Urban design is the practice of shaping the built environment, including buildings, streets, public spaces and neighbourhoods, to improve the liveability of cities and towns. When a place is designed well, it provides social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits including increased civic engagement and greater resiliency.
Urban design is important for crime prevention because poorly designed and managed places can create opportunities for crime and make people feel unsafe. However, it is important to note that poor design and management of places are not the only risk factor for crime. Crime is the result of a complex interplay of social and environmental factors that cannot simply be ‘designed out’. A holistic approach focuses on promoting liveability and participation in community not just as a direct means of preventing crime, but as a means for individuals to achieve greater personal satisfaction and quality of life.
Design principles which help make public environments safer include:
- visibility and natural surveillance – places where activities can be easily seen deter potential offenders
- access, movement and sightlines – crime is less likely to occur in places where there are clear, well defined routes and people can easily enter and leave
- activity – maximising the use of public places by a mix of people encourages social interaction and cohesion, increases visibility and surveillance by passers-by and reduces the risk of crime
- ownership – places that generate a sense of ownership among users discourage crime. This is best achieved by creating partnerships within the community and coordinating shared activities and programs
- maintenance – public places that are well managed and maintained generally feel safer and encourage people to use them. This in turn encourages activity and natural surveillance
- co-design – designers and planners should engage meaningfully with future or current users in a way that takes into account gender, sexuality, ability, age, race and other considerations that may affect an individual or groups’ use of a space and how safe they feel.
Changing the built environment can be difficult and costly, so applying good urban design at the outset can help to prevent problems and greater expense later. Where this is not possible and there are existing crime problems, applying good urban design principles to a particular location is one way in which a crime problem can be addressed. Good urban design should also address the accessibility and sustainability of the site and include consideration of the ongoing engagement, activation and management that is necessary to ensure a safe, welcoming and inclusive community space.
Websites/links for inspiration and information
- Exploring the Ways Arts and Culture Intersect with Public Safety : a paper that examines creative placemaking and its impact on community safety and wellbeing.
- Programming for Inclusion: Enhancing Equity through Public Space Activation : an article outlining steps to ensure space activation programming is inclusive and equitable.
- WebUrbanist : this site has an archive of over 5000 articles covering innovations in urban architecture, design and built environments.
- Trending City : a website with ideas, inspiration and trends for urban living.
- Landezine : a website showcasing innovations in landscape architecture from around the world.
- 6 Low-Cost Techniques to Activate Underused Urban Space : an article and video on an architecture website highlighting low-cost ways to activate urban spaces.
- Active Public Space “How to” Guide : links to a best practice guide for activating public space.
- Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice Neighborhood Activation Study : an article introducing the Neighborhood Activation Study which engaged communities in problem solving and design for crime prevention in New York.
- Creating Safe and Inclusive Public Spaces for Women gives an overview of the role that the design of public spaces plays in creating spaces that are safe, welcoming and accessible for women. It also looks at women's experiences of public spaces, and highlights the importance of women's voices and expertise in creating spaces that are safe and inclusive for everyone.