Innovative approaches to Urban Security

In addition to the visible challenges of mobility, human settlements and environmental sustainability, city planners have to think about Urban Security.

Cities have been said to the “honeypot of criminal activities where incidents of muggings, car-jacking, house burglaries and occasional hooliganism are common. . Recent times have also seen cities become prime targets for terrorist activities.

A recent survey by UN-Habitat on The City of Nairobi found that 37% of all Nairobis residents had been a victim of a robbery and 22% a victim of a theft at least once during the previous year. A further 18% had also been personally physically assaulted.

As the starting point of the built environment, it is the planners responsibility to lay the foundations towards safer cities. Some cities have made various strides towards this in later stages; Nairobi, for instance, increased night-time lighting many residential areas including informal settlements. The Delhi metro maintains wagons exclusively for women to protect them from harassment. Stadia around the world are built with easily accessible and separate exit routes for opposing supporters to avoid conflict while stone walled fencing is the norm in most residential areas in developing cities.

In the past many cities  embraced the “Police only approach towards crime prevention.  With the large sizes of urban centers this approach has been noted to be unsustainable. Modern times have seen the development of  integrated action by police, government, private sector and citizens. An additional feature is the involvement of other professionals via Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). CPTED is a low cost yet highly effective method of fighting security challenges by bringing together security concepts, architectural and situational elements, and security technologies. It uses the built environment as a means of reducing the incidence of crime, the fear of crime, and to improve the quality of life.

Akila Police Post, South C

Closely related to New-Urbanism, CPTED involves the application of physical design principles to an area in order to minimize the environmental support for criminal behavior. CPTED focuses on “defensible space and territoriality emphasizing accessibility and permeability (walkability).

CPTED sees that there are three principles applied in the built environment:

  1. Natural Surveillance: People should easily observe the space around them and eliminate hiding places, e.g. creating on the front of the buildingvia windows, porches, and balconies. Clear views of public spaces from buildings, urban lighting of pedestrian ways, bus-stop design, design of entrances to parking facilities and other stops, transparency of shop fronts and building entrances. These create natural surveillance opportunities and ward  off potential criminals.
  2. Territoriality: Providing clear designation between public, private, and semi-private areas and making it easier for people to understand, and participate in, an areas intended use. Avoiding enclaves in cities, creating vitality and openness in towns, avoiding physical barriers and wasteland also all contribute with this.
  3. Access Control: to decrease accessibility for criminal purposes gated communities tend to fall into this category, as well as do the presence of security guards and barriers. Poor CPTED includes night lighting at a house that is “too bright, fences that block natural surveillance and poor location of security guards. Dumping of garbage works against access control as it portrays that nobody cares about that environment.

Crime prevention may also extend beyond physical design and focus on social issues thus offering even more enhanced and realistic crime prevention strategies. Involving the community, social interactions often additionally significantly assist in preventing crime.

What are some of the innovative means  of crime prevention? How has your city dealt with security issues?

6 thoughts on “Planners: Does Security in Urban Centres begin with you?

  1. What they about security beginning with you and me creates a bed of roses for those tasked with maintaining that security for all citizens since they use that to hold us hostage and not carry out their responsibilities.

  2. CPTED is a very attractive idea, however, there are no proofs that it actually reduce violence in the public space (some success has been measured for burglary) or increase feelings of safety. On the contrary, it has been emphasized how the construction of “defensible spaces” (a concept on which CPTED is based) may bring about social exclusion, hence increasing the structural issues at the roots of crime and violence.

  3. Jane Jacobs wrote a long time ago that “if streets were made safe, the city is rendered safe”. How to make streets safe. Perimeter block development with buildings facing the street and “active frontages” at ground floor are essential. We have applied this in places as different as Soweto, Christchurch, Muscat, Darwin and Melbourne and it works in all contexts. The opposite is to disconnect buildings and surveillance from the street, put up high walls, reduce visibility and gate the streets. This does not work in the long run and leads to social and economic decay.

  4. even with proper lighting people get robed, it is just up to us to be a brother’s keeper. watch out for funny behaviors and help out victims. I have been a resident of Mombasa and the place is relatively safer, people walk on the streets while using their phones comfortably which is not the case here. Maybe we should ask the people of Mombasa what they did to achieve this.

  5. Active frontages is what lacks in Nairobi nowadays. New buildings are detached from the street. This is prevalent in Westlands, Kilimani, Upperhill etc. Old buildings like Hilton Hotel or Lonhro Towers have their shops fronted on the street, not behind walls like new ones like Delta Corner or Fortis Towers.

    Seems this is what is preferred today by architects and developers, but it creates lonely, unsafe, non-interactive streets. Moreover these behind the wall developments are suited towards those with cars, ignoring the masses of pedestrians, which doesn’t sound like a good business plan.

  6. The concept of CPTED was a noble one
    And as such it has recieved both acknowledgement and critism in equal breath
    What one must understand is that this is not a one gunshot to deal with crime.
    Experience world over points out the need for an integrated approach where crime prevention must involve and embrace the following:::
    1:situational crime prevetion..
    2:socio..economic strategy
    3law enforcement agents enhancement

    planners as key stakeholders and players in the built environment must start seeing this as a entry point towards a developing a sustainable urban environment and community

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