Building security through architecture, urban planning


The built environment can be designed and modified to reduce vulnerability in many ways: vulnerability from the effects of climate change, vulnerability from rapid urban growth, but most important of all, vulnerability from crime. In my 42 years of experience as an architect and 40 years as an urban planner in 38 countries and observing 63 cities, I have seen just how environmental and urban design guidelines have evolved to accommodate the changing dynamics and demography of cities, and their direct impact on city land uses and zoning ordinances in preventing criminality in many cities around the world.

Barbara Nadel’s book, Building Security: Handbook for Architectural Planning and Design surmises that traditionally, crime prevention emphasized opportunity reduction through property. Bars on windows and doors, alarm systems, cameras, gates, and other so-called “target hardening” techniques were used to protect people and property. These measures are essential for residents and businesses, and some facilities like banks. However, hardening of potential crime targets can be expensive and disruptive.

Thus, it became the responsibility of each citizen to know about basic building security, disaster planning, and emergency response, and the responsibility of the local/national government officials, architects, planners, engineers, and designers to balance security and good design with building understanding and cooperation among diverse nations and societies to create a well-designed, safe, humane environment for people to live, work, play, and study.

Two notable personalities in architecture and urban planning played central roles in discussing the importance of environmental planning and design in creating safer urban environments. One of them is architect and urban planner Oscar Newman, who wrote the book Defensible Space, Crime Prevention Through Urban Design in 1972, and the other is author Jane Jacobs, whose book, The Death and Life of American Cities, made residents and planners realize that there is a way to shape a city neighborhood and make it safer for its residents.

Eyes on the street
More a writer than an urban planner, Jane Jacobs wrote her observations and experiences as a resident of New York City’s Greenwich Village. Jacobs recounted how some areas of her village were productive and safe, while other areas only a few blocks away were nearly abandoned. The more productive neighborhoods included a mix of land uses generating round-the-clock activity; consistent block, site, and building designs; and opportunities for people to watch out for one another. These observations forever changed urban design and planning, influenced further research on crime and offenders, and led to the concept of “eyes on the street,” where streets are deemed safer when more people are on them.

According to Jacobs, there are three main qualities of successful city neighborhoods:

First, there must be a clear demarcation between what public space is and what is private space.

Second, there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street must be oriented to the street.

And third, the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously to add the number of effective eyes on the street. However, Jacobs emphasized that “the safety of the street works best where people are using and most enjoying the streets voluntarily and are least conscious, normally, that they are policing.”

Criminals are not scared of walls. They are more afraid of windows, because behind windows are potential witnesses.

Effective city neighborhoods, further writes Jacobs, are largely dependent on physical planning. It should foster lively and interesting streets, make the street fabric as continuous as possible through a district, use parks and squares and public buildings as part of the fabric, and emphasize the functional identity of areas large enough to work as districts.

Crime prevention through environmental design
Oscar Newman helped establish the foundation principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), which criminologist Dr. Ray Jeffrey of Florida State University coined in the seventies. This planning concept aims to improve safety by designing physical environments to influence human behavior in a positive way. It identifies three primary principles: access control, natural surveillance and territorial reinforcement as considerations to be used during the design process for the purpose of creating a safer built environment.

CPTED encourages communities to be proactive in fighting crime. Collective environmental design decisions by planners, architects, designers, and law enforcement officials, along with residents and businesses, can affect a community by influencing human behavior and public perception of community safety. By evaluating urban design elements contributing to crime, decision makers can assess where problems might occur and implement changes before they become permanent in a building or neighborhood.

These influential principles/concepts remain the core foundation of city planning and environmental design, especially for those cities working towards a more livable, sustainable, and crime-free environment. But it’s quite clear that to attain such results, law enforcement, government agencies, local residents, planners, design professionals, and business people need to work closely together to identify crime and quality of life issues before they become serious issues.

(This is the last of a three-part series on “Building security through architecture and urban planning.” The first two parts appeared on May 7 and 14, 2014.)


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1 Comment

  1. Arch. Lito L. Mallonga on

    The Philippines is quite complex with almost 7,100 plus of island
    surrounded by the sea , rivers and lakes. with closed to 100 Million
    people that is still growing with a very small land base.
    Our biggest task is how we can effectively design our community
    through Planning.

    In my own studies & observation every time I visit the Philippines
    nothing has change. More and more people in the provinces goes to
    Metro Cities to look for job specially towards Metro Manila.

    All infrastructure here including Garbage,( No SEGRIGATION)
    Water Distribution, Energy Power ,Sewage where build years ago.
    Migration of people from the different provinces ( Approx. 22 Million)
    now and still growing those infrastructure can no longer can no longer
    cope with the present time.

    Focus & develop the REGIONS and build those infrastructure
    first so we can create more jobs here. Never been
    impressed on those tall building in all Metro Cities. When you
    design and plan make sure they are plan for at least
    50 years and should be integrated with all the other areas
    for expansion.

    The biggest problem we always do is we keep
    on focusing towards building Houses, Town Houses, Shopping
    Centers including Institutional building before we build the
    Infrastructure ( SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT) like what is
    now going on in Makati City, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig and the
    rest of Metro Manila. .Now, can I ask, do we have Sewage
    Treatment Plant in Makati or any in Metro Manila just asking.
    Just to name Gloretta Mall with that big explosion.

    They have been cleaning up Laguna De Bay and Manila Bay,
    clean up first the source and start relocating those squatters
    along the river banks and railways Bring them back to their
    provinces and create more communities outside Metro Cities.

    I explained to my classmate Arch. Filino(Jun) Palafox Jr
    during my visit in PH in 2003. Without large funds it can not be done.
    The recent Yolanda Typhoon can be solved. I am pretty sure it will
    happen again as we do not longer have big tress to act as a buffer to
    stop the winds from above. Remember every year we are always being
    visited by typhoons specially now with climate change. Again
    larges amount of funding will be needed in Billions of Dollars.

    As the saying goes, an Architect regardless if he or she in an
    Urban Planner or not if we need to build a better community for PH.
    one has to get out of the country and learn more on how they are done
    here specially in North America for at least 15 Years or more..

    Yours truly,

    Angelito (Lito) J.L. Mallonga
    Architect UAP