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date: 20 November 2017

Defensible Space

Summary and Keywords

While the term “defensible space” is widely referenced in literature on situational crime pre vention and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, it is commonly mentioned in passing, almost as an historical landmark, with its relationship to more recent work assumed rather than rigorously examined. Yet, Oscar Newman’s work bridged the gap between criminological theories and preventive approaches in the pre-1970s era and the more grounded and policy driven approaches that are common today. Consequently, this article looks at the context within which Newman developed his ideas and revisits his core work. It then considers the initial response from the criminology and planning communities, which focused on the methodological and theoretical weaknesses that undermined what were, essentially, a series of imaginative, exploratory propositions about the influence of design on crime patterns. In this sense, it is clear that Newman both provoked and inspired further research into the relationship between urban design and crime, and indeed, between crime, crime targets, and space, looking at the specific influence of design, technology, social engineering, and so on. Terms such as ownership, visibility, occupancy, accessibility, image, and juxtaposition, which Newman used, are now incorporated into more sophistical theories of situational crime prevention. This article thus offers a reanalysis of defensible space in the context of later refinements and the application of Newman’s ideas to current policies.

Keywords: Oscar Newman, defensible space, situational crime prevention, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, Secured by Design, territoriality, surveillance, building image, juxtaposition

Defensible Space: From Oscar Newman to Crime Prevention through Environmental Design

In a criminological context, the term “defensible space” was conceived by the New York architect and planner, Oscar Newman (1973a), whose first work, Defensible Space, was published in 1972/1973. In this work, he argued that redevelopment, most notably high-rise development, created public spaces that lacked both ownership and oversight and were consequently poorly defended and crime-ridden. In contrast, defensible space was safe space. Newman’s writings were immediately seized on by urban planners and social scientists who criticized his research and underlying theories. However, the concept of defensible space was subsequently broadened and modified by criminologists and planners interested in situational crime prevention, leading to developments such as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Secured by Design (SBD) is one approach to CPTED that has been adopted, especially in the UK (Armitage, 2013).

This article thus begins by looking at the context within which Newman’s theory came to prominence, from the perspectives of the social science and urban planning communities. It then details Newman’s work on defensible space. The third section provides a critique of Newman’s assertions. The final two sections consider the longer term influence of the defensible space concept: first in terms of theories of situational crime prevention and second in terms of its practical application through CPTED and SBD.

Setting the Scene

The development, and subsequent enthusiastic acceptance of Newman’s work needs to be set in context. From a criminological perspective, it came at a time when belief in conventional (social) crime prevention was wavering. From a planning perspective, it drew on the robust defense of urbanism and urban planning that had begun to counter the anti-urbanism assumption that the modern city was inherently flawed.

Until the 1970s, criminological interest invariably centred on offending and offenders. In this context, crime prevention was viewed largely in terms of deterrence through the patrolling presence of the public police and the punitive threat of the prison system, and reform through therapeutic regimes and, in the community, the work of the probation service. However, such cozy assumptions became subject to attack on a variety of fronts. Most notably, the work of labeling theorists (Becker, 1963) and those advocating justice in sentencing (American Friends Service Committee, 1971) argued that labeling someone as in need of treatment could do more harm than good, while various evaluations of sentencing alternatives, brought together in Martinson’s (1975) critique of “what works,” seemed to suggest that different treatment approaches made little difference to subsequent offending levels. The attraction of searching elsewhere for new ways of reducing crime was therefore strong, best illustrated in the UK in the shift in research conducted by the Home Office, under Ron Clarke’s tutelage, with evaluations of treatment programs superseded by a focus on situational crime prevention (e.g., see Clarke, 1992).

At the same time, the concept of defensible space was part of the backlash against an anti-urbanism bias among social scientists, architects, and town planners that was spearheaded in the United States by Elizabeth Wood (1961) and, most notably, Jane Jacobs (1969), with a passionate appeal for a rethink in urban planning policies. For example, Jacobs, a community activist, in her influential book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, argued that the core problem was not urbanization per se, but the way in which cities had been developed. She criticized the urban renewal policies of the 1950s, which, she argued, destroyed communities and created isolated, unnatural urban spaces that were cut off from the self-policing of local citizens, removing the “eyes of the street.” This, according to Jacobs, had at least three key elements. First, she argued that urban planning policy had been responsible for creating ambiguous semipublic areas over which no one had any clear responsibility. Second, she claimed that housing design, with its glorification of privacy, prevented residents from routinely overseeing—and thereby policing—public spaces. Third, she decreed that the creation of irregularly used—and therefore rarely viewed—parks and walkways resulted in a lower potential for the public to act as guardians of the streets and other public areas. Overall, then, urban planning policies coalesced to create a situation where local residents—the eyes of the street—were both less able and less committed to defend space. The message here, albeit with little or no evidence to support it, was unequivocal: crime prevention is possible by addressing the locations where crime most commonly occurs, rather than by focusing exclusively on the social and psychological circumstances that sought to explain why people offend.

While Newman (1973a) only referred to Jacobs’s treatise twice,1 it is clear that his work builds directly on it. This is evident if we look in more detail at Newman’s writings.

Newman’s Defensible Space

Newman identified “four major categories for the discussion of defensible space” (Newman, 1973a, p. 50), features that he alleged improved the defensible space qualities of an environment:

  • Territoriality: the capacity of the physical environment to create perceived zones of territorial influence.

  • Surveillance: the capacity of physical design to provide surveillance opportunities for residents and their agents.

  • Building image: the capacity of physical design to influence the perceptions of a project’s uniqueness, isolation and status/stigma.

  • Juxtaposition: the influence of geographical juxtaposition with so-called safe zones on the security of adjacent areas.

Newman then devoted three chapters (3–5) to detailing how each aspect of design could affect the behavior of two significant categories, potential offenders and potential victims/witnesses.

First, design could establish territoriality where it created the impression that public or semipublic space belonged to local residents—that is, appeared to be private space. This might involve both real and symbolic barriers. Real barriers to access included walls, gates, fencing, and locks. Symbolic barriers, in contrast, involved the use of design to create the impression that areas were private or access was limited. As a result, residents were given a sense of ownership and nonresidents a feeling that they were outsiders.

For Newman, therefore, territoriality is a critical mechanism for creating the impermeable residential environment that defensible space advocates, with the fewest possible entry/exit points, making it well contained and easier to monitor and control.

(Reynald & Elffers, 2009, p. 29)

Second, surveillance, the “capacity of physical design to provide surveillance oppor tunities for residents and their agents” (Newman, 1973a, p. 78), could be maximized by ensuring that public areas were visible from nearby dwellings and that windows in homes were positioned to face neighboring homes so that residents could keep an eye on these properties. Thus:

[i]n theory, Newman’s natural surveillance mechanism serves to reinforce territoriality, because it reduces fear among residents by generating the feeling that they are under constant observation by other residents . . . The increased sense of security that is generated by fostering natural surveillance results in the more frequent use of space by residents, which in turn increases surveillance and improves the desire to defend that space.

(Reynald & Elffers, 2009, p. 29)

Third, image is important since it sends messages to potential offenders. If an area is well cared for, the message is that residents have a sense of pride in their area and will be protective of their property. Conversely, if the area evidences signs of disrepair and lack of care, with graffiti and vandalism highly visible examples of this deterioration in high-rise developments, potential offenders may conclude that residents will be less protective of their own, their neighbors’, and public property, and therefore less inclined to act against outsiders. According to Newman, image could be enhanced through design and choice of building materials, in the latter case using materials that were more difficult to damage. Finally, according to Newman, juxtaposition of residential areas to commercial, social, and good-quality residential units could prevent stigma and isolation and improve natural policing.

Overall, then, Newman asserted that space will be relatively well defended: if it is visible to potential witnesses; if a community spirit exists whereby neighbors are encouraged to guard neutral territory; if a constant stream of potential witnesses passes through the space; and if private territory is clearly demarcated, physically or symbolically.

Newman initially used multivariate analysis to compare offense data from a number of different housing areas in New York. However, the main focus of his first book was on two estates: Van Dyke, comprised of blocks of high-rise flats; and Brownsville, an estate of six-storey structures that had been designed to maximize its defensible space qualities. Newman described Van Dyke as having 50 percent more crime than Brownsville, which he attributed to the different levels of defensible space within the two projects. Ironically, while both projects were high rise (albeit to different degrees), the key message presented from Newman’s work was a rejection of high-rise developments. Essentially, in defending the potential for a safe modern city, high-rise developments were targeted as scapegoats for the evils of urbanism.

This struck a chord with planners in both the United States, where Newman (1973b, 1976) carried out further research—for example, in St. Louis—and the UK, where he was invited to advise on various urban design projects (Newman, 1975). However, much of the initial response from within the criminological community was hostile. The next section therefore summarizes critiques of Newman’s work. Nevertheless, Newman’s legacy is striking. The subsequent section therefore draws on the positive elements of Newman’s theory and considers how later writers have moved on from the rigid comparison of high-rise and low-rise developments to assess how planning can help reduce crime in a variety of different environments.

The Weaknesses in Newman’s Conceptualization

Criticisms of Newman’s work (see, for example, Bottoms, 1974; Hillier, 1973; Hillier & Shu, 2000; Mawby, 1977; Mayhew, 1979; Merry, 1981; Poyner, 1983; Taylor, Gottfredson, & Brower, 1980; Rubenstein, Motoyama, & Hartjens, 1980; Wilson, 1978) largely focused on the two central components of his research: the methodology used to support his arguments and the theoretical and conceptual elements of “defensible space.”

Newman’s research was highly dependent on recorded crime data. However, his research was taking place at a time when labeling theorists and phenomenologists were most vociferous in questioning the reliability and validity of those statistics (Cicourel, 1976; Kitsuse & Cicourel, 1963; Wiles, 1975). As they argued, police statistics are the end product of a series of processes: events must be perceived, “recognized” as illegal, reported to the police (if not directly observed by the police), and recorded as crimes by the police. For example, if, due to design features or other aspects of community responsibilization, witnesses in certain areas decide not to report incidents, then recorded crime rates will appear significantly lower than in areas where the public are more motivated. While recorded statistics are still regularly used by academics, these are commonly supplemented by surveys of residents’ experiences and perceptions of crime; it is also widely recognized that certain crime types are more likely to be reported than others. Thus, vehicle thefts, where victims have multiple reasons to report the theft, are highly likely to be reported, burglaries less so but more where high costs and insurance claims are involved, and at the other extreme, crimes like vandalism are unlikely to be reported. The last-named case is instructive, given that vandalism is a highly public offense, especially in high-rise developments, and that it is an example that Newman commonly cites. However, even allowing for the limitations to official statistics, Newman’s use of crime data is questionable. Three aspects of this issue are worth distinguishing.

First, as already mentioned, Newman initially used multivariate analysis, albeit it apparently revealed few differences according to defensible space qualities. Even here though, the variables included were minimal. In particular, offender rates were not considered, despite the fact that research elsewhere has revealed a strong positive relationship between area offense and offender rates (Baldwin & Bottoms, 1976). Additionally, comparisons by income or social class, which are similarly correlated with offense rates, were limited to new residents.

Second, Newman then focused on two estates, where one had a 50 percent higher crime rate than the other. Why these two estates were selected is unclear, but they may well have been chosen because they best illustrated Newman’s theory. If this was the case, the fact that the difference between them was only 50 percent is worth underlining. Variations in crime rates between different areas or estates within a city, indeed, between different areas of public housing, are commonly far more than this. The Sheffield Study on Urban Social Structure and Crime, for example, conducted at a similar time, found that some areas of public housing had offense rates four times those of other areas of public housing (Baldwin & Bottoms, 1976; Mawby, 1979). The finding that there was “only” a 50 percent difference in crime rates between the well-defended and poorly defended estates is thus scarcely earth-shattering.

Third, and rather differently, Newman treated crimes as though they were broadly similar and all affected by defensible space qualities. On the contrary, the term “crime” covers a variety of acts that vary markedly and might be expected to be affected accordingly by very different influences. For example, crimes may differ according to the nature of the victim—that is, whether the victim is a corporate entity (e.g., shop; office; school; public amenity) or a person. In the case of individual victims, there are then differences according to the relationship between victim and offender (e.g., partner; other family member; friend; acquaintance; stranger) or the relationship between the victim/offender and the crime location (e.g., residents or outsiders). Crimes occur in different types of location (e.g., private dwellings, workplaces, public areas). As is discussed later in this article, these differences mean that different types of crime might be related in different ways to Newman’s typology of defensible space. Yet Newman made no attempt to assess whether either specific offense types, like vehicle-related crimes, or any of the crime/victim/offender aspects cited above—for example, crimes occurring in public areas—varied by estate design.

The theoretical and conceptual elements of defensible space are also questionable. Turning to the four main categories of defensible space identified by Newman, it is pertinent to consider how far, in the context of high-rise or other design features, these provide a credible justification for the theory.

First, Newman identified the capacity of the physical environment to create perceived zones of territorial influence, arguing that if public areas within complexes were perceived to belong to residents, then potential offenders would be deterred. On the face of it, this is a persuasive argument and, as is discussed in the following sections, one that has been developed by later researchers. However, it assumes that offenders will be outsiders. On the contrary, it is widely accepted that much crime in high-crime areas is committed by local residents. Moreover, it also assumes that these outsiders could be easily identified as such and that their states of mind are such that they recognize themselves as outsiders. However, while the territorial influence dimension might deter outsiders from entering such areas on a casual basis, it might not deter the more professional offender, offenders under the influence of drink/drugs, or indeed local residents.

Second, Newman posited that physical design might provide surveillance opportunities for residents and their agents. This notion contained at least two elements: the ability of householders to perceive (and therefore police) what is happening outside their dwelling from the confines of their homes; and the extent to which public and private areas were visible to passers-by in such a way that they would be able to witness crimes occurring in, say, flats, garages, or play areas. Again, the extent to which high rises result in poor surveillance opportunities is questionable and may vary according to the nature of the offense. For example, flat-dwellers may be unable to see what is happening in the corridor outside their front door or in adjacent flats, but they may have excellent long-distance viewpoints to act as the eyes on the street with regard to areas further afield. This author’s early research in Sheffield, for example, produced numerous examples of residents in high-rise developments witnessing break-ins to shops in the center of their estate and phoning the police to report them (Mawby, 1977, 1979). Alternatively, while lifts and stairwells may be low-visibility areas, corridors are relatively well-used areas affording higher visibility to potential witnesses. In contrast, houses with front gardens may give burglars a degree of privacy from passers-by, especially when they are hidden behind walls, fences, shrubs, and the like.

Third, Newman identified the capacity of physical design to influence the perceptions of a project’s uniqueness, isolation, and status. The implication here is that isolation and uniqueness may attract offenders, particularly where visible signs of stigma suggest that the area is uncared-for, a theme later consolidated by others under the “broken windows” concept (Wilson & Kelling, 1982). While this may be true, it also works both ways. Thus, an uncared-for (i.e., dangerous) area might also discourage outsider offenders, who feel at risk from local gangs and other outsiders who might otherwise cut through the area, thus reducing the number of potential targets.

Fourth, Newman described the influence of geographical juxtaposition with so-called safe zones on the security of adjacent areas. Again this is questionable. Considerable evidence suggests that offenders travel limited distances to commit their crimes (Bottoms & Wiles, 2002; Wiles & Costello, 2000). Thus, an area may have a reduced crime rate if it sits in juxtaposition to higher status areas, but the latter might be expected to experience higher rates of crime as they attract offenders from nearby high-rate areas. Equally, commercial areas adjacent to high-crime estates might experience high rates of crime by offenders living nearby.

It is, therefore, arguable that Newman’s original work is flawed, and while in later research and development of his ideas, he reacted to some of the criticisms leveled against him (Newman, 1976, 1996; Newman & Franck, 1980), in many respects these flaws are inherent. However, Newman’s contribution can be considered in a broader context:

Thus, and following Reynald and Elffers (2009), by focusing on residential crime and the impact of design on offense rates, Newman can be seen as the inspiration for much that has subsequently been written about situational crime prevention. Consequently, in the spirit of Mark Antony, who came not to bury Caesar but to praise him, the next sections look beyond Newman and considers the ways in which subsequent writers, in removing the high-rise/low-rise focus from defensible space, developed many of his ideas into mainstream criminological discourses regarding situational crime prevention.

Developing Theory: From Defensible Space to Situational Crime Prevention

Newman’s identification of defensible space marked a move from social to situational crime prevention and a focus on the way in which design influences crime rates and patterns (Reynald, 2015).

Crime prevention, or crime reduction, strategies may target victims/potential victims, property or sites where crimes may occur, and offenders or potential offenders (Sherman, Farrington, Welsh, & MacKenzie, 2002; Sutton, Cherney, & White, 2014; Tilley, 2005; Welsh & Farrington, 2012). While social crime prevention concentrates on offenders or potential offenders, situational crime prevention focuses on victims/potential victims and property or sites where crimes may occur. It is thus more concerned with protecting particular targets, with deterring people from offending in specific places, and it draws on theories of what makes specific targets seem vulnerable or attractive to offenders.

Situational crime prevention approaches are underpinned by criminological theories, supported by empirical evidence, as to why certain properties might be chosen by offenders. Thus, routine activity theory (Cohen & Felson, 1979), rational choice theory (Cromwell, Olson, & Avary, 1991) and crime pattern theory (Brantingham & Brantingham, 2008), while varying in their emphases, essentially focused on opportunities: offenders’ decisions to target specific property based on their knowledge and awareness of the target, and the possibility that these decisions might be changed through the actions of policymakers, practitioners, and potential victims. There are two aspects to this issue: the question of the extent to which design and maintenance features are associated with differential risk; and the extent to which incorporating particular design features into the planning process will reduce crime.

In the former respect, researchers have adopted two broad approaches: (1) many have addressed the statistical relationship between design and location and crime risk; and (2) others have used assessors, sometimes members of the public or students but ideally offenders, to identify their preferred targets, particularly related to burglary (Mawby, 2001). In the former case, Jackson and Winchester’s (1982) early research in Kent in the UK is noteworthy. To clarify the relationship between environmental risk and burglary, the authors constructed an index based on 14 measures of access and surveillance, including set back from the road; accessible at both sides from front and back; and set at a distance from the nearest house. The resulting analysis was unequivocal. While the average burglary risk was 1 in 99, those scoring 0 on the index had a risk of 1 in 1,845 and—at the other extreme—those scoring 9 or more had a risk of 1 in 13! Similarly, Armitage (2006) identified 13 residential environmental factors (the so-called Burgess mechanism) significantly associated with the risk of burglary. These included proximity to open land, road layout, barriers (real or symbolic), and footpath patterns adjacent to the residence. More recently, Reynald (2011a, 2011b), working in the Netherlands, has concentrated on guardianship, distinguishing between the physical potential to carry out supervision of people and places and the willingness to do so. She concluded that crime levels drop significantly as residential guardianship intensifies. For an earlier study, see Van Der Voordt and Van Wegen (1990). A good example of the second approach is work by Cromwell, Olson, and Avary (1991) using what they called “staged activity analysis.” Offenders were asked to reconstruct and simulate their past burglaries during extensive interviews and trips to sites of their (and others’) burglaries. They identified three types of cues burglars used to decide on whether or not to break in:

  • Surveillability: the extent to which the premises are overseen by passers-by and neighbors.

  • Occupancy: as suggested by the presence of a car, noise, lights, and so on.

  • Accessibility: including the presence or absence of window locks, an alarm, and open windows.

A more recent study, by Armitage and Joyce (2017), involved interviews with 22 incarcerated adult male burglars, Each burglar was given photographs of 16 residential properties and asked to identify which they considered the most/least attractive targets and why. They found that the most important considerations in target choice were a lack of surveillance (neighbors and passers-by could not see into the property), poor physical security, and—rather differently—a perception of financial benefits.

These concepts clearly draw much from Newman’s work, particularly regarding territoriality and surveillance, albeit the emphasis has shifted from a narrow focus on high rises to a broader appreciation of the influence of design and lifestyles on urban space. As a reflection of this shift of emphasis, none of the properties in Armitage and Joyce’s research were high rise!

The following dimensions might be derived from Newman’s defensible space concept:

  • Ownership: the extent to which the home and surrounding area is felt to belong to residents.

  • Visibility: whether and to what extent potential crime sites are visible to residents.

  • Occupancy: whether residents are available to see crimes should they occur.

  • Accessibility: whether the area and residential units within it are easily accessible.

  • Image: the extent to which image makes targets more or less attractive.

  • Juxtaposition: whether the location of estates influences crime on the estate or close by.

In addressing these dimensions, two questions arise: what are the qualities of defensible space, as more broadly defined; and what evidence is there that they affect crime rates? Thus:

  • Ownership: in what situations is a sense of ownership created in residential areas; and what evidence is there that an increased feeling of ownership helps reduce crime?

  • Visibility: how is surveillance enhanced in residential (and indeed commercial) areas; and what evidence is there that increased surveillance helps reduce crime?

  • Occupancy: how do occupancy levels vary between residential (and indeed commercial) areas; and what evidence is there that variations in occupancy affect crime rates?

  • Accessibility: how is ease of access restricted in residential (and indeed commercial) areas and properties; and what evidence is there that a reduced accessibility helps reduce crime?

  • Image: how does image vary between residential areas; and what evidence is there that image affects crime?

  • Juxtaposition: what is the relationship between residential areas and areas adjoining them; and what evidence is there that juxtaposition is related to crime levels?

In addressing these six dimensions, it is clear that design features are only part of the answer. Situational crime prevention measures also include technological alternatives (CCTV, lighting, target hardening, etc.); and social changes that may increase community cohesion/efficacy.

Ownership

Ownership and accessibility are, for Newman, the key dimensions of territoriality. In each case, Newman saw design as crucial. Thus, design could establish territoriality where it created the impression that public or semipublic space belonged to local residents, that is, appeared to be private space. If residents felt that they owned not only their homes but also the semipublic space around them, then they would take more pride in that space and provide more guardianship.

There is some element of truth here, albeit by concentrating on the “enemy” as the outsider Newman failed to recognize that neighbors might contest such semipublic space among themselves, leading to internal conflict. However, creating a sense of commitment to the area depends also on sociopolitical measures to empower residents, through support and inclusion.

One strategy is to address the question of how social inclusion might enhance a sense of ownership. Thus, residents’ pride in, and thereby sense of ownership of, their community may involve social and political changes at the neighborhood level. Such community programs that target problem residential areas have indeed been particularly common in the United States (Welsh & Farrington, 2012). One approach, adopted by Sampson and his colleagues, aims to improve community cohesion by developing a sense of neighborhood ownership, or in his terms, collective efficacy (e.g., see Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997). A slightly different emphasis is provided by Communities That Care (CTC) programs (Harachi et al., 2003; Hawkins et al., 2008; Farrington, 1996; Welsh & Farrington, 2012). These are multiple-component community-based programs that are evidence-based and tailored to specific communities. They are initiated at the community level by key community leaders (such as elected representatives, education officials, police chiefs, and business leaders) working as a multi-agency partnership through a community board to identify local problems and develop strategies to tackle them. The CTC initiative is similar in some respects to Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) (Braga, 2002; Goldstein, 1990; Moore, 1992) in seeing crime and delinquency as symptomatic of deeper community problems and investing resources to tackle these underlying problems. The emphasis in these programs, however, contrasts with Newman’s position by seeing residents, rather than outsiders, as part of the crime problem.

Neighborhood Watch takes the notion of policing in a different direction by encouraging local residents, in cooperation with their local police, to take more responsibility for policing their neighborhood. While being an established feature of many Asian communities (Mawby, 1990), in Western societies it originated as a block watch in the United States and was transported across the Atlantic and metamorphosed as Neighborhood Watch (NW) in the UK (Bennett, 1990) where it attained importance as one of a number of government initiatives aimed at increasing “active citizenship” in law enforcement (Laycock & Tilley, 1995). Nevertheless, from the start NW in the United States and UK has suffered from the problem that, while it was accepted enthusiastically in middle class, low-crime-rate, more affluent areas, conversely, inner-city areas, public housing estates, and blocks of flats—areas where crime is most common and where need is consequently greatest—have found it most difficult to start and sustain NW initiatives.

What evidence is there, then, that an increased feeling of ownership helps reduce crime? Welsh and Farrington (2012) argue that social programs aimed at enhancing community cohesion have been effective in reducing levels of crime antisocial behavior, drug misuse, and the like and have also been cost effective, to varying degrees. At the same time, rigorous evaluation of NW suggests that it has little impact on crime, for example, burglary rates (Bennett, 1990), albeit fear of crime seems to be lessened (see also Laycock & Tilley, 1995). In the United States, evaluation is scarcely more optimistic (Rosenbaum, 1987, 1988).

Visibility

Visibility, or surveillability, is a second key element of Newman’s conceptualization of defensible space. Newman argued that physical design could enhance surveillance opportunities for residents and their agents. This argument contained at least two elements: the visibility of private homes to neighbors and passers-by; and the visibility of semipublic space (garages, walkways, parks, etc.) to residents and passers-by. Design examples of poorly defended space thus included homes where access points (windows and doors) were not visible from the street or neighboring properties, and parks that were not visible from neighboring homes or well-used walkways. This implies that privacy makes for crime-attracting environments. To a large extent, visibility is dependent on design factors. However, it is also dependent on lifestyle. This includes not just whether residents are at home or nearby (see below) but also how they use private and public space when they are at home. For example, those who cook regularly will be able to view activities from the kitchen window more than those who do not, whilst those who spend all their time in bed will make little or no use of the design features that enhance visibility! Additionally, though, technology may be used to enhance visibility, as in the case of street lighting, timer lights, and CCTV, in the latter case increasing the visibility of property to policing agencies located outside the area. Paralleling visibility is the alternative of “audibility,” where burglar alarms are deployed to make crime more audible/noticeable.

The association between visibility and risk has been shown to be a close one. Research suggests that more visible property is less crime-prone (Brantingham & Brantingham, 1995; Hollis-Peel & Welsh, 2014; Jackson & Winchester, 1982; Lynch & Cantor, 1992; Reynald, 2009, 2011b) and interviews with offenders reveal that visibility is often taken into account in deciding on potential targets (Armitage & Joyce, 2017; Bennett & Wright, 1984; Cromwell, Olson, & Avary, 1991; MacDonald & Gifford, 1989). Findings from research on crimes against businesses paint a similar picture to that for household crime. For example, isolated property and buildings that are away from main roads, secluded, remote, or near woods, parks, and the like, experience more break-ins (Hakim & Gaffney, 1994). This relates to the lack of informal surveillance opportunities. Thus, in Australia, Barclay and Donnermeyer (2011) found that farm burglaries were most common in farm buildings out of sight of the farm residence, while in the United States Bichler-Robertson and Potchak (2002) found that businesses with low-visibility alley access to the rear were at highest risk. This also calls into question the security of industrial estates or out-of-town shopping complexes. In one study of industrial estates, for example, Johnston et al. (1994) identified crime, particularly burglary, as prevalent.

However, with regard to specific measures that improve visibility—such as improved street lighting (Farrington & Welsh, 2002) and CCTV (Gill & Spriggs, 2005; Welsh & Farrington, 2002)—and audibility (i.e., alarms; Tilley et al., 2015), the impact on reduced crime levels appears more ambiguous.

Occupancy

The lifestyles and routine activities of citizens are also influential in affecting guardianship, , where presence in or absence from the home increases or reduces the capacity for self-guardianship. Burglars generally prefer to break into empty property, and homes that are empty for longer periods, especially after dark, experience higher levels of risk, while enhanced surrogate occupancy through timer lights, cars in driveway, and so on, decrease risk (Hoare & Cotton, 2006; Jackson & Winchester, 1982; Lynch & Cantor, 1992). Additionally, as Reynald (2009) points out, if visibility is to operate as an effective deterrent, it depends on residents’ presence to see—and hear—what is happening in their area as well as their willingness to act. This raises two issues that are required as well as actual visibility: first, regarding the mix of commercial and residential properties, that means that commercial properties are afforded some protection through surveillance when they are closed; and second, regarding the lifestyle of residents.: thus, areas dominated by second-home ownership that are empty for considerable periods of the year may experience high levels of burglary and repeat offending (Mawby, 2015), and residential areas that are virtually empty during the daytime are likely to be more vulnerable than those with a mix of household types (families with young children; retirees, etc.). This is a more difficult issue for urban planners to address. Equally, while the evidence showing that unoccupied property experiences more crime than occupied premises is formidable, the evidence on housing mix and crime is more difficult to isolate.

Accessibility

For Newman, accessibility was one aspect of territoriality, that is, using design to create the impression that public or semipublic space belonged to local residents, through both real and symbolic barriers. The core principle behind this philosophy is that of exclusion, the creation of barriers to prevent offenders/outsiders, from gaining access to housing developments, public areas, or individual homes. It is a principle that has been adopted and developed by criminologists and planners and has found resonance in the spread of gated communities across the United States.

Gated communities—that is, residential areas with some physical barriers to entry that restrict access by outsiders—have become a common feature across the United States (Addington & Rennison, 2015; Benjamin, 2012; Blakely & Snyder, 1997; Low, 2004) and are also becoming more popular in tourist resorts (Alleyne & Boxill, 2003). A more modest alternative, whereby access points to communal areas of already existing developments are restricted, known as alleygating, is particularly common in the UK (Armitage, 2013). While this development draws primarily on Newman’s advocacy of design modifications to improve territoriality, access to gated communities may be further restricted by social measures, particularly private policing of access points and “public” space within the project.

Accessibility has also been advocated vis-à-vis prevention of crime in individual units, whether these are residential or corporate. Again, design is important: for example, restriction of access points at the rear of premises that are less readily visible to passers-by. However, in the case of individual properties, the use of security hardware, such as improved door locks and bolts and window locks, is also important.

Restricting access through blocking off streets and alleys using physical barriers can reduce a variety of crime and disorder problems (Armitage, 2013). Some, but by no means all, evaluations of gated communities also suggest that crime and/or fear of crime may be reduced Addington & Rennison, 2015; Alleyne & Boxill, 2003; Blakely & Snyder, 1997; Grant & Mittelsteadt, 2004). Others, however, have suggested that lower rates of crime may be due to factors other than gating, such as an active neighborhood association (Donnelly & Kimble, 1997). Nevertheless, studies have shown that crime rates tend to be higher on more accessible, well-used streets and lower in less accessible, less-used spaces (Beavon, Brantingham, & Brantingham, 1994; Johnson & Bowers, 2010).

Restricting access to buildings through design modifications and target hardening has also been found to be positively associated with reduced levels of crimes such as burglary (Mawby, 2001). However, in the case of both semipublic space and private homes, a difficulty arises where the positive effects of visibility and accessibility cancel one another out. For example, excluding people from semipublic spaces may reduce the number of potential offenders passing through, but it may also reduce the number of potential witnesses. Hence, there have been recent debates in the UK over whether cul-de-sacs discourage or encourage crime (Armitage, 2013).

Image

For Newman, image is important for the messages it sends to potential offenders: a well-cared-for area suggests that residents have a sense of pride in their area and will be protective of their property; while an area evidencing signs of disrepair suggests that residents will be less protective of their—and others’—property. The influence of design and choice of building materials was seen as important by Newman. Additionally, researchers focusing on vandalism argued that speedy removal of graffiti and repairs to damaged property could reduce the level of repeat vandalism (Challinger, 1991; Wilson, 1978). Estate management thus becomes important. This position found resonance later in work on zero tolerance policing (Burke, 1998; Kelling & Coles, 1996; Wilson & Kelling, 1982).

While Newman’s focus is on how offenders perceive and interpret image, it is also important to consider how image affects the behavior of residents themselves. For instance, residents may be more likely to be engaged with their residential area if it has a positive image, which has implications for collective efficacy/social cohesion, and so on, and ultimately for the level of guardianship they are willing to provide for their area as a whole.

Research evidence confirms that cues such as graffiti, broken windows, litter, and general disrepair are associated with increased crime and fear of crime, and lead to a downward spiral where residents withdraw from community activities and leave the streets and walkways unsupervised (Lewis & Maxfield, 1980; Perkins et al., 1992; Skogan, 1990; Skogan & Maxfield, 1981). Interestingly, research on distraction burglaries suggests that uncared-for properties also alert offenders to the vulnerability of residents, leading them to target such properties (Lister & Wall, 2006; Thornton et al., 2005). Again, however, , similar features may be interpreted differently by offenders. For example, Armitage and Joyce (2017) report that burglars said they would avoid poorly cared for properties, partly because the cues they perceive suggest that such homes will offer low financial reward.

Juxtaposition

Finally, Newman suggested that the juxtaposition of residential areas to prestigious areas could prevent stigma and isolation and reduce crime. Clearly, the location of housing developments is important and a factor that planners take into consideration. Equally, residents may be vocal in expressing their views on adjoining new residential developments. One issue here is whether the juxtaposition of new, potentially problematic developments with prestigious areas results in lower crime rates in the new areas or higher crime rates in the adjoining areas. Certainly, research on offenders’ traveling patterns indicates that offenders in general commit crimes close to where they live (Wiles & Costello, 2000), or, alternatively, where they pass by during their routine activities. Thus, the importance of location is confirmed, but how planners might use this to reduce crime is a largely unanswered question.

Six interrelated dimensions

While these six dimensions might be seen to be disaggregated, it is evident that in many cases they interrelate. For example a clear relationship exists between occupancy and visibility, between visibility and accessibility, between ownership and image, and between image and juxtaposition. Nevertheless, distinguishing between them both facilitates endeavors to test the different dimensions to Newman’s theory and enables us to tease out the separate influences of technology and lifestyle.

Practical Responses: Crime Prevention through Environmental Design and Secured by Design

While academics have addressed and refined Newman’s theory, Newman had an equally sustained effect on planning policies regarding situational crime prevention. An example of this effect is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), with Secured by Design (SBD) a specific UK application of CPTED (Armitage, 2013; Cozens et al., 2004; Fennelly & Crowe, 2013; Pascoe & Topping, 1997; Poyner, 1983).

Armitage (2013, p. 23) describes CPTED as

[t]he design, manipulation and management of the built environment to reduce crime and the fear of crime and to enhance sustainability through the process and application of measures at the micro (individual building/structure) and macro (neighbourhood) level.’

Using a range of strategies stemming from defensible space, including a sense of ownership, territoriality, access control, surveillance, target hardening, image and activity support, CPTED has been introduced into the planning process in various countries (Armitage, 2013; Fennelly & Crowe, 2013), including Australia (see also Clancey, Fisher, & Rutherford, 2014; Clancey, Lee, & Fisher, 2012; Sutton, Cherney, & White, 2014), the United States (see also Zahm, 2007), the Netherlands, and more recently the United Arab Emirates (Ekblom, Armitage, & Monchuk, 2012).

One form of implementation of CPTED in England and Wales is the Secured by Design (SBD) initiative, which provides a good example of the government’s role in promoting CPTED.

SBD began life in 1989 in the southeast of England (Armitage, 2013; Pascoe & Topping, 1997). The initiative was police-led, with police architectural liaison officers (ALOs) (now rebranded as DOCOs—Designing Out Crime Officers) involved in vetting new housing plans. By 1997, SBD initiatives were in place in about 3,700 new estates across the country. In a review of these developments, Pascoe and Topping (1997) argued that SBD aimed to foster easier surveillance and community consciousness through a combination of strategies, principally: seeing cul-de-sacs as the ideal and otherwise curtailing through traffic and pedestrian through routes; opting for mixed housing to maximize overall occupancy levels; using fencing and hedging to clearly demarcate private space; and ensuring high-standard physical security in the home. The 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, most especially Section 17, imposed a duty on local authorities and relevant agencies to take into account the impact of any of their decisions on crime and disorder (Moss & Pease, 1999).

It is notable, however, that evaluations of SBD have tended to focus on burglary, and to a lesser extent on antisocial behavior, vehicle crime, and vandalism, with little detailed attention to how the principles of SBD might apply to some offense types but not others, or to crimes committed by “outsiders” but not by neighbors. Rather differently, less has been written—in the UK at least—about SBD and commercial or corporate property. Indeed, research on commercial crime is far less extensive than that on household and interpersonal crime (Mawby, 2014).

The principles underpinning CPTED also apply to the wider built environment. Just as Jane Jacobs and Oscar Newman saw the neighborhood, not just individual units within it, as vulnerable, CPTED tends to focus on the security of new developments rather than just new homes. Armitage’s (2013) review well illustrates this focus with regard to parking areas, pedestrian walkways, play areas, and so on. However, much less emphasis has been placed on designing out crime in city centers, industrial areas, or commercial centers, where CCTV appears to have become the crime prevention tool of choice. CPTED, however, clearly has an important place in the toolkit. As with commercial buildings, the design implications may be somewhat different. For example, while in residential areas restricting through routes may be promoted as a means of reducing the number of outsiders/potential offenders accessing an area, in urban centers encouraging more pedestrians and motorists may be promoted as a means of increasing visibility by passers-by/witnesses. There are also possible conflicts of interest. Thus, mixed usage (i.e., increased residential units in urban centers) may help reduce crime and disorder by maximizing the “eyes on the streets,” but it may also increase the risk posed to those residential units.

The Newman Legacy

At the time, Newman’s advocacy of defensible space drew criticism from planners and academics, owing to both his cavalier research approach and the ambiguities within the concept of defensible space as applied, in particular, to high-rise developments.

In retrospect, Newman’s contribution can be viewed more positively. In defending cities from the blanket assertion that they encouraged the spread of crime and disorder, and in shifting the debate from social to situational crime prevention, Newman provided the foundations for much contemporary research into offense and offending patterns. Criminological theories, like routine activity theory, rational choice theory, and crime pattern theory, draw from Newman’s conceptualization of defensible space. And concepts like ownership, visibility, occupancy, accessibility, image, and juxtaposition all derive from Newman’s thinking. Equally, those involved in planning for safer environments draw on CPTED, which is critically based on Newman’s ideas.

It is equally clear, however, that the message is more complex than Newman envisaged. High rise is not necessarily the bete noire of urban planning. Nor is planning the panacea to high crime. Equally, some of the components of Defensible Space, and indeed situational crime prevention overall, may cancel out others. Perhaps the most important caveat, though, is that crime is not prevented through the construction of fortresses. Areas of high offending also tend to be areas where a disproportionate number of offenders live. Reducing crime in such areas depends on addressing crimes by both residents and outsiders. Social inclusion, rather than exclusion, is a key priority in reducing crime and disorder in residential neighborhoods.

Review of the Literature and Primary Sources

Oscar Newman’s (1973a) defensible space provides the focal point for this topic and might be supplemented by his later work, especially Newman (1996). To put this matter in context, Jacob’s (1969) The Death and Life of Great American Cities provides an excellent view of an era of conflicts between urban planners in the United States. Of the numerous critiques of Newman’s ideas, those at the time by Bottoms (1974), Hillier (1973), Mawby (1977), and Mayhew (1979) offer a broad overview. Perhaps the most comprehensive review of defensible space that links it to later theories of situational crime prevention is provided by Reynald and Elffers (2009).

There are a plethora of articles and books on various aspects of situational crime prevention that refer, in greater or lesser detail, to Newman. These include readers such as Clarke (1992), Sutton, Cherney, and White (2014), and Welsh and Farrington (2012); monograms like Jackson and Winchester (1982) and Reynald (2011a); and research articles, including Brantingham and Brantingham (1995), MacDonald and Gifford (1989) and Reynald (2015). Developments in architecture and design, especially CPTED and SBD, are also covered, to some extent, in these writings but are critiqued in more detail in, among others, books and readers by Armitage (2013), Fennelly and Crowe (2013), Coleman (1985) and Poyner (1983) and research articles, including Clancey, Lee, and Fisher (2012), Cozens, Pascoe, and Hillier (2004), and Pascoe and Topping (1997).

A review of the literature suggests a continuing tension between theory and policy, with policy and practice sometimes following the mantra of defensible space and CPTED rather than applying the lessons from research. Nevertheless, Newman’s development of defensible space provided an early opportunity for criminologists to engage with the planning process and, as it continues, offers a good example of the strengths and stresses of applied criminology.

Acknowledgment

I am extremely grateful to my long-distance colleagues: Danielle Reynald for her thoughts prior to my writing this piece and comments on the first draft; and Rachel Armitage for comments on the first draft. And to Tony Bottoms, for the beginning.

Further Reading

Armitage, R. (2013). Crime prevention through housing design: policy and practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Find this resource:

Bottoms, A. E. (1974). Book review of Defensible space. British Journal of Criminology, 14(2), 203–206.Find this resource:

Brantingham, P., & Brantingham P (1995). Criminality of place: Crime generators and crime attractors, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 3(3), 5–26.Find this resource:

Clancey, G., Lee, M., & Fisher, D. (2012). Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) and the New South Wales Crime Risk Assessment Guidelines: A critical review. Crime Prevention and Community Safety: An International Journal, 14(1), 1–15.Find this resource:

Clarke, R. V. (1992). Situational crime prevention—successful case studies. New York: Harrow and Heston.Find this resource:

Coleman, A. M. (1985). Utopia on trial: Vision and reality in planned housing. London: Hilary Shipman.Find this resource:

Cozens, P. M., Pascoe, T., & Hillier, D. (2004). Critically reviewing the theory and practice of Secured By Design (SBD) for residential new-build in Britain. Crime Prevention and Community Safety: An International Journal, 6(1), 13–29.Find this resource:

Fennelly, L., & Crowe, T. (2013). Crime prevention through environmental design. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.Find this resource:

Hillier, B. (1973). In defence of space. RIBA Journal, 11, 539–544.Find this resource:

Jackson, H. M., & Winchester, S.W.C. (1982). Residential burglary. London: HMSO (Home Office Research Study No 74).Find this resource:

Jacobs, J. (1969). The death and life of great American cities. New York: Random House.Find this resource:

MacDonald, J. E., & Gifford, R. (1989). Territorial cues and defensible space theory: The burglar’s point of view. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 9(3), 193–205.Find this resource:

Mawby, R. I. (1977). Defensible space: A theoretical and empirical appraisal. Urban Studies, 14(2), 169–179.Find this resource:

Mayhew, P. (1979). Defensible space: The current status of a crime prevention theory. The Howard Journal, 18(3), 150–159.Find this resource:

Newman, O. (1973a). Defensible space. London: Architectural Press.Find this resource:

Newman, O. (1996). Creating defensible space. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research.Find this resource:

Pascoe T., & Topping, P. (1997). Secured by design: Assessing the basis of the scheme. International Journal of Risk, Security and Crime Prevention, 2(3), 161–173.Find this resource:

Poyner, B. (1983). Design against crime: Beyond defensible space. London: Butterworth.Find this resource:

Reynald, D. M. (2011). Guarding against crime: Measuring guardianship within routine activity theory. London: Ashgate Publishers.Find this resource:

Reynald, D. M. (2015). Environmental design and crime events, Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 31(1), 71–89.Find this resource:

Reynald, D. M., & Elffers, H. (2009). The future of Newman’s defensible space theory: Linking defensible space and the routine activities of place. European Journal of Criminology, 6(1), 25–46.Find this resource:

Sherman, L. W., Farrington, D. P., Welsh, B. C., & MacKenzie, D. L. (2002). Evidence-Based Crime Prevention. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Sutton, A., Cherney, A., & White, R. (2014). Crime prevention: Principles, perspectives and practices. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Tilley, N. (2005). Handbook of crime prevention and community safety. Cullompton: Willan Press.Find this resource:

Welsh, B. C., & Farrington, D. P. (2012). The Oxford handbook of crime prevention. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

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Notes:

(1.) Newman (1973a), p. 25 and 112.