Design Strategies for Limiting Crime and Increasing Safety

By Martin, Allen; Brinn-Feinberg, Victoria | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Design Strategies for Limiting Crime and Increasing Safety

Martin, Allen, Brinn-Feinberg, Victoria, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Key Words: Crime Prevention, Design, Environment, Community


Family and consumer sciences professionals could play an instrumental role in shaping public policy to reduce crime, by working with government officials and design professionals involved in the planning process of communities. By incorporating the elements of good design, the incidence and severity of crime can be mitigated. Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (OPTED) is a technique documented to reduce crime in communities in which its principles have been adopted.

Crimes against individuals and property have been decreasing in the recent past (Belluck, 2000). The installation and use of home security systems and private security services, however, have increased ("Going to Market", 1990). Many individuals, educators, and community leaders realize that in order to address crime, public policy must move beyond the traditional methods of policing to find creative ways to enhance public safety. The purpose of this paper is to examine methods to make a community safer by using the elements of good design to deter crime. Additionally, certain steps are outlined for family and consumer sciences professionals interested in working to help make their communities safer.


Historically, communities have seen selfpolicing as the responsibility of governing organizations and institutions. These organizations, such as schools, churches, governments, and citizen groups have kept both the old and young involved. Today, many Americans live in communities far away from where they work or go to school. Many of the traditional governing institutions are withdrawing or declining, therefore hastening the deterioration of their communities (Powers, 1995).

Family and consumer sciences professionals, architects, city planners, and law enforcement agencies have been working together to find design strategies to improve the quality of life for individuals and families. One of the most commonly discussed design philosophies is CPTED - Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. If CPTED techniques are applied properly, the homeowner can reduce the chances of becoming a victim of crime. The CPTED premise is that proper design and effective use of the environment can lead to a reduction in the incidence and fear of crime, a reduction in calls for police service, and an increase in the quality of life (Crowe, 1991).

It has become increasingly important to find methods and means to stop crime before it occurs. Simply hiring more police officers does not always solve criminal activity problems. Community and individual involvement are also important. Residents are often the most knowledgeable about crime in their neighborhoods. Bringing together residents, design professionals, governmental officials, and beat officers - all of the important stakeholders-will dispel the myth that police officers alone are responsible for crime prevention, emphasizing instead that everyone has a role to play.


In 1961, Jane Jacobs, an architectural critic, wrote about changing urban patterns in housing in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She contended that newer forms of planning eliminated some of the traditional controls on criminal behavior. The typical relationship of house, sidewalk, and street had been replaced by high-rise apartment buildings that were isolated and no longer allowed for "eyes on the street" observation of activities. Neighbors no longer knew neighbors and people of lower socioeconomic backgrounds were warehoused in public housing high-rise blocks, where it was impossible to know who belonged in the building and who did not.

Oscar Newman, architect and researcher, building on themes identified by Jacobs, wrote his landmark book Defensible Space in 1972. He first studied the infamous Pruitt-Igoe public housing project and noted that the public spaces were in much worse condition than the individual apartments in which people lived.

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