Design’s role in creating safer cities and neighborhoods

Look around you. When out and about in your city or neighborhood, are the streets and buildings well-lit? Are buildings and open spaces well aligned for visibility and wayfinding? Are public/common areas comfortable and do they invite community gathering?

Now notice how you feel. Do you have a level of comfort that inspires exploration of your surroundings? Are transportation stations/stops accessible, obvious, and protected from the elements? Are you confident you can safely get where you need to go? Is there public art and green space to enjoy?

From both a user experience and crime prevention perspective, these are just a few of the things we consider when we think about people in context of the built environment and how design can effectively bolster safety and security, as well as a sense of community.

A project manager and architect with Cushing Terrell for the past 12 years, I recently completed training for Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and am working to apply this knowledge on projects across our firm.

What is CPTED, you ask? The philosophy behind CPTED is to provide proper design and effective use of the built environment to reduce crime and improve quality of life (National Institute of Crime Prevention). The goal is to reduce opportunities for crime that may be inherent in the design of buildings and structures, public spaces, and neighborhoods.

The four main principles of CPTED are:

  • Natural surveillance: the design of spaces and buildings to provide opportunities for people in an area to observe what’s going on around them while they go about their business.
  • Natural access control: physical design that encourages and channels movement to certain spaces and deters movement into others.
  • Territorial reinforcement: features that define property lines and distinguish private spaces from public spaces.
  • Place maintenance: ensuring places are appropriately utilized and well cared for — places that feel respected tend to stay that way.

Applying CPTED analysis in the early planning and design phases allows us to identify where we can make changes to the physical and social environment that will reinforce positive behavior. With early collaboration among developers, planners, architects, landscape architects, law enforcement, security consultants, facilities personnel, and electrical engineers, everyone has a role and contributes to the conversation. Diverse stakeholders, with a focus on safety and crime prevention, help ensure all perspectives are considered.

One of the great things about CPTED is the ongoing training, not to mention that it’s designed for just about anyone who would have a role in shaping public places. For me as an architect, this is a lasting way to make a positive difference in our communities.

Ronda Carlson has 25 years of experience as a project architect on a range of building types. For the past six years, she’s led teams focused on education projects throughout Montana and Wyoming. Through this work, she gained an increased awareness of the need for thoughtful security design strategies, not only in schools but across the project spectrum. As a result, she completed training as a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) certified practitioner to drive changes in the physical and social environment that reinforce positive behavior and reduce crime.