Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Urban planning for criminals

 One of the recent developments within urban architecture, has been to try and reduce the point to point nature of automobile travel, and turn local areas into more balanced communities.  Mostly it is an attempt to get away from the suburban sprawl.  Laudable goals, but there are some problems.

Unintended Consequences of the Neo-Traditional City Planning Model
Joe Verdoorn, New Geography, 21 February 2012

Neo-traditional is the favored label for this new school of planning thought; however, the terms Transit Oriented Design (TOD), New Urbanism, Walkable Communities, Smart Growth and Sustainable Communities are also used to identify subcomponents of this form of urban growth. The basic principles behind the neo-traditional movement include:
  • enhanced walkability
  • mixed land uses
  • ease of access to public transit
  • sustainability
  • high density residential
  • defined town/commerce center
  • mixture of housing types
    This tactical criteria of the Neo-traditional model, however, can create unintended negative consequences. The criteria to which I refer includes:
    • grid street patterns
    • connectivity to adjacent neighborhoods
    • mixed, non-residential land uses
    • alley access/rear loaded house
    The inflexible application of these tactical criteria enhances opportunities for criminal activities to occur.
    Criminal like to work in areas in which they are familiar with, and have alternate means of escape.  I have a book on the sociology of armed robbery.  They like to stay somewhat near their own neighborhood where they will blend in.  Burglars are generally even more impulsive and opportunistic, and thus doubly so.  Opening up areas to cross transit, and transit from outside of the area, gives the bad guys a way to traverse, and recon the area without standing out.  They are lost in the shuffle.

    The author references Oscar Newman's Design guidelines for creating defensible space, and HUD's Defensible Space – Crime Prevention Through Urban Design (pdf) which is at least in part inspired by  Newman's work.

    I came upon a series of turn-of-the-century neighbor-hoods where homes are replicas of the small chateaux of France. They are the former palaces of St. Louis’ commercial barons—the rail, beef, and shipping kings. These chateaux are positioned on privately held streets, closed to through traffic. St. Louis in the mid-1960s was a city coming apart. The influx of people from the rural areas of the South had overwhelmed the city. It had one of the Nation’s highest crime rates, but the private streets appeared to be oblivious to the chaos and abandonment taking place around them. They continued to function as peaceful, crime-free environments—nice places to rear children, if you could afford a castle. The residents owned and controlled their own streets, and although anyone was free to drive or walk them (they had no guard booths), one knew that one was intruding into a private world and that one’s actions were under constant observation.
    Cul de sacs are passe.  But people want to live in cul de sacs.  Better yet are those areas where there are a tangle of cul de sacs that nobody but the residents can figure out.

    This same protective aspect works at the building level.  Different types of residential buildings can be built to different levels of density, and with different traffic pattern designs.

    For instance, interior hallways with security card access at the door, make it harder to check out the comings and goings of individuals.


    Humble wife said...

    I love individuality and uniqueness. How obvious to state that the planned communities would be planned for the criminal too. I had never considered that-but it makes so much sense.

    I will rest comfortably in my out in the sticks only one house on my road(ever as the rest is owned by -well me)-knowing that the travelers on this road are intently studied.

    Going to read to catch up...I have been out a bit!! :)


    Erisian (FNORDinc.com) said...

    many of those "unintended consequences" are seen in the less affluent neighborhoods here in portland oregon.

    strange considerations that sh(c)ity planners must keep in mind..

    russell1200 said...

    H: Good to see your back with us. I have been busy myself.

    Be careful about assuming the safety of the countryside. It tends to have a different set of problems.

    Look at Hougoumont, the Belgium farming villa where some very fierce fighting took place during the Battle of Waterloo. It is built like a fortress with heavy double gates to get into its interior courtyard.

    E: The private industry developers never seemed to worry about this type of thing. I guess since they were usually going upscale they thought that only the good people would live there, and that crime was only an issue for those other folks. HUD, who has its share of housing disasters, was forced to be a little more realistic.