtrusively.

CPTED is not a check list, nor is CPTED an easy fix for all situations. Good CPTED for one area may be completely inappropriate in another area. For example raising the crown of a tree in one area may open up the field of vision in a trail, but in another area it could kill the tree. A fix for the latter area would involve diverting the trail instead of trimming the tree. Therefore, CPTED is site and situation specific.

There are four main principles to CPTED:

1. Natural Surveillance: This is keeping the environment maintained so that people can be easily seen by other users, staff, and anyone who may pass by the park, trail or playground.

2. Natural Access Control: You want natural access ingress and egress controlled by some means, such as a fence or a flower bed. In other cases, a hedge or a path could work. The important thing is that something should signal "walk here" and "do not walk" there. Therefore, a person in a walking area should not look out of place.

3. Territoriality: Territorial reinforcement is used to distinguish public and private spaces. This can be done by a number of means, including signage, flower beds and mowing. The idea is to show that someone owns and cares about this space. A space that is not used for legitimate park entertainment can quickly be used for some illegitimate, illegal or unwanted activity.

4. Maintenance: Parks should only build what they can maintain. Without maintenance, a public area is inviting criminal behavior.

Joe Murray, an arborist consultant and biology professor at Blue Ridge Community College in Staunton, Va., is a member of The Safer By Design Coalition, an organization that grew within the state because of interest in CPTED. He says that CPTED is well established in Europe and that the coalition is living proof that there is growing interest in the United States.

Murray explains that CPTED works best when it's not intrusive. "A safety design strategy works when it is convenient for the citizen," he says.

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