We’ve all had the experience of peacefully strolling along a city street at night, enjoying the scene around us. We’ve also had the experience of walking somewhere after dark where we feel unsafe, and hurrying to reach our destination. But what is it exactly that creates this dichotomy of experience? The urban planning theory of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED, pronounced sep-ted) offers some insight into this question.
CPTED refers to designing the urban public realm in a way that reduces the opportunity for crime as well as the fear of crime happening in a given area. Its key principles include natural surveillance, definition of territory, and natural access control. While they aren’t physical design elements, maintenance and human presence are also important factors of CPTED.
Bryant Park in New York City has a significant and successful history of using CPTED principles to reinvigorate a dangerous, disused public space. By the 1970s, this park in the center of Manhattan had fallen into disrepair, was overrun with drug users and prostitutes, and was nicknamed “Needle Park.” In 1980, the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation (now called the Bryant Park Corporation) was formed and created a plan to turn the park around. Major renovations were undertaken to bring the park closer to street level and increase its visibility, since 1988 it was elevated from the street and isolated by tall hedges (natural surveillance). More entrances to the park were added to better integrate it with the surrounding streetscape (access control). Dan Biederman, a founder of the BPRC and a proponent of the “Broken Windows Theory,” instituted a meticulous plan to clean up the park, remove graffiti, and repair damaged architectural elements (maintenance).
The contemporary Bryant Park was reopened in 1992 and its managers were keen to attract as many people as possible, so they established a rigorous year-round calendar of events that are free and open to the public (human presence). Busy spaces create a sense of vitality and security since they increase “eyes on the street” and deter criminals. At left, you can see what Bryant Park looks like today.
Overall, safe and attractive public spaces are essential for the social sustainability of all cities. What are your favorite public spaces that seem to have CPTED principles in mind?
Credits: Image and data linked to sources.