Well-designed urban environments promote a sense of self-worth and improve quality of life. To create sustainable communities where people want to live, work, shop and enjoy their leisure time, we must design them to promote people’s self-worth. Housing design and layout discourages contact between neighbours, more people live alone, and many do not speak to their neighbours at all. A sense of isolation in communities is prevalent. Poor design of many neighbourhoods at worst, encourages crime and at best fails to provide any deterrents.
Why is the issue important?
Antisocial behaviour and crime in the public realm is a major concern in our towns and cities. The fear of crime is of course more significant than its incidence in most cases, but the quality and structure of the local environment is a major contributory factor in the level of fear. Closed-circuit television is not necessarily the panacea that many think it to be. So effective design that reduces the incidence of crime and the fear of it is not a luxury today, but a necessity.
Some neighbourhoods have public spaces that are ill defined. Planting is often overgrown. Pedestrian routes through the neighbourhood are often dark and unwelcoming. Local facilities, shops and community centres are provided in small arcades that are themselves visually unattractive.
Some potential solutions are just common sense: defensible space, promotion of mixed-use development, often with higher densities of housing, and parts of towns remaining open after dusk. The creation of distinct neighbourhoods in housing areas with their own character and legibility are required so that people begin to recognise and associate with their neighbours again.
In order to deliver ‘sustainable communities’ and provide a good quality of life in our neighbourhoods we need to ensure more cross-departmental working at the local level. Planners and police crime prevention officers need to be aware of what good urban design principles are, what good design actually is and what it means to communities.
Paying proper and due consideration to urban design principles will deliver safer neighbourhoods. Key arguments:
- people derive a sense of their own self-worth from the condition of the environment around them
- community safety and crime prevention should be central concerns for local authorities when exercising their planning responsibilities
- effective design that reduces the incidence of crime and the fear of it is a necessity.
- local authorities must ensure that good urban design principles are embedded in the master plans, proposed housing layouts and regeneration schemes being put together by various partnerships
Public realm strategies should incorporate all the players involved in designing the urban environment.